Hudlin & Cowan On “Milestone 2.0”: “We’re Not In The Nostalgia Business”
Albert Ching, Managing Editor, Comic Book Resources
Milestone Media is back.
The return was made official earlier today, with the announcement that Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle — two of the founders of the original Milestone — have joined forces with Hollywood and comics veteran Reginald Hudlin to form what’s being referred to as “Milestone 2.0.”
CBR News sat down with both Cowan and Hudlin, who explained that in this new incarnation, the “Media” part of the name “Milestone Media” comes with an extra emphasis.
“This company is called Milestone Media,” Hudlin told CBR. “[Milestone] was never just a comic book company. [The] name indicated being bigger than a comic book company. and now that’s true more than ever. We’re going to be working on multiple platforms, and all kinds of ways of presenting these ideas.”
In fact, the next Milestone-related media project was actually revealed months before today’s news, an in-development live-action “Static Shock” digital series to be produced for Warner Bros. by Hudlin and Cowan, starring Static — one of Milestone’s flagship characters, and the star of an animated “Static Shock” series that ran from 2000 to 2004.
But the focus on “Media” doesn’t mean that Milestone is shying away from its comic book roots. Founded by Black comics and publishing professionals Cowan, Dingle, Michael Davis and the late Dwayne McDuffie, the company started with the goal of increasing representation of minorities in comics, both characters and creators. Milestone debuted in 1993 under a publishing deal with DC Comics, with “Hardware,” “Blood Syndicate,” “Iconic” and “Static” all running for dozens of issues before the imprint ended in 1997.
The characters have appeared sporadically since then — including “Static Shock” being incorporated into the DC Universe’s New 52 line in 2011 — and it looks like the new Milestone will continue this relationship with DC, while also expanding to other publishers.
“We’re working with DC on stuff,” Cowan said to CBR. “We’re currently speaking to a number of different publishers about a number of different projects that they want to do with us. DC’s an important partner for us. We’re exploring everything that’s being put in front of us. It’s been a very busy, exciting time. Hearing people’s enthusiasm about Milestone has been very encouraging to us.”
“Obviously Milestone and DC have a great history together,” Hudlin added. “We’re going to be doing more projects together. but we’re going to be doing business with a lot of different companies. Other publishers, other media companies.”
Other than the “Static Shock” live-action series, the details of exactly what the new Milestone is working on remain to be revealed. But Hudlin said there are “several other deals in motion” and more news will be coming “pretty soon,” as the revived company looks to structure itself based on “maximum flexibility for maximum creativity.”
“I look at what Mark Millar does and I’m very inspired,” Hudlin said.
Milestone 2.0 isn’t something that developed overnight — the origins date back to 2011. In February of that month, Hudlin organized a launch party at Golden Apple in Los Angeles for his website “Reggie’s World,” an online storefront to purchase comics by himself and like-minded creators. Dwayne McDuffie, shortly following the release of the “All-Star Superman” animated adaptation that he wrote, was scheduled to appear at the event, along with Hudlin, Cowan, Rashida Jones, Ziggy Marley and more.
“Dwayne was kind of the unofficial godfather, because he was so helpful to so many up and coming comic book people, like myself,” Hudlin said, citing McDuffie long with Cowan and Kyle Baker — as his three mentors in comics.
As comics fans know well, McDuffie tragically passed away at age 49, a day before his scheduled appearance at Golden Apple. The launch party turned into an ersatz memorial for the prolific writer, who beyond his Milestone work was a frequent contributor to both Marvel and DC’s superhero lore, along with numerous credits in animation.
“It was supposed to go from 7 to 9,” Hudlin said of the event. “It ended up starting at 6. As soon as I got there, there was this mob around the block. And it went to about 11 o’clock. It just kept going and going. At a certain point, it seemed like every Black creator on the west coast was in the room. We all gave some remarks about Dwayne. It was a celebration, it was sad, it was joyous, it was all these things.”
“Golden Apple had ordered all these extra books for the event,” Hudlin continued. “By the end of the night, the stocks were bare. you could not find a copy of ‘Black Panther,’ or any Black character. The place was just stripped.”
A couple of weeks later, many of the same names assembled at a more traditional memorial for McDuffie, with Hudlin, Cowan and Dingle all in attendance.
“After the event, Derek goes to Dennis and myself and says, ‘It’s been too long. We have to restart Milestone,'” Hudlin related. “Basically, at that moment, that was it. Milestone had reformed. Now, there was two years of legal paperwork after that. But that didn’t matter. The moment was right then. It was the call to arms. We’ve got to do this. There was nothing to say.”
Despite being an integral part of this new venture, Hudlin wasn’t a part of the original Milestone Media. His background is primarily in film and TV, having directed features including “House Party” and “Saturday Night Live” spinoff “The Ladies Man,” plus episodes of sitcoms like “Modern Family” and “The Office.” His first published comic book work was co-writing the 2004 original graphic novel “Birth of a Nation,” followed by a run on “Black Panther” for Marvel that started a year later.
Art from “Icon,” one of the flagship books of the original Milestone. Cowan and Hudlin say they’re not going to coast on nostalgia, but will revive existing characters.
That doesn’t mean that Milestone was off Hudlin’s radar — or vice versa. As a lifelong comics fan, Hudlin was inspired by the work the company was doing, and Cowan said they long wanted to work with the writer/director.
“To me, there were a couple of really important things about Milestone,” Hudlin said. “First, the craftsmanship was excellent. The second thing, they kind of fulfilled what I thought their mission was: To make real comic books that really capture the complexities of Black life. There’s not one kind of Black person in those books. There are all kinds of Black people in those books; capturing all of those nuances, subtleties and complexities. That’s what made the line so fantastic.”
“We wanted him to join,” Cowan said of Hudlin. “From before we did our first comic book, we wanted Reggie to join. We were after him to join. We’ve always considered him part of the family.”
“I just thought, I’ve only made one movie, I should probably get this movie thing down a little bit before I overextend myself,” Hudlin added with a laugh.
There’s still a lot to be unveiled of the new Milestone Media, but Hudlin and Cowan both made one thing clear: While the old characters will be a part of it, they won’t be the only part of it, as they’re looking to also aggressively pursue new ideas and concepts, to develop across multiple platforms. And even the familiar characters may not be so familiar.
“We’re not just going to be a legacy company,” Hudlin said. “Yes, there were some fantastic creations made, and we’re going to certainly revive those characters. But we’re not just going to revive them. We’re going to make them relevant for this generation.”
“We’re not in the nostalgia business,” Cowan added. “We feel, if anyone wants to read those books, those books exist. You can go out and find those books and read them. If you love those characters as they were then, those characters exist as they were then. But in order to reintroduce them, there’s going to be some necessary adjustments made to these iconic characters.”
In the Washington Post article announcing Milestone 2.0, this July’s installment of the annual Comic-Con International in San Diego was named as a possible venue for debuting more of what Hudlin, Cowan and Dingle have in the works. Whether or not a new comic book or the live-action “Static Shock” will be the first product released to the public isn’t yet clear, but Milestone is aiming to be a lot of different things in a lot of different places, while building off of the legacy and ideals of the original company.
“We have so many new ideas, some of which might be right for comics, for television, for movies, for online,” Hudlin said. “We’re going to be a lot of things. That’s who we are. We are a new company with this fantastic legacy behind us.”