Please take a look at last week’s installment before continuing on…
As I said, I’ve had a very interesting career in comics.
Denys Cowan and I were biding time until the premier of Mike Grell’s Jon Sable series on television. I’d been invited to watch it in Mike Grell’s hotel room and I invited Denys.
We were wandering around the 1987 Mid Ohio Con and I was on Cloud 9 thanks to John Ostrander, who issued the invite. While Denys was looking at comics at a retailer booth I moseyed over to a creator’s booth. As I mentioned before I talk to everyone and the thought of looking at someone’s work while they stand there and watch me look at their work is just crazy to me.
So, being me, I started asking questions about the copies of what looked like a quickly Xeroxed and even more quickly stapled comic book. One of my pet peeves is presentation. I don’t care how good an artist you are if the presentation of your work sucks I simply don’t want to look at it.
Hey, I don’t care how good a chef is in the kitchen or how good the food is, if I see a roach I’m not eating in the restaurant. I mean who the Hell wants a haircut from a barber who’s own hair is a mess?
Not me my friend, not me.
The book I was gazing at looked homemade – but – the two guys behind the table were cool as shit and the comic was the most original thing I had ever seen in comics before.
The artist and writer I was talking too were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and the book was Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.
I’ve done some pretty interesting things in my career. Co-founded Milestone Media, created The Action Files, the only line of comics taught as a curriculum in the school system and created another universe, The Guardian Line, for African-American churches and Christian book stores.
When DC comics launched Piranha Press in 1987 I was the artist chosen to illustrate the first series for the line. The Black Panel, a comics and entertainment forum I started over a decade ago, is now in development as a TV show as is The Littlest Bitch (TLB) a book I co-wrote with David Quinn.
David and I first conceived TLB as a graphic novel on the New Jersey turnpike almost 20 years ago. We were driving home from The Kubert School where I was teaching a master illustration class and David was my guest speaker that day.
Speaking of TV, Static Shock, based on the character I co-created, can still be seen on a Disney channel, which cracks me up because Disney turned it down quick, fast and in a hurry when we pitched it there 10 years ago.
I’ve done some other pretty note worthy things (I think) in comics but I’m most proud of my mentor program. Some of the biggest names in comics have come through my program. I won’t bore you with the names but I will say that because of my self-funded mentor program I have four city proclamations and a school auditorium named in my honor.
I’ve also managed to carve out a bad boy type of reputation in the industry. That reputation has many origins, depending on whom you get the story from but that story is for another time. I will tell you this: when it comes to getting that bad boy rep, I have no one to blame but myself.
I don’t tell you some of what I’ve accomplished in comics to impress you but rather to impress upon you that is there is plenty of blame and help to go around and there lies within a tale, which just may help someone who’s trying to break in now. Sooo…
In 1987 I was offered and was right about to accept a position overseeing the art department at a very prestigious prep school. This was a dream job. They were going to pay me a fat salary, give me an on-campus apartment as part of my compensation package and all my meals were free. The only thing I had to pay for was my phone bill as there was also a clothing stipend.
That was a dream job, so why didn’t I take it? Those of you who hate me are thinking ‘Oh why, oh why, did that loud mouth mofo not take that job?’
In fact, I was going to take it. I had started packing my bags when Denys Cowan talked me into going to the Mid-Ohio con with him. As fate would have it I went to the Mid-Ohio Con to attend a very small but very cool comics convention.
It was clear when we got there, Denys knew everyone and everyone knew Denys. I did not know a soul there. Denys would often leave me alone to go and talk to some one, which left me to wander aimlessly around the convention. It was during one of these aimless walks that I met John Ostrander.
Wait a sec-before I go on I should let you know that I was (still am) a comic’s geek. Although I had a very good career going as an illustrator it was my dream to somehow work in comics.
John and I hit it off very well and before I knew it he was inviting me to Mike Grell’s room to watch the Sable pilot. I thought I had died and gone to Comic Book Heaven. I adored Mike Grell’s work. At the time he was my favorite artist on the planet! Later when Denys arrived I causally mention that I was going to Mike Grell’s room to watch the premier of his new TV show.
The look on Denys’ face was priceless. It said “how the hell did you manage that?” We still had some time (I told Denys he could come as my guest; you should have seen that look) so we decided to browse the convention floor.
If you know me, you are well aware I talk to everyone. I mean everyone. I’m just wired that way. Standing at an artist’s table looking at their work without uttering a sound is just freakin crazy to me.
Little did I know the two guys I was now chatting with would go on to change the industry in a huge way!
Editor’s Note: This originally appeared at www.michaeldavisworld.com on January 28, 2011. It is being reprinted here without permission. It’s been reformatted to meet ComicMix’s high editorial standards.
A long time ago in a galaxy, blah, blah, blah…
…Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and I shared a studio next to some creators who are all legends now. It was the second silver age of comics and we were in the thick of it.
Howard Chaykin was doing American Flagg!, Walt Simonson was on Thor, Al Milgrom was doing Spider-Man. Jim Sherman was in the studio but I forgot what he was working on, I do remember it was bad ass.
The studio where all those superstar upstarts were was called Upstart Studio.
Also at Upstart was Frank Miller who was doing Daredevil and about to do Ronin. I seldom saw Frank but when I did more often than not he would ask what I was working on and was just a great guy. I remember being a bit jealous when Bill and Frank started working on Elektra and for the life of me I can’t remember why.
All that said, how’s that for a line up?
Those guys (Denys included) sounds like a comic fan’s dream team even now. Speaking of my best friend Denys a few years forward in time from our studios days would see him nominated for an Eisner for best penciler… twice. People forget just how badass Denys Cowan is.
Our studio never got an official name although Bill liked to call it Bill and his little helpers… the bastard.
As far as what we were doing at Bill and his little helpersStudio, Bill was working on Elektra and The New Mutants; Denys was doing The Black Panther for Marvel, V (the comic adaption of the original TV series) and Vigilante for DC.
What was I doing? Nothing great in comics, that’s for sure.
I was working on children books, movie posters, etc. I had one comic book assignment for the Marvel magazine Epic. The assignment was given to me by the late great Archie Goodwin. I made an appointment with Archie hoping for a cover assignment I never dreamt he would give me an interior job.
I loved comics but I was trained as an editorial and mainstream illustrator. I never learned to do comics like, say, a Denys Cowan who can imagine and draw anything from his head. I need reference, I need to look at stuff, and I need dozens of layouts before I start a finished piece. Comics that are fully painted and tell a non-liner story at that time were rare. I was always jealous (still am) of guys that can do that make it up from nothing jazz.
Dwayne McDuffie recently commented on multitalented guys that can write and draw. Truth be told Dwayne, just as a writer, is light years away from where I will ever be as a visual storyteller. That, to me, is multitalented. When Christopher Priest was the editor on the Spider-Man book he once dissected a cover painting I did for him like he was a high school science teacher and I was the frog. He’s also a hell of a writer and just as good a musician. Reggie Hudlin glides between producing and directing movies and TV shows to writing some of the best comics I’ve ever read. Those guys are multitalented.
20 or so years ago, except for Heavy Metal and a few other outlets, painted comics were few and far between. The graphic novel as a fully painted editorial piece of art and content was not quite there yet. It was about to come into its own lead by people like my brother from another mother Bill Sienkiewicz. The work of Kent Williams, George Pratt and Dave McKean was just around the corner as well but not there yet.
Howard Chaykin saw over 20 years ago where comics were going and produced a few painted books before just about anyone did.
Like an asshole, I tried to do comics the way Denys, Walt, Howard and Frank did. I was too stupid to listen to Howard Chaykin when he told me, “Do what you do, the industry is changing and you can bring something new to it.’
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. It’s right up there with, put your hands on the wheel and answer in a civil tone of voice, “Yes officer, whatever you say officer.”
I wish I was joking about the cop advice, but I assure you I’m not.
I did not listen to Howard. Years later Mike Gold told me the same thing after I delivered a Wasteland story, which was not my finest hour. I didn’t think he would but Mike gave me another Wasteland story and said, “Do this like any other illustration assignment.” The story was about South Africa and I nailed that mother.
Of all the high profile regular illustrations gigs I was doing (Newsweek, NBC, etc.) the assignment I was the most excited about was Epic. It was a six-page story I was writing and drawing and taking forever to do because I wanted to do it like “regular” comics artists did. Could not do it then, can’t do it now.
Long story short, I will never forget those late night talks with Howard, Bill, Frank, Jim, Al and Denys. It was indeed the second silver age but for me it will always be my golden age.
Bill and his little helpers. Somehow that does not brother me anymore.