THE MISSION is a weekly column spotlighting diversity in comic books, graphic novels, and popular entertainment.
Last week was full of groundbreaking announcements in the comic book industry, and even though the fusion of universes and story timelines announced for the universe-shattering “Secret Wars” from Marvel Comics certainly received a lot of coverage and criticism, I consider it fair to say that the news of greater import and impact to the comic book industry and medium, and entertainment medium at large, had to be the announcement of Derek T. Dingle, Denys Cowan and Reginald Hudlin restarting the multicultural entertainment company called Milestone Media.
Milestone Media, Inc. was the first mainstream Black-owned comic book company to have a business partnership with an established giant in the industry, specifically DC Comics.
Milestone Media, Inc. was founded by five men. In no implied or particular level of importance or chronology of involvement, those men were Denys Cowan, Christopher Priest, Derek T. Dingle, Dwayne McDuffie and Michael Davis.
The company launched a universe of multicultural heroes and villains in 1993 with four monthly comic books. “Hardware,” “Icon,” “Blood Syndicate,” and the company’s most well-known title, “Static.”
Milestone and DC Comics stopped collectively releasing monthly comic books in 1997, but the company’s impact lasted well beyond that year. The company helped start and catalyze the careers of many creators of color, the list of which is long and impressive, and many of them are working as successful creators and business owners today.
I am one of them.
For that reason, among others, once the news hit about the new Milestone, various people asked me questions.
They wanted to know what I thought about it, if the new Milestone could be a perfect home for their characters, if I would introduce them to someone at the new Milestone, whether or not I was involved with the new Milestone.
And last but not least, what I thought about the lack of mention of Milestone Co-founder Michael Davis.
The new Milestone Media is a great thing. Reggie, Denys and Derek are the perfect people to do it, for obvious reasons, and they’re going to do great things. The new Milestone will represent an evolution beyond the company’s first version, and the characters will reflect the same step forward. The company will utilize new ideas, new media, new talent, and engage in strategic alliances, in order to be a formidable, competitive organization, and an agent of change.
I’m thrilled and happy to see this new Milestone emerge.
Denys, Reggie and Derek have done a lot of work thus far, and have a lot more to do. They have the Herculean task of reigniting a universe.
To that end, they have their hands full with a ton of characters. Old ones to update. New ones to create. Also, in none of their articles was there an invitation for submissions. So in my view, the new Milestone is not, at this time, prepared for an onslaught of submissions to produce any of our ideas.
For, in part, the same reason, I am not engaging in introductions to any of the founders of the new Milestone. One, because they need their space for the task ahead.
Two, let’s keep it real. We are all each other’s competition, in the best way, because we want to produce material to improve and expand the American comic book industry and entertainment industry.
I am the co-owner of a company and I have partners. If I was of the mind to try and exploit my relationship with the founders, it would, by general principle, have to be in the interest of my business and that of my partners.
Business, never personal.
Am I involved with the new Milestone?
Will I be doing business with the new Milestone?
They are my friends, and two of them helped give me my first shot in the business. They took me under their wings and helped make me the person I am today, so I intend to answer the call to action when it comes.
Their business and my business is aligned.
Then there’s the big question. The messy one everyone’s thinking, everyone who knows the company’s history and its founders.
Where’s Michael Davis? What do I have to say about it? What do I know?
What I have to say about it is that Michael Davis is a Co-Founder of the first version of Milestone Media, Inc., he is the man who helped start the comic book division of Motown, started the Guardian Line of Comics, created The Black Panel, accomplished so much more than the preceding things, and taught me lessons I will never forget.
He is a friend, he is a businessman, and what his connection, fate, or involvement with the new Milestone is, is none of our business.
It really isn’t.
We have this collective misconception that we are entitled to know everything about the creators behind these characters and ideas we love so much.
We’re not entitled to know anything other than what those people choose to tell us, and our collective speculation and commentary on social media does not matter a damn.
One thing is for certain, I am not worried about Mike.
Mike is a survivor. Mike is a locomotive. Mike is a ball of fury and he does not allow his momentum to be adversely affected, even by the most affecting things.
His business is none of our business, but I would and will always show Mike the respect he is due by mentioning his place in history, and I look forward to seeing what he has coming next.
So those are my answers, but this is my takeaway.
I’ve communicated with many people on social media since the news broke, and seen so much excitement and joy, criticism and curiosity, anxiousness and applause, and what I would ask you to do is this:
Keep it moving, as Q-Tip said, as my business partner Shawn Martinbrough always says to me.
Keep it moving.
Milestone is not going to be able to do it alone. They’re not going to save us from being ignored or diminished by other comic book companies. They’re not going to drop from the sky, armed to the teeth, and save the comic book industry.
Every one of us with a vested interest in seeing a better landscape of entertainment, a more fair landscape, a more diverse landscape, with more characters of color written by people of color, augmented in their corporate and social impact by businesspersons of color.
Every person with a vested interest in this must not rest their hopes in the new Milestone.
It’s not fair to them. It’s not realistic. It’s not business.
We need to continue on with our creative business endeavors, and be honest with ourselves.
Honest about our abilities, honest about our need for improvement, honest about the obstacles, honest about our egos.
After all of that honesty, we need to kick ourselves in our collective ass, and get back to work.
I am happy to see the new Milestone, and I’m happy for my friends, but I am not putting the expectations of generations on their shoulders.
Our dreams are too big for them to realize, but they’re the perfect size for us to realize.
I have a job to do.
We have a job to do.
I’m going to keep it moving.
I’m getting back to work.
Because, really, I’m somewhat tired of seeing the word “diversity” thrown around as code for supposed progressiveness.
There is disparity and I’m tired of it.
When the word “diversity” is rendered unnecessary because the landscape will be so proportionately varied in its ethnic and gender makeup that its nature is self-evident, that is when I’ll be satisfied.
Not a micro-second before.
So I’m sure Reggie, Denys and Derek will turn over the apple cart of comics and business, as they have separately and collectively done before.
I’m sure Michael Davis will surprise us and take various people to school with his accomplishments and news to come.
I’m sure Dwayne McDuffie would be so proud to see the legacy he helped build continue on, into a new century that so desperately needs more heroes of color, in fiction and real life.
But I have a job to do.
Let’s turn over our own apple carts.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books,” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment (www.verge.tv), a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for transmedia development. Live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.
His latest project is “The Ren,” a 200-page graphic novel about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war and spotlighting the relationship between art and the underworld. “The Ren” will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
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