milestone: finally i was there

In a recent online column, Dwayne McDuffie, Editor In Chief of Milestone Media, Inc. acknowledged my role in the early stages of Milestone's development. Milestone Media, of course, is the ground-breaking company that developed the first nationally distributed mainstream super-hero comic book line owned and operated by African Americans. The line was a culturally diverse super-hero genre, focused on a vision of urban America created largely in Denys Cowan's living room and Michael Davis' basement by five guys who loved comics.

The critically-acclaimed line was a monumental achievement in this volatile comics market, and I am enormously proud of Milestone's great achievements and my role in them. I haven't written about Milestone much over the years because of the continuing issue (for me) of their lack of public acknowledgement of my contributions to their development process. I hardly wanted some online war of words between us, and I'd held out hope the day would come when the issue would be put to rest.

I'm still waiting. But Dwayne's column has gone a long way towards that goal. It'd be nice if, someday, Milestone as a group, a partnership or a company, would go on the record about that. In the meantime, I'll be grateful to Dwayne and, since this site concerns me and my career,  I'll take a moment to discuss Milestone and me.

First: that big "M" registered trademark?  I created that.

Second: I'm not mad at Milestone or anyone connected to Milestone. As far I as I know, we're all still friends, we all still talk.

I am, pretty much, the Pete Best of Milestone Media.  I was one of five, yes five, original principal partners, but left the group shortly before they went to contract with DC Comics.

As I said, I created the "M" logo. On Jim Chadwick (former DC art director)'s computer and with Curtis King (DC cover editor)'s help, back in 1992.  I met the four Milestone principles in a donut shop down the street from DC Comics at around eight in the morning. They had a meeting with DC brass, and I wanted to give them the revised proposal we'd all worked on. We had settled on the name "Milestone Media" for the company, and I wanted to do a quickie, no-frills, overnight logo design just to dress the proposal up.  Michael Davis looked at the logo and said, "Man, you can design your ass off."

Michael is a guy who always encourages talent. If you have any talent at all, any dreams or goals, Michael will be your biggest cheerleader. Throughout our efforts to launch Milestone, I wasn't always the best friend Michael could have, but Michael remained professional and elevated both his dignity and the dignity of the work above the inevitable differences of opinion between the brothers.

And we were exactly that: brothers. It was like a UPN sitcom: here's the cool brother, here's the funny brother, here's the genius brother, here's the grown-up brother who must continually bear the infirmities of his younger siblings. And, somewhere in the mix, there was me. Integral to the extent that I am, to my knowledge, the first black writer/editor in mainstream comics, and that I had (and still have) a good relationship with DC's PTB.

Denys Cowan is the coolest man who ever walked the face of the earth. When I was interning at Marvel in 1978, Denys used to come  by the office and hang around, looking for work and picking up the girls I was too nerdy to talk to. Denys is one of the most underrated, brilliant artists in the business. His concept pieces for Milestone are still some of the most wonderful comics drawings I've ever seen.

Derek T. Dingle was the grown up. A writer/editor for MONEY Magazine, Derek was a closet comic book fan dressed in a suit. He had something none of the rest of us had- a thirst for business.  None of the rest of us cared about business or money.  Money was just something you used to keep the landlord from bothering you. We were creative people: slobs with bad credit. Derek was the adult who lived to immerse himself in legal jargon and spreadsheets, while still being excited about wandering around the halls of DC Comics.

Dwayne McDuffie
is the smartest human being to ever live on this planet. Denys and I were Tuckerizing him somewhat in STEEL. If you want to know Dwayne, read STEEL #34-45 or so.  At least, that's my interpretation of him. I swear Denys was drawing him.  I called Denys and said, "Hey— are you drawing Dwayne?!" Denys, "No.  Don't be ridiculous."  Then I'm sure he got off the phone and proceeded to draw Dwayne.

Dwayne is one of the only intellectuals I've ever met that I can win an argument with.  Most people, certainly most intellectuals, have a serious ego problem that prohibits their saying the words, "Ok, you're right."  But, if you present a reasonable argument and empirical evidence, you can win an argument with Dwayne. That taught me a lot: Dwayne taught me it was okay to be wrong.  Being wrong doesn't make you a failure or a loser. It costs Dwayne nothing, absolutely nothing, to say, "Ok, you're right," and that amazed me.

Dwayne also taught me it was okay to have an ego. Good Christian teaching has taught me the virtue of modesty. Dwayne is quick to compliment others while not really patting his own back much. I once said something like, "You don't seem to have much of an ego," and he said something to me that changed my life, something to the effect of:  "Jim, my ego is so huge that, if I let it get out of control, nobody would talk to me. I know what I can do, I know what I'm not good at, I don't look for or need compliments, I don't need validation."  And, from that day forward, neither did I.

We were brothers. We worked for eight straight months on putting the business on its feet. Our office was Denys' place or Michael's place. We met in my car. At restaurants (I mean, like MacDonald's: we were seriously broke).  This included countless, unending, marathon (like, 13-hour) sessions narrowing a flood of ideas down to characters like Paragon (later Icon), Rocket, Hardware, and the Blood Syndicate gang. Who created what?  What does it matter?  Everyone brought something to the table and everyone ripped away at it and refined it in the fire until we had something we could all agree on.

At the ninth hour, for personal reasons, I opted out, choosing to remain on staff at DC rather than leave to join the partnership.  I was Milestone's in-house liaison, the guy who was supposed to fight the in-house fights for them. Their not-so-secret weapon, since most everyone at DC knew where my loyalties were. Then, in 1993, I moved on, leaving the staff gig in an effort to save my failing marriage.

I'd like to stress that everyone involved had a substantial hand in the creative process, and I don't mean to minimize or in any way reduce the inestimable contributions everyone made to the collective work. Also, the partners made substantial improvements on the Milestone creative universe and the characters after I withdrew, so the Milestone comics you read were huge improvements over the creative stage I last had a hand in.

My contributions were, however, substantial. In Dwayne McDuffie's column, To Be Continued, which I actually read for the first time today, there is (to my knowledge) the first public acknowledgement that I was there in the early days:

"Many years later, I would work with him on the creator-owned project that came to be known as Milestone. Originally, Owsley (he was still Owsley at the time. A few months later, when he told me he had changed his name to Christopher Priest, I told him that was fine, I had changed my name to Isaac Asimov. Hey, I thought he was kidding) was supposed to be the Editor-In-Chief of the proposed line. When he bowed out for personal reasons, I was drafted. But his contributions to the creative direction of Milestone are many. He was integral to the backstory of our universe's origin myth, supplementing my notion of a "Stonewall-like civil uprising" (by drawing on the urban legends about chemicals added to Tahitian Treat soda to sterilize poor blacks). He titled the book Blood Syndicate (I was calling it "Bang Babies") and replaced all the code names I came up with for those characters with good ones. In Icon, he forced me to give Rocket powers, even though I was sure the book would be better if she didn't. I was wrong, he was right. Mark that down in your calendars, folks, you may never hear me say that again."

This was extremely gratifying.  Sheesh, now I have nothing to complain about anymore. Well, Jay Leno's ruination of  The Tonight Show, but I digress...

If I recall correctly, though, Blood Syndicate was titled by Denys Cowan.  I think Denys came in with Blood, and Michael or somebody tossed out Syndicate.  I may have been the first guy in the room to say those two titles together, but that was my major contribution there. I didn't care if Rocket had powers; I suspect that was MD Bright, but I can't be sure.

Some things I will take credit for (at the risk of running afoul of the recollection of others):

I wrote the original universe bible, which was later revised and edited by Dwayne (who was flying back and forth to Israel at the time). I created the basic  concept of a shared universe expressed in a multi-faceted city, the name of that city ("Dakota"), Paris Island, the history of the Island and the James River,  the Paris Island Accordion-Fold Door Factory, the Tenth Avenue Bridge (or "The Tab"), Sadler (a suburb), Royce Village (or "The RV") and other geographical elements.

I created the basic  premise and backstory for Paragon (later Icon; Estelle— Icon's wife, is based on my late grandmother, Estelle Young), "Rocket"- and the concept of Rocket becoming the first unwed mother super-hero sidekick in comics.

I created the names "Hardware," "Static," and several of the Blood Syndicate guys: "Tech-9", "Wise Son"— named after a childhood friend who became a member of the orthodox Black Muslim sect known as The Five Percent, "Third Rail," "DMZ."

I created presentations based on Denys Cowan's fabulous art and designs. I edited Dwayne and Dwayne edited me. I created spreadsheets and financial reports at two in the morning with Derek T. Dingle in Chadwick's office.

I walked the crystal sands of Madagascar. I raised the dead. I strained my marriage by giving up every weekend and most every night, well into the morning, for this project.

I paid for the cab more times than Derek.

I created that "M."

In other words, I was there.  Which is, actually, all I've ever wanted Milestone to say.  I'm enormously grateful to Dwayne to finally read that somewhere. And, while I wait for the day to come when Milestone The Company will follow suit, I'll have to content myself with complaining about Leno.

Thanks Dwayne.

Christopher Priest
Former Editor In Chief
Milestone Media
September 2000

Priest's adventures in the comics trade continue in:

  Adventures In The Funnybook Game
  Oswald: Why I Never Discuss Spider-Man
  The Last Time Priest Discussed Racism In Comics
  Milestone: Finally I Was There
  The Priest Curse
  Paycheck Comics
  Citizen Trane
  Good Morning, Mr. Chips
  The Last Time Priest Discussed The Viability of Black Characters
  Whatever Happened To Quantum & Woody?
  Black Panther Series Commentary
  The Death of The Black Panther
  The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of The Crew

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