Glenn Hauman: The Heavyweight Titles of Milestone
In celebration of the Milestones show at Geppi Entertainment Museum, we present this piece, originally published in the San Diego Comic-Con International Souvenir Book 2013.
Twenty years. Daaaaamn.
I spent a lot of time hanging around Milestone when they were first starting up. I was working around the corner from their 23rd St. offices at a digital pre-press house, where DC Comics was getting their painted covers scanned and separated. And I’d worked at DC and knew a lot of the folks there informally, and Milestone in those days was a very informal place. There was no standing on ceremony, if you wanted to show up and pitch in, you could just do that. And I did, bringing over lots of fonts for typesetting on a Mac and helping out with little production things here and there— I couldn’t do much because of my full-time job, but they were a start-up, which meant they worked after 5 PM a LOT. But even as busy as any start-up can get, you could go in and sit in the editor-in-chief’s office and talk— although, to be fair, that was Dwayne McDuffie, a man who had the laid-back confidence that you can only get from being the size of a small mountain. Of course, that didn’t mean you couldn’t push back— I remember asking him after Hardware #1 came out how he really felt about work-for-hire.
It turned out, years later, that Dwayne wasn’t really sure why I was there. We knew each other, and he’d seen me around various comics offices and conventions and the like, but at the time, for some reason he thought I was Walt Simonson’s assistant. The point is, he didn’t care— you wanted in on what they were doing, you were in. Everybody had something to contribute.
The thing about Milestone, and this was a big one, is that it wasn’t a “black” company, even though everybody outside the office thought of it as such. It was a “people” company. Didn’t matter whether you were as dark-skinned as Derek Dingle or as pale as Matt Wayne, a guy even paler than me and that’s going some. Everybody there wanted to make comics— although there was a lot less of the feeling that people wanted to grow up and become Julie Schwartz. Milestone came from knowing that there was a different kind of story to tell, a story that had been neglected in everybody’s straight white male superhero stories, stories that might as well have taken place in 1960’s Riverdale. Milestone showed an entire generation of readers that there were strange new worlds just on the other side of town, and took you there.
More importantly, Milestone broke the monolith of minority character stereotypes in comics, that there was more to the characters than just being black or hispanic or gay or whatever. Icon, Hardware, Rocket, Static, and Wise Son were all black, but they all had different points of view— which just hadn’t happened much in comics before that; heck, I’m having a hard time trying to think of comics before Milestone where two black characters showed up together for any extended amount of time. Is there a minority version of the Bechdel Test? Let’s make one right now and call it the Milestone test: A comic passes if (1) there are at least two minority characters in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a white person. And if you have to tell the reader the character is black because it’s in his name– Black Lightning, Black Manta, Black Goliath, Black Panther, Black Racer, Black Vulcan– it’s not really a black character.
But the most amazing thing is that, in many ways, it’s not as big of a deal anymore. You can put Static Shock on TV and people don’t look at it as pandering to connect with the urban audience, he’s a character. And for that alone, the work done by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Robert Washington, Matt Wayne, Ivan Velez, Michael Davis, John Paul Leon, Mark Bright, Trevor Von Eeden, Andrew Pepoy, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Palmiotti, Noelle Giddings, Janice Chiang, Steve Dutro, Mike Gustovich, James Sherman, Joe James, John Rozum, Steve Mitchell, Joe James, Chriscross, Prentis Rollins, Derek Dingle, and so many others… well, it’s a Milestone worth celebrating.
(Originally published in the San Diego Comic-Con International Souvenir Book 2013.)
- Michael Davis: Derek, Kitty, Static & The Dog – A Milestone Story (comicmix.com)
- SDCC ’13: The very best panels at Comic-Con in audio (comicsbeat.com)