CBR TV: Hudlin & Cowan Talk Milestone 2.0, Cultural Significance, Accessible Books & More
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher, Comic Book Resources
Back in January, Milestone Media announced its return, with newcomer Reginald Hudlin now in the mix alongside original co-founders Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle. This new company, Milestone 2.0, announced plans to bring back classic characters from the Milestone stable along with new creations spread across of a variety of outlets and mediums, including a new live-action “Static Shock” series in the works with Warner Bros.’ Blue Ribbon Content shingle. Two of the new company’s principles, Hudlin and Cowan, boarded the world famous CBR Floating Tiki Room at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss the company, its new agenda and much more in a lively conversation with CBR TV’s Jonah Weiland.
SDCC: Milestone Media Returns to DC Comics as “Earth-M”
The discussion begins with Hudlin and Cowan examining whether Milestone 2.0 is possibly even more relevant in 2015 than the original company was when it formed in 1993. They also discuss Milestone’s legacy and why its cultural significance has been so pronounced in the years that followed, something both creators credit the animated “Static Shock” with having a hand in.
On whether Milestone 2.0 is even more relevant today than when the original Milestone Media was launched in 1993:
Reginald Hudlin: As a consumer, as a fan, Milestone was hugely impactful. First of all, I’m fans of all these guys individually. I was a huge fan of Denys Cowan’s art; I was a huge fan of Dwayne McDuffie’s writing. So these guys teaming up, them discovering all these other incredible talents, but most of all creating fantastic characters, characters that have what I call “great bones.” Because when you measure comic book characters, you have to look at them in 75 [to] 100-year periods. Is this gonna be a good idea? I mean, like, The Shadow’s a good idea; Batman’s a good idea; Spider-Man’s a good idea. These things last over decades and that’s what struck me about the Milestone creations — Static Shock, Hardware, Icon, and so on and so on, Xombi — is that they had great bones. And then the other thing was that they existed as a company for the top black creators to come together to create the comic book equivalent of Motown. And that’s a big deal.
When we announced 2.0, we thought, “This is a good idea, people want to see this.” It was like, “Oh god, we broke the Internet! What happened?” And it just reminded us, yes, the character is great, but the idea is even greater.
Denys Cowan: Milestone in the ’90s was important, for what it was at that time, and it was great what we did. It called a lot of attention to a lot of things that were going on. Milestone 2.0 is just as important for this time. I can’t say one is more important than the other. I can say they’re both, for their times, right on time, right now. The issues that we’re concerned with — it almost seems that Milestone 2.0 is an amplified version of Milestone, but we’re in amplified times. It feels like even though, when we did it, “Okay, we’re just gonna do this little idea and see if it explodes,” the way it’s been impactful has shown us that, no, this is the right time. We’re doing this at the right time, perhaps the best time to do this company.
On how the “Static Shock” cartoon helped cement the company’s cultural significance:
Cowan: As the audience grew up, we ceased publishing, but they had kids and they taught their kids about Milestone, and the “Static Shock” cartoon was a big thing. We can’t discount that. That was hugely impactful, perhaps more impactful than the comic books themselves because it just reached a lot more people and the same messages — you know Dwayne was a writer on the show, and I was a director and a producer on the show — so we were able to get the same messages across, tell those same Milestone stories to a much bigger audience. So the impact kind of stretched.
Hudlin: And when you think about the audience of kind of Black Saturday morning cartoon shows, usually they were music-based. It was the Jackson 5, it was Hammer Man, it was the Harlem Globetrotters.
Cowan: Mr. T and the T-Force.
Hudlin: “Static Shock” was not a stunt. It wasn’t catching a momentary popularity. It was a legit superhero, with comic books, done by legit comic book creators. In that way, it stood legitimately next to Superman and Batman, and in fact had better ratings than Superman and Batman at the time.
Cowan: Yeah, we were killing in the ratings. But the thing is, it was the same philosophy. Reggie had mentioned this, when we set up the comic books originally, our goal was not to do anything that was fad-ish; not to do anything that was like — except for variant covers, we did that. But we didn’t want to fall into that trap of being so trendy that you’re just out of favor at the next trend. Let’s do solid comic books with solid coloring and solid stories that would stand the test of time. So our emphasis was always on the characters and what we did but not on trends or gimmicks or anything like that.
In the second part of their conversation, Hudlin and Cowan speak to the importance of telling stories accessible to as wide an audience as possible and why the new Milestone books will please new readers and original fans alike. They also discuss the return of writer Christopher Priest, explaining how much they like his work and has crucial he is to both phases of Milestone. Wrapping up, Cowan elaborates on why Milestone 2.0 is much more than just a business move for him.
On whether the Milestone 2.0 stories will fit in canon, function as a reboot, or be something else entirely:
Hudlin: It’s a new starting point because — my philosophy is always ‘something is always someone’s first comic book.’ I’ve got young kids — I’ve got an eight and a ten-year-old — and when they pick up a book and I’ve gotta explain for 15 minutes what’s going on, in a 20-page comic book — that’s not right. When I was a kid you could just pick up the book and know what’s going on. It explained who everybody was, you understood what their interpersonal dynamics were, and you could ride along.
Cowan: Whether you had ever seen it before or not.
Hudlin: I’m a big believer in making a really accessible book. One thing that’s exciting to me when I look at what’s happening today with all kinds of new creators and fans go, “Thank you. All I have to worry about is these six issues. I don’t have to sweat what happened the previous 75 years.
If you were a fan of the original books, you’re gonna love these books. But if you want your son or daughter to get into comics and you want a book that looks like them, or you want your kid to have a more diverse range of reading, this is for you. That’s what’s so great. That’s one of the things we look at and go, “Wow, this is gonna be even bigger this time.” … Kids aren’t hung up about race, they just want the cool thing. We just want to deliver the cool thing.
On whether Christopher Priest will be back in the Milestone fold:
Cowan: We love Christopher Priest.
Hudlin: I’m just gonna say it. So the drive from L.A. to San Diego is like three and a half hours long. I pretty much spent the entire trip talking to Christopher Priest as we were breaking a story. So then I got down here, I go to Denys, “Let me tell you what we’ve been working on.”
Cowan: Except it was at 1 o’clock in the morning. So we’re speaking for an hour at 1 o’clock in the morning. He’s telling me this story. It’s so good we stayed on the phone for an hour just talking about that like, “Dude. And then what happens? And then what happens? And then what happens?” I’m like, “Oh my god, I have to draw this right now.”
Hudlin: It’s so good, it’s so much fun. So then last night I was up, everybody was asleep, I’m like “OK,” because he sent me notes so I got like four different e-mails this morning. I’m like “Aaaaaaah!”
Cowan: To answer the question, yes.
Hudlin: And Christopher Priest, who we love, who we’ve always loved and we’re so happy to be working with him again, he was part of the original team.
Cowan: He was part of the original Milestone. That fifth Beatle that never really gets recognition.
Hudlin: But there’s been so many incredible high-level writers and artists who’ve been like, “What?! Milestone’s back? I’m in! When? Where?” It’s been incredible. The biggest names in the business are like, “We are down. We wanna be in.” We’re super excited about the amount of firepower we’re gonna bring.”
On what has Cowan so excited about the return and future of Milestone:
Cowan: It’s very simple. When we talk about Milestone and you said, “Well, first of all it’s a business.” And I’m thinking to myself, my first thing is, “I have to interrupt my man.” ‘Cause it’s not just a business, it’s a cause. It’s a mission. To me there is no — I feel intense about Milestone and the characters we do because to me there is no greater thing to do than to do something for our fans in this medium with these characters. That’s it for me. I’d be very happy if this is all I worked on for the rest of my career; doing these characters and doing it for this audience that I love.