Actually it was twenty years ago, but it wasn’t today. Look, any time I get to use a Beatles lyric in anything I write I’m using it. Nothing says witty and clever like a Beatles lyric or a Tupac and Biggie reference.
Case in point. One time too freakin’ many an ex-girlfriend asked me in an email if I thought she was getting fat. I was so sick of answering the same freakin’ question over and over again. She would ask when she and I would be on a date, in a car, on the phone, texting and one time I could have sworn she screamed it out during sex. I can’t be sure of that I couldn’t hear her clearly as I was, at the same time, screaming out my name. Yes, I scream my own name out during sex. Someone has to.
I was just sick to death of this shit so in my response I found a way to use a slightly altered Beatles lyric, which was, yes, you are the Walrus.
Twenty years ago, Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie, Derek Dingle, Christopher Priest and I founded Milestone Media.
Hard to believe I was just five when I helped start the company, eh Jean?
Twenty years later, Milestone is still considered the greatest publishing achievement in African American comic book history. The Milestone deal was ground breaking and the universe is still alive and relevant. Milestone has achieved in comics the same kind of reverence the Tucker achieved in the automobile industry or Guns ‘n’ Roses achieved in Rock and Roll, all three burst on the scene, changed the game and for whatever reason lived a short life but has never been forgotten.
What many people don’t realize is Milestone still exists and is still alive in media if not in a monthly series of comic books. Static Shock is still seen on television, Milestone characters are often featured on other DC comics animated shows and Milestone comic book projects still are being created.
Milestone’s 20th anniversary will be celebrated and in the coming months happenings will be reveled. I just can’t tell you now; if I did Denys Cowan would see to it that I join Tupac and Biggie. Yes, I’ve used that line before and I will continue to use it until LAPD does it job and finds their killers…or someone comments how clever and witty that line is. I’m good with whatever comes first.
What I can say is ComicMix readers who are Milestone fans have a guy on the inside. As we all know with great power comes first hand knowledge premiering here at ComicMix before anywhere else.
That is, if I remember to write it after it’s finalized but before the press release goes industry wide.
I’ll try and remember but once I was told over the phone I just had a huge project green lit and could now talk about it. The very next call I was on not three minutes later was with an entertainment magazine doing a profile on me and like a dick I forgot to mention the venture when asked about what projects I was working on.
That omission was like forgetting to mention I own a dog when being interviewed for a cover story in Dog Magazine.
Last thing, for all you fan boys who are still a bit “girl challenged” if your girlfriend…wait, what am I saying? Girlfriend? Fan boys? Ok, if the girl you are smitten with or any girl asks you if she looks like she was getting fat or the classic, do I look fat in this dress?
The answer is always no.
If the heifer weights 300 pounds and is always sucking on a saltlick, the answer is always no.
Trust me, don’t say anything remotely like what I said, I’m lucky to be alive and ten years after the break up I’m still looking over my shoulder.
WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold and The Nerddom Intelligentsia
Dean Haspiel strikes me as a creator who’s constantly growing. He’s an artist, he’s a writer, he’s won an Emmy for TV design work, and in the last year he’s started up a new project, Trip City, a “Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon” with an eclectic mix of comics, stories, realism, sci-fi, and more. Now, don’t get me wrong – I obviously love superhero comics, and the people who create them, but I also love creators who can and do cross genres and try new things. Dean is clearly one of these.
While Dean is perhaps best known for his work with Harvey Pekar (e. g. American Splendor and The Quitter) and for his “last romantic anti-hero” Billy Dogma, his current project that’s caught my attention is Trip City, via the sample booklet Dean shared with me at Baltimore Comic Con. While there’s no denying I am hooked on the Internet and social media, I am admittedly also one of those people who still generally prefers reading a paper book when it comes to fiction and creative works; which means that having a paper selection of Trip City’s offerings to lure me to the content on the web is a smooth (and effective) move.
The booklet is a combination of short stories and comics from a variety of creators, and runs the gamut from tales of relationship heartbreak or zombie science to a whimsical “missed connection” ad. It’s definitely a “something for everyone” kind of collection, and while not every selection may strike every reader’s fancy, they’re all quality work (and I, personally, enjoyed them). The best part, of course, is that if you want to read more, you can easily hop over to the site, which hosts a large and varied collection of content, as well as a regular podcast [http://welcometotripcity.com/category/podcast/]. I’m definitely going to spend some time over there, I can tell.
Another cool thing about Dean is that he’s a natural storyteller and born conversationalist. This made for a fun interview when I chatted with him at Baltimore Comic Con. Read on to hear what he had to say!
Emily: Walt Simonson’s work on Thor was just honored at the Harvey Awards. I know you’ve worked with Walt. Tell me about working with him; and did you have some work in the award-winning collection?
Dean: In 1985, I was a senior in high school, at what was Music and Art, which got married to Art and Design and became LaGuardia High School in Manhattan; so I was in the first graduating class of LaGuardia High School. I had befriended Larry O’Neil, Denny O’Neil’s son, who was in school with me, and he would get wind from his father of when some of the local artists might need assistance. Larry went on to become a filmmaker; but at one point during our initial friendship he wanted to be a cartoonist, and he got a gig working for Howard Chaykin on American Flagg! Howard Chaykin shared a studio called Upstart Studios with Walter Simonson. At one point Frank Miller was in that studio, and Jim Starlin…it was this amazing studio. The studio at the time was Howard, Walter and Jim Sherman.
Down the hall, Bill Sienkiewicz set up a studio with Denys Cowan, and Michael Davis (fellow ComicMix columnist!), who was part of creating Milestone Media. Bill Sienkiewicz was looking for an assistant, and I got that gig. So I would work with Bill, and sometimes he wouldn’t be there but I’d come in anyway; so then I’d work in Upstart with those guys, until eventually I became a second assistant for Howard Chaykin. Larry and I both worked on his monthly book. While there, we got friendly with Walter, who would sometimes use me as an assistant as well, and if you know his run on Thor, at one point, Thor becomes a frog; which was so absurd that Walt was a little worried that it wouldn’t fly – but it totally flew. I remember that distinctly because I remember working on some of those stories. My artwork of that time would be more prevalent in Chaykin’s American Flagg!, because I actually drew the backgrounds with Larry on that book; but I did work with Walter.
The way Walter worked (and this was before Photoshop) was that he would do these amazing thumbnail layouts that he always wanted to try to keep the energy of, because when you initially draw something, that’s almost like the best version of that art; because after that you start to finesse it, and sometimes you can cripple it by overdrawing or over-rendering it, or tightening it up too much. And Walter’s style has a loosey-goosey kind of line and he does a beautiful thing with a crow quill pen and brush; so part of my job as his assistant was to take his thumbnail layouts, and use this machine called an Artograph to blow them up onto boards that he would then fully pencil or ink.
Knowing what he was trying to capture was actually harder to work on because you’re trying to be in his arm and his mind, and take his scribbles, and enlarge them onto the projector-sized paper; and I didn’t have the faculty for that. Not only was I not as good an artist as I hope I am today, but also you’re trying to draw like someone else, which is hard. And then of course he would mostly erase it and go on and do his own version. But it was very good training; and also I would fill in the blacks and erase pages and things like that.
But: yes, I did work on some of those famous Thors, and Walt is like a mentor to me. Because another thing that happens, when you work with guys like this for a year, is that it’s the best kind of school. It’s not like, “here’s how you draw a panel, or a page, or rule it” – you do it by example. You do it because you’re around people and you’re getting that energy, and you learn – that’s the only way really to learn these things. He and Howard Chaykin have been mentors to me since 1985. And he’s pulled pranks on me and stuff like that.
Emily: Oh, give us an example!
Dean: Here’s a famous prank. I kind of made a joke at the Harveys about the fact that some of the stuff I learned in their studio was about Warren Zevon and Van Morrison and the writing of Jim Thompson; and they’re the ones who introduced me to Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. Because at the time I was like, “It’s 1985, I’m into hip hop; I’m into Prince, I’m listening to what kids listen to.” And in the studio they had this record player, and they were always playing Van Morrison and Warren Zevon and this kind of rockabilly music, and I was like, “I don’t want to listen to this stuff, whatever.” At the time, okay? Now I’m older, I can appreciate it. So they allowed me and Larry to play one record each, and I was way into Prince, so I brought in a 45 of “Little Red Corvette.” So once in awhile they’d allow us to play our song, to be democratic.
One day while working with Howard and Larry on American Flagg!, Howard encourages me, “Hey Dean, why don’t you play that song you like? Play your Prince song.” So I put it on, and it starts playing, and I go back to my seat and I’m drawing. Suddenly I hear Walter’s chair slam against the floor, and he gets up, and he’s huffing and puffing. He’s really upset; and he’s like, “I fucking hate this song, this is bullshit.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what’s happening?? This was sanctioned, why am I not allowed to play it?” And then he goes over to the record player, and I look up at him, and I see this raging – he looked like a monster; and if you know Walt Simonson, he’s the nicest guy in comics ever. I didn’t know who this was, and I got so scared, I turned away. I hear him yelling again about how he hates the song, and he takes the record needle, and he scratches it across the entire song, and I’m just hearing this ripping sound, and I actually start to get sick, and he takes it in his hands, and crumples the vinyl, and I’m thinking, “I’m dead,” or it’s not happening; like I go into shock.
And Walt says, “Dean, I have something for you.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t want anything!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And he brings over his portfolio, and he pulls out a 12-inch version of “Little Red Corvette”! And at one point I’d looked at Larry O’Neil and Howard Chaykin, and their faces were pressed against their art tables, because they were trying to stifle laughter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were afraid and cowering as well. And then everyone starts laughing; and I’m having heart palpitations – I want to vomit; but the thing that was cool was that it made me feel like I was part of the gang. You pull a prank on someone like that, and it means they’re okay, they’ve been green lit in a way…But the collector in me is a little pissed off that that 45 got destroyed!
Emily: Hah! I bet. Now, you’ve also worked with Harvey Pekar; tell me about that.
Dean: It took me awhile to finally do something with him. I would send him samples, and I think he thought I was probably too mainstream, because he wouldn’t react. I actually wrote and drew a two-page comic about it, called The American Dilemma, which I published. It was basically about me sending him my artwork, and feeling like by the fact that he didn’t respond, I was going through a scenario of paranoia about how he was rejecting me; so I published that, to show I could create an auto-biographical story about me and my feelings. It was with other comics that are auto-bio, which I did with Josh Neufeld. It was called Keyhole, and again: nothing. So now I’m publishing things about him and he’s not responding to that either; and I was kind of getting a little pissed off, to be frank.
Then a couple of years later I get a phone call from a guy who I thought was pretending to be Harvey Pekar and pulling a prank on me (because now I’ve had pranks in my life thanks to Walt Simonson!). So he says, “Hey, do you want to do a one-page comic?” And I’m like, “Is this really Harvey Pekar?” I’m starting to question him and who he is. And he says, “Come on man, don’t you want to make some bread?” And I’m like, “Now he’s lying; this guy is a bad Pekar; talking in his lingo and stuff.” And finally he tells me to fuck off and hangs up the phone. And I’m thinking, “How is that a funny prank, if it ends like that? Where’s the prank part?” So I start realizing, “Holy crap, that was probably Harvey Pekar.” And this was before caller ID. So I called up Josh Neufeld, and first of all I thought he’d been the caller, but he says, “No man, what are you talking about?” and then I tell him what happened, and he’s like, “That was Harvey!” So I said, “…can I please get his phone number, and I’ll call him back?”
I call him back, get him on the phone and apologize, and he says to me, “What can I do to prove to you that I’m really me?” And I say, “Can you give me that job that you’re offering?” And he did, and it started this relationship. At one point, I had only done one- or five-page stories with him, and then I’d been an assistant to a film producer named Ted Hope, and I knew Ted was a comics fan, because I’d see a lot of his comics and I would file his comics at times. Ted had a couple of scripts, and one of them was a defunct American Splendor script. So it occurred to me; I’ve worked with Harvey; it would be great to make an American Splendor movie; and I suggested it to Ted, who said, “I would love to try to do that.” So I said “I’ll talk to Harvey and hook you guys up to have a phone conversation.” They did, and a year-and-a-half later, it won the Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival.
Because of that, Harvey wanted to thank me by doing something more substantial together, and that’s where The Quitter arrived. I’d pitched it to Vertigo; they wanted to start branching out and doing more indie stuff and autobiographical. So we did The Quitter together; and then I brought American Splendor over, because it had been at Dark Horse for awhile, but it wasn’t doing well, or they couldn’t produce or market it right. It was always a hard comic to sell anyway; it’s a particular kind of franchise. It’s not superheroes, it’s about a grumpy guy writing about the mundane things in life; like how much of a fan base can you have? You can hear about it, but does that mean you went and bought it? It’s a Catch-22. So I got two miniseries’ at Vertigo of American Splendor, that became collections, and we did a couple of other little things, and then unfortunately he passed away. He was a great guy to work with. As much as he had his curmudgeonly persona, he was a sweetheart; a mensch. He always looked out for his artists, and he was just a great guy.
Emily: You’ve done a lot of really cool things. What are you working on now?
Dean: Recently I drew Godzilla Legends #5 for IDW. I just drew a Mars Attacks Christmas story for the Mars Attacks holiday special, coming out in October; I wrote and drew a 12-page story for that, which takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I’m doing a couple of little things right now, and I’m also working on the second season of The Five-Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies, a webcomic with Ben McCool over at Shifty Look. Namco Bandai is working with different houses to produce these comics at Shifty Look. We worked with Cryptozoic; they also produced The Lookouts which Ben just did, which is a new comic.
I’ve been doing Trip City, where I’ve been curating and creating content; it’s a Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon online. We also have these paper curated anthologies just to give people a taste of what is online. It’s prose, some comics, multimedia and a bunch of other stuff. I have other things I want to flex, other things I want to do; not just draw comics. I was recently at Yaddo, which is a writers’/artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY, where I completed a feature-length screenplay, the first part of a novel, and a new comic book idea in 24 days.
I’ve been itching to do this stuff, and I had it in the back of my mind, so I went into the woods in a cabin, and did this and walked the dog. It’s the best thing – you should try it! I recommend it to anyone who can afford to do a retreat like that. I just did a print version of The Last Romantic Antihero, which isalso up at Trip City; but believe it or not, even if you give it away online, some people will only read it if you put it in their hand or create a different kind of delivery system. So I’m testing the waters with that.
Emily: What do you think today are the most effective ways to reach people with new material?
Dean: I think using the DIY tools that have been given to us, like Twitter and Facebook, is good. We’re all still figuring out how to navigate that, and when is it too much, or not enough – how and when to use it. Figure out a destination point where you put your stuff up, where you can link to something that’s all yours. Also, be communal. You can’t just be me-me-me-me; because after awhile, people get bored of that and who cares? So share what you like, show up to the party. Be informed, be aware. Luckily, I like a lot of other things much more than what I do. I love other people’s stuff, and promote that; and I don’t waste my time hating stuff. I hate stuff; but I’m not going to publish and promote that I hate something. That’s a waste of time. I sometimes feel like the Internet is made for hate, and I’m like, no, no, no; use it for good. So that’s what I promote.
Emily: There are always people looking to break in, or for tips on what to do in the industry to get noticed. Things have changed a lot from year-to-year. What would you tell people today?
Dean: Use the Internet. If you’re not Alan Moore… Listen, no one’s standing in line knocking on my door; I’ve got to let people know what I’m doing. What’s great about putting even ten images up with your name and a contact is that it works as a 24-7, 365 resume. It’s working for you while you sleep. You may get someone knocking on your door from that. And as important as it is to have something up that shows off your wares, also show up to the party and be part of the community. Find your people. You’re not going to love everybody, you’re not going to like everybody, and not everybody’s going to like you; but find your people, truck with your gang, and luckily you can do it virtually. You can do it from your basement or home.
Emily: I’ve heard some artists say DeviantArt is a good place to showcase work; if you don’t have your own website, do you think that’s an effective place? What do you think is helpful?
Dean: This will show my age a little bit. I don’t have a DeviantArt and I don’t have a Tumblr; and I hear about Tumblr and DeviantArt all the time. If I’m hearing about it – and I hear some of my favorite artists do get a lot of work through their DeviantArt pages – then it sounds like it’s probably a good idea to have that. You don’t have to have your own website. You’re part of a community when you’re on DeviantArt and Tumblr, as with Facebook and Twitter. You can curate who you know, and keep a public presence so people can stumble upon you. The key, though, is to respond to other people’s work; comment; spark a dialogue. Yes, I understand that it’s another job sometimes; but if you’re trying to engender work and get people to know you, you’ve got to get to know other people. That’s the only way it works.
Emily: A sentiment I totally agree with. Thanks, Dean, for sharing some amazing stories and your outlook with us!
Everyone, go check out Dean’s work and the new content over at Trip City. And until next time, readers: Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does Ralph Ellison
No, no no, no…. That’s the title of a very famous song by the Marvelettes. You may be too young to know it by just the title, but I’m pretty sure if you heard it you would recognize it. If you or your parents own any greatest hits albums by Motown then this song is bound to be on there.
If you are really young and a geek fan boy (as am I) let me save you some time. Don’t bother goggling the Marvelettes. They were a singing group, not an all girl or gay men superhero group from Marvel. Now that I think of it, that could work…
But (Peter, I swear I’m writing you a check) I digress.
After the great speech Bill Clinton gave at the Democratic National Convention, “Don’t mess with Bill” could easily have been the heading of a piece about Clinton. Alas, as hard as I tried I could not think of any way to weave a comic book narrative from his speech. Well, I could but that would have meant I’d have to be clever and after the week I’ve had clever would be pushing it.
Trust me, you don’t want to know.
The Bill I’m talking about is my dear friend for over 20 years (since I was five, Jean) Bill Sienkiewicz.
I met Bill when he was doing Moon Knight. I was not a fan; I thought he was one of a long line of artists who were doing their best to copy Neal Adams. We met at Marvel Comics one day when he was bringing in pages. I think it was Denys Cowan who introduced us and Bill showed me some of his work. I remember thinking two things. The first was the comic book reproductions did not do his work justice. His originals were far and away much better to look at. The second thing I remembered is, yes, his work looked a lot like Neal Adams but that look was just surface deep. There was uniqueness to his work that was all Bill.
After that meeting I went and brought all the back issues of Moon Knight I could and, yeah, by “bought” that means I asked one of my contacts from Marvel to hook me up. Yeah, I got them free, but I would have paid if I had too.
The next time I saw Bill at Marvel he was delivering a painting. It was a New Mutant cover all I could think is; “Shit, this motherfucker can paint also!”
Yeah, I was a bitter bastard. Age and good living has mellowed me, and by mellow I mean “tequila.”
Bill and I had a cordial if not friendly relationship… until one day at some industry event we started talking about illustration. That’s when we clicked. Bill was not a comic book artist who wanted to be an illustrator Bill was an illustrator who was doing comics.
That’s common in the industry now. What people seem to forget is that Bill started that trend. I say without hesitation Bill Sienkiewicz’s art changed the way comic art was done and if not for Bill and his pioneering bad ass work the industry may look different today.
For my money Bill is the artist/illustrator who paved the way for comics to have the depth and artistic reach they have today. Yes there have been comic artists that have painted covers or done innovative designs within the story lines but Bill’s cover work and later his graphic novels elevated the art form to another level. Unlike those who may have dabbled in comics as mainstream illustration up to that point what Bill was doing stuck and spread.
Andy Helfer was a big time editor at DC in the 80s. Denys introduced me to Andy and I showed Andy my painting portfolio.
Andy looked at my work and said “You could be our Bill Sienkiewicz.” Andy was not saying that because my worked looked like Bill’s – it didn’t – he was saying it because the kind of work Bill was doing over at Marvel was in a class by its self. That was said by one of comics leading editors working at one of the two biggest comic book publishers during the second silver age of comics.
That’s like giving props to John, Paul, George and Ringo before they became the Beatles. Andy saw clearly that Bill was changing the industry.
I look at all the new talent and groundbreaking work being done today and often think, yeah, that’s nice but Sienkiewicz did that shit 20 years ago.
As with anyone, if you are so good for so long some people tend to not really acknowledge you as you should be acknowledged. And when I say some people I mean young stupid artists. Some people even resent your success if you are the best at what you do and have been doing it for a while. Case in point: people don’t just dislike the Yankees, they hate the Yankees.
I’ve have not run into any people who hate Bill but at this year’s Comic Con I did hear this young artist dismiss Bill’s work and even say “He’s no Alex Ross.” True. But with all due respect to Alex, if there was no Bill Sienkiewicz there may have been no Alex Ross.
I took a moment to look at the artist’s work and told him he was neither Alex Ross nor Bill Sienkiewicz and talk is cheap, like the portfolio his work was in. I was a bit harsh, but in my defense I was out of tequila…
There really should be an admissions policy to get into artist’s alley. I mean…ugh.
Take a moment to reflect on the immortal words of Dr. Dre…
Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say
But nothin comes out when they move their lips Just a buncha gibberish
And muthafuckas act like they forgot about Dre…
People forget that Bill changed the game. And he is still changing it.
Bill is one of the greatest artists who have ever worked in comics. I don’t say that because he’s like family to me. I say that because it’s true.
Bill, if you are reading this (and I know you will be because I’m posting it on your Facebook page) if I told you this every day for a year it still would not be enough. You, my friend are a true living legend and I’m proud to be your friend.
But…the next time I give a party at Comic Con and your ass doesn’t show up I’m posting those photos (you know those photos) on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the Society of Illustrators website.
WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold Gushes Poetown and Teases An Announcement
Please read parts one and two before this installment.
The Comics Code Authority (CCA) tried its best to stop EC from publishing a particularly offensive (to them) comic book. The book they were trying to stop was Weird Fantasy #18 (April 1953); the story was called “Judgment Day.”
What was objected to was not a gory scene of a space monster under orders from a criminal ripping to pieces an earth girl who, clad in scant bra and panties, was an obvious sexual tease for 50s era yikoung boys.
What was objected to was the main character, an astronaut, was revealed on the last page in the last panel to be a black man. Wow, who knew that the Tea Party was alive and well in 1953 under the name Comics Code Authority?
Why am I surprised at this? The GOP thinks that a woman can’t get pregnant and everyone knows that’s science fiction but (sorry Peter) I digress…
The CCA demanded the story removed or the last panel changed to a white boy. ECs editor William Gaines, the publisher of Weird Fantasy, responded to that demand with “Fuck you.”
Three years later, Gaines reprinted the story in the final issue (#33) of Incredible Science Fiction.
William Gaines was gangsta.
Like Branch Rickey, the man who brought Jackie Robinson to professional baseball, William Gaines was a civil rights pioneer. Both were white men and although Gaines rarely gets any kudos for his civil rights stance, certainly not the way Rickey is remembered.
That shot fired in 1956 started a war in the comic book industry over black story lines, black characters and black creators and that war continues today. A war not nearly as difficult as it was in 1956 but a war nevertheless.
1956 meet 1993 meet 2012…
In 1993 Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie, Derek T. Dingle, Christopher Priest and myself founded Milestone Media.
Milestone was a worldwide phenomenon making history with its ground breaking deal with DC Comics. At the time the deal with DC was the biggest joint venture deal ever done in comics.
The deal was not the reason Milestone was heralded. Milestone was rocketed in front of the public because the founders were four African American men. We were four because Christopher Priest left the company before Milestone published.
In the almost 20 years since Milestone came on the scene the company is still thought of as the penultimate African American comic book company.
It’s good because Milestone accomplished something that was a long time coming. Milestone put black content on the map. Black creators, black characters and black story lines were propelled to the forefront of the American comic industry. Never before in comics long history has African American content captured the imagination of fans, retailers and the press.
It’s bad because Milestone is almost 20 years old and still the penultimate African American moment in comics. As a founder of Milestone that gladdens me as an African American creator it also saddens me.
Where is the next wave?
Within the African American comics’ community there exists splits’ that mainstream comic book readers for the most part are not aware of. Among most black creators Milestone is respected, but there are some young black creators who see Milestone as sellouts, Uncle Toms or worse. Some in the black comic book community have gone so far as to brand Milestone, House Niggers when discussing our groundbreaking deal with DC Comics.
This is the state of the very real divide within the black comics community.
There is a thriving independent group of young black creators who are doing bold and wonderful work. They publish with small indie houses or they self-publish. The stories they are creating are mostly Afro-centric, mostly positive but there are some which are anti-establishment, a.k.a. anti-white.
On the flip side of that there is a contingent of black creators who reject all other forms of publishing unless a major publisher publishes them and by major publisher I mean the two big boys, Marvel and DC. Lastly there are those black creators who would not publish with Marvel or DC if their lives depended on it, seeing both companies as comic’s answer to plantations.
With all the seemingly inexhaustible black talent out there I ask again…
Where’s the next wave?
Why is a new black anything (comic, creator, character) at Marvel or DC still seen as a breakthrough 20 years after Milestone and 58 years after Judgment Day?
Case in point, Marvel’s new half black, half Latino Spider-Man. That was a huge story, which captivated numerous news cycles. The recent cancellation of DC Comics’ New 52 StaticShock after only six issues sent shock waves (pun intended) throughout the industry.
The outcry from fans on the net went from, oh no Static was cancelled to Static was cancelled because he was black.
Here’s what Denys Cowan and I, co-creators of Static Shock and both black creators think, Static was cancelled because this hit, cool, teenage hero was fighting a giant fish.
Up until now there has been no serious attempt to showcase African Americans and the creative excellence, which has been a mainstay of the industry for as long as comics have been an American art form. Unfortunately at the beginning of the American comic book business, African Americans were depicted most often as horrible stereotypes.
I’ve seen that movie; Milestones: African Americans In Comics, Pop Culture And Beyond will not be that kind of show.
Yes, there will me a nod or two to the depiction of those sad and hurtful images. However, this show will be about the vast talent and wonderful innovation that came from or were influenced by African Americans.
From the faceless contributions of those like William Gaines almost 60 years ago to the constant search for African American talent by Mike Richardson to the acknowledgement of contributions by people like Jenette Kahn, Marv Wolfman, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby this show will embrace the totality which is black comics.
Make no mistake; the overwhelming focus will be on black creators and their art. But let’s face it there would have been no Static Shock without the Black Panther.
It’s my hope that the show will feature not just the work of mainstream black creators but also work from those who consider themselves outside the mainstream as well as those who want nothing to do with the mainstream. I’d like the major comic book companies like Marvel, DC and Dark Horse to have sections devoted to them and their efforts to level the racial playing field but also let’s learn from the mistakes they made.
Independent and new companies will be invited to participate as long as the work from that company is quality. Let’s face it; some independent publishers simply suck.
I don’t care if you are the son of Malcolm X. If your work sucks you will not be represented in the show and I’ll keep you out by any means necessary.
Damn, I’m witty!
Writers from within and outside the comics industry will be called upon to write essays and reflections on the fight for acceptance and the triumph of arriving and exceeding expectations.
In America it’s no secret that African American culture is pop culture so it’s my objective to showcase that. I may fail, I may not be the guy that should have been chosen for this wonderful event but from the bottom of my heart I swear I will do the best I can.
If I fail, it’s my fault…and the Tea Parties…what?
Over the years I’ve had quite a few young black creators insist they should be invited to sit on the Black Panel. For the record, that has never worked and most likely never will. I say “most likely” for two reasons: I try to never say never and I would be happy as a mofo to find someone so damn talented that I put them on the panel at first sight.
The Black Panel, for those unaware, is the African American pop culture forum I founded more than 20 years ago (when I was five, Jean) and for over a decade it has been a mainstay at Comic Con International. One of my pet peeves with some young black creators is they think they are owed something.
The following is typical of how I’m approached…
A few months ago I was walking the floor at Wonder Con with Denys Cowan and a young black artist noticed my nametag, came up to me and insisted he should be on the Black Panel. After he spent a good five minutes or more telling me how good he was I asked him if he felt he was good enough and established enough to be on a panel with Denys Cowan.
He had no idea who Denys Cowan was.
I told him he was not ready and he asked how could I make that decision without looking at his work. I said when he figured that out then maybe he would be good enough for The Black Panel.
A young African American artist who does not know who Denys Cowan is?
The Black Panel is a forum of truly extraordinary people who have done extraordinary things within the African American media space. The panel is set up so these amazing professionals can share their insights with their fans and with young creators.
This year I expect more asshole haters on the net because there are two white people on the panel. The Black Panel is not just for black people. It’s for people who have done noticeable work within the African American media space. Over the years I’ve had plenty of blue-eyed soul brothers on the panel. This year will be a first as we welcome our first blue-eyed soul sister to The Black Panel.
I’ll see if I can let my ComicMix readers in on the panel participants before Comic Con releases the info on their website. If they won’t mind I’ll post the names here. The panelists are some of the coolest I’ve ever had and I’ve had some cool ass panelists.
I am the proud owner of two, that’s right two original pieces of Moebius art.
It’s a big deal and it’s not a big deal. It’s a big deal because Moebius is one of the greatest artists ever. Period.
It’s not a big deal because hundreds, maybe even thousands, have an original piece of Moebius art.
That’s because he gave them away.
At comic conventions he would sit and do free sketches for people. So there is a multitude of people who all have original Moebius art.
Think about that for a second. Moebius one of the greatest artist ever, gave away sketches for free. And he did the drawings just for you.
That boggled my mind then and it boggles my mind now.
I was fan from the second I saw his work in Heavy Metal magazine way back when. Huge fan.
I had – and still have – a Moebius pen and ink style. I also give away free art at conventions, because no one would pay me, and I do those drawings in a Moebius pen and ink style.
When asked (rare as it may be) to do a drawing I still do them for free and, yes, if you catch me somewhere and I have a moment and you would like a Michael Davis drawing I will be happy to do one for you. But…
I only draw one thing… a drunken fat Batman. Long story and I will share… but not now. Now, I must digress for a moment before retuning to Moebius.
Many (I’d say most) of you just know me from my weekly rants here at ComicMix or for my f-word laced rants on my site. I’ve had a weird career in comics. That’s also a story for another time but take my word for it most of the stuff I’ve done has been behind the scenes.
I make deals. That’s what I do. That’s yet another story for another time but that’s pretty much my career in comics I’m a deal maker and I’m talking big deals also.
I’m real good at deal making, Hell I’m the freakin’ best at it if you ask me. I’m not bragging. It’s not bragging if you can do it.
I can do it.
I’m co-founder of Milestone Media and once during one of our San Diego convention trips in the mid 90s my three partners, the late Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle and I, were manning the Milestone booth in shifts.
On this day, during my brake from the Milestone booth I stood on a very long line to get my second Moebius drawing. The day before I stood on line during my break for the first. When I got back to the booth I proudly showed off my new Moebius drawing.
Denys looked at it like he was going to punch me and take it. Dwayne was just as impressed, I think Derek was scaring some kid away. How? Derek took his role as President of Milestone Media very seriously. He wore tailored suits everywhere, even comic conventions. He looked like a Fed and that scares people. Really, it does.
While we were looking at the drawing Denys and I started taking about Moebius and just how cool it would be to get him to do some Milestone covers…
“That will never happen.” Dwayne said in that Dwayne is always right tone of voice, because, well, he was always right.
“Why not?” I asked. “He’s one of the biggest artists in the industry, one of the biggest artist in the world. He’s swamped and impossible to get to.” Dwayne retorted.
“I got to him twice, today and yesterday.” I dead paned.
We all laughed at that and after that moment passed I told Dwayne I was going to ask Moebius. He said, and I’ll never forget it, “If you can get him then I’ll believe the hype.”
I got him.
Moebius did four covers for us and we then turned those covers into posters.
It was quite a coup for Milestone and me.
Moebius passed away Saturday and it really messed me up for most of the day. I not only admired his work I was a fan of the way he lived his life. Never a bad word about anyone or anything, always took the time to talk (and draw!) to his fans. He was just a wonderful man.
All these years I thought the reason Moebius did those covers was because I was such a hot shot dealmaker.
He did those covers because he was the real deal just a wonderful, wonderful, person.
He didn’t see Michael Davis, fast talking dealmaker. No, Moebius saw a fan that stood in two very long lines twice to get those drawing. He did those covers for the fan boy who really loved his work not the executive from Milestone.
That realization came to me like a brick to my forehead this morning when I heard the news. I’m now certain the answer would have been “no” if he didn’t know I was such a fan. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do.
Nevertheless, I did get a coup. Four coups, actually.
I have two Moebius drawings, I spent some time with him and he drew characters I co-created.
Not bad for a fanboy eh?
Rest in peace, dear Moebius, you were one of the greats, as an artist and as a man.
If you’ve been a fan of Warner Bros.’ direct-to-DVD DC Universe movies, you are no doubt eagerly awaiting the February 28th release of Justice League: Doom.ComicMix’s ownGlenn Hauman and Mike Gold attended a press screening of the movie, along with the mandatory press conferences and post-game roundtable discussion. We decided to take a conversational approach to our preview – not quite a review, as we’re avoiding spoilers. Still, if you’re extraordinarily anal retentive (the fanboy/fangirl affliction), you might want to just look at the pictures.
Glenn: The story, and the universe, felt familiar – not just because we’ve known these characters forever, but because it was Dwayne McDuffie’s take on them, his POV from Justice League and from Justice League Unlimited. One of those “you don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone” things.
Mike: DC’s animated universe came about organically, from the original Fox Batman Adventures through Doom… with major exceptions like that Teen Titans and that unnecessary and initially unwatchable TheBatman series a couple years ago. Dwayne played a major part in that Justice League animated universe to be sure, but those Batman and Superman series created the foundation of this universe, as well as the bouncing off point for many of the actors.
Glenn: Speaking of the DC animated universe: one thing that was weird for me, throwing a new bit of unexpected unfamiliarity, was meeting Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for two decades, because he just doesn’t quite look the part in real life – he looks more like the Scarecrow. I found myself mentally covering up his face from his nose up, superimposing a cowl on him. Or am I just that weird?
Mike: Yeah, Conroy is pretty skinny and he’s got a great face. But I think he’d be perfect as Jason Blood or Orion of the New Gods.
Glenn: Conroy as Jason Blood, live action? Oh, that works really well.
It’s not a black or white world. The world is made up of many shades of gray.
Yet somehow when something happens to a black character “racism” always clings to the debate.
There has been a flurry of activity since DC cancelled StaticShock. The DC official line is the book was cancelled because of sales. Some fans think DC should have kept the book alive by whatever means necessary and only canceled the book because they did not think enough of the character to change direction.
Some think that DC cancelled the book because Static was black.
What do I, co-creator of Static, think?
I don’t care why they cancelled the book. I care that they cancelled the book.
A guy once put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. I didn’t care why the gun jammed, I cared that the gun jammed.
Sometimes the reason for something is not nearly as important as the thing.
In the almost 20 years that Milestone, I company I co-founded, has been around I’ve never publicly commented on the direction of the Milestone universe. Never a word on the management rather I was with the company or not. I’ll do it here, but just to make a point.
I did not like the book.
I mentioned in a post on ComicMix last week that there are some who think that DC cancelled the book because Static was black but somehow fail to acknowledge that DC published the book in the first place. I love people who don’t let little things like the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
Over on my website, Danny Donovan wrote an amazing piece about the cancellation called “Not shocked.” A reader wrote a wonderful comment making the case that DC’s actions regarding the Static cancellation had strong overtones or racism.
I do not believe DC cancelled the book because of some racist agenda.
So why do I say the writer’s comments were “wonderful?” Because he presented his case, backed up his thoughts and wrote them in a clear concise way. I don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge they make a good case.
A few years ago during The Black Panel at Comic Con International I addressed one of the many rumors about Milestone Media by telling the audience how Denys Cowan started Milestone and I co-signed, period. Milestone was Deny’s baby and without Denys Milestone never would have happened.
Soon after Comic Con, a blogger went on line and wrote that “his sources” told him that my “version” of Milestone’s origin was not the way Milestone started and because Denys (who was on the panel with me) didn’t say anything after I made my comments, somehow that meant I was lying.
Like I said, I love people who don’t let little things like the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
So, me being me, I went online and told this guy that his “sources” were wrong. He came back with “these are very good sources” and he was standing behind them.
He was standing behind “very good sources” instead of giving me (who was there) the benefit of the doubt. What I did next was tell him I’d give him ten thousand dollars if he could prove what he was telling thousands of people on the net. If he didn’t prove it then he should give me ten grand or shut the fuck up.
He shut the fuck up.
The comment on MDW made by the guy who suggests racism had a hand in the cancellation of Static gave a few examples of DC purposive prejudice towards black characters and creators.
And… he made some good points. I know of one instance when he was on the right track. He did not give particulars so I cannot say for a fact that he was talking about the following incident but it fits the general description.
When Milestone started negotiations with DC there was one meeting in which an important high-ranking DC executive said that when it came to black characters in the market place, black meant death. He went on to suggest we don’t show the characters in any ads so as not to turn off the public. He finished once again with, “black means death.”
At that moment one more racist word out of his mouth may have meant death if the looks on the faces of Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and myself meant anything.
Here’s my two cents. That guy was an asshole and people in the industry generally accept that he was out of touch and yes I felt at the time he was racist. I was in his office once admiring a photo of a sports car he had on the wall. “Maybe one day with a lot of hard work you can have a car like that,” he said with a smile.
I reached into my pocket and showed him my car keys. “I already have one.”
The look on his face was well worth the distain he showed me from that moment on. He never spoke to me again unless he had to.
I believe he was racist and because he was a high-ranking member of the DC staff I believe he could be a problem. Was he a problem? I can’t say for sure.
Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz were his bosses and they believed in Milestone from day one, so fuck him. I saw him once after he left DC, he was very pleasant and so was I. Why be decent?
As Denys says, “too small, throw it back.”
That was then, this is now…
Hey Bruce! How you living? Guess how many sports cars I have now!
Here’d something that’s never addressed in these “DC is racist claims” concerning Milestone.
No founder of Milestone would stand for any Jim Crow shit. Not now, not then.
It will never happen and if some people would just look at the backgrounds and resumes of the founders they would know that Milestone is made up of people that Ice Cube famously said are ‘the wrong niggas to fuck with.’
Has race been an issue at DC? Yes! Race is an issue everywhere. The question is when race becomes racism. DC did not cancel Static because they were racist; they cancelled Static because the fans did not want to see one of the greatest characters ever created fighting a giant fish.
A giant fish??
Lastly, DC took a risk with Milestone but almost twenty years later Milestone is still here, still a topic of conversation still a great universe with great characters and I’m sure that Static is a risk they will take again.
As Captain Kirk said, “Risk? Risk, is our business!”
Most people in the industry know that my best friend is Denys Cowan.
Denys is one of the greatest comic book artists that the business has ever seen. He’s the artist a lot of other artists look at and as to underscore that fact he’s been nominated for not one but two Eisner awards for best penciler.
He has worked for every major publisher out there. He’s one of the few artists that commands respect from both Marvel and DC without pissing one or both off.
There’s not a major publisher out there that would not consider it an honor to have a Denys Cowan project under their imprint.
Denys is really hard to impress when it comes to comics.
I like what I like but I don’t have the depth of knowledge about comic books like Denys does.
Both Denys and I both think the new DC 52 are just wonderful comics.
I’ve got a less than stellar history with DC comics. That said, they are and have always been my favorite comic book universe since I was a kid.
It’s not just nostalgia I’m thinking about. I feel that way because I think DC comics has done some great creative stuff in the last 20 plus years. The second silver age was 90% DC in my opinion.
Denys looks at comics from a much more artistic point than I do, but we are both fans of the New 52.
So, are Denys and I on crack? Is the New 52 as good as we think?
Maybe, just maybe Grell wouldn’t ask me. I mean he had yet to speak one single word to me in the two plus hours I was in his room.
No such luck. After Grell asked everyone in the room he turned to me.
“What did you think?”
All I had to do was lie. Why didn’t I? I didn’t because lying to me is never an option. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I think lying is such a terrible thing, it’s because I have a horrible short-term memory. I’ll never be able to support a lie once I’ve committed to it.
In other words, if I lie about something and the subject ever comes up again I won’t remember what I said originally.
“It’s not like me to sleep with a man on the first date,” said the very beautiful woman.
“It’s not a first date if I’ve known you forever.” I said with my best Billy Dee Williams voice.
“We just met yesterday.”
“But in my dreams I’m known and loved you forever.”
“You…you love me?”
The next morning I said goodbye and said I would call later that day so we can have dinner and talk about our new life together.
Two weeks later…
“Why haven’t you called me??”
“Who is this?”
Now, here I was faced with lying to Mike Grell a man whose work I loved. I thought long and hard about simply saying I liked the movie. I mean what did I have to lose? I’d most likely never see him again. He was not nice to me at all when we first met and the show did suck.
Then I thought about what Denys Cowan told me about Grell when I told him I was invited to watch Sable in Grell’s room. “Mike Grell hunts.”
“Really? What does he hunt?” I asked wanting to know every thing about the idol I was about to meet.
“It’s not what he hunts.” Denys said. “It’s what he hunts with.”
“Grell hunts with a bow and arrow.”
I didn’t (still don’t) know a lot about hunting but I instantly recognized just how bad ass you have to be to hunt with a bow and arrow.
So now I’m scared as shit to lie to Grell.
What would happen if I said I loved the show and then someone asked me the same question later and I told them the truth and Grell found out, hunted me down, choked the life out of me and then shot me with an arrow?
Hey, stranger things have happened to me.
I decided not to lie. He asked again, “What did you think?”
“I like the comic book better.”
Yeah, sometimes I’m a fucking genius.
“So do I.” Said the man who would soon become my close friend, he added, “Let’s get something to eat.”
So, there I was at dinner with Mike Grell (sitting right next to him) John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Denys (who finally showed up) and tons of other comic professionals that I was totally jazzed to meet.
I was in Heaven. During dinner, Mike and I talked and after finding out I was an artist he asked to see my portfolio.
The next day changed my professional life.
I showed Carol Kalish my portfolio and she gave me a cover assignment for Marvel’s Open Space anthology. I then met with Mike Grell and after showing him my work he made a call to Mark Nevelow. Mark was the brand new editor of Piranha Press, DC Comics new mature reader imprint.
I’ve always been smart when it comes to seeing and seizing opportunities. That doesn’t mean I have not blown some opportunities. Just because I have a knack for spotting them and acting does not exempt me from screwing something up. Been there done that…often. Not this time.
I was to spend another two weeks in Ohio hanging with Denys at a friend of his house. I cut my trip short so I could get back to New York to work on the Open Space cover and meet with Mark Nevelow. I met with Mark and was commissioned to do Piranha’s first project, ETC.
I mentioned in part one of this series that I was about to accept a position running the Art Department of a prestigious prep school. When Mark gave me ETC I changed my mind. It wasn’t just the project that changed my mind, it was the people I met at that Mid-Ohio Convention and my unchanged love of comics I’ve had since I was a kid. The people I met were so wonderful to me that I decided to take a leap towards the dream I was right about to simply let go.
Denys Cowan invited me to The Mid-Ohio con. I met Carol Kalish who gave me a cover assignment and became a great friend and adviser. I met John Ostrander who invited me to meet Mike Grell. Kim Yale kept me from fleeing Grell’s room. Mike Grell called Mark Nevelow on my behalf. Mark Nevelow gave me the ETC series.
I decided to stay in New York and work in comics.
The people above are whom you can blame for me working in comics.
I wrote this with young artists and writers in mind.
Most of you have no idea what I’ve done in comics because I don’t illustrate many comics. The fact is I’m known mostly as a deal maker in the industry. You may not know me but I’m quite sure you know some of the creators that have come out of my mentor program or some of the work I’ve done in TV or The Black Panel.
Or maybe not.
Here’s what you should know if you really want to have a career in comics.
Talent is great.
Desire is wonderful.
Having a dream and sticking to it, priceless.
None of the above will matter if you don’t try and build relationships with good people. I’ve said it a zillion times, I know good people. I’ve pulled off some unbelievable shit in my career but without good people in my life it most likely would have still been shit but that’s about all.
Myr. Grell, Mr. Ostrander and Mr. Nevelow my sincere thanks to you kind sirs.
Ms. Yale and Ms. Kalish, you will never be forgotten and my thanks to you as well.
To every young creator, I leave you with this:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”