AND THE MILESTONE YEARS!
|When Dwayne McDuffie gave me a shot to write for the Milestone Bible, I was
asked to focus on Paris Island and the Blood Syndicate’s playing ground. Being
raised in the South Bronx at the height of the gang system and a crumbling infra-
structure (the 60s to the 70s was not funny on Vyse Avenue) gave me a little heads
up on writing realistic disenfranchised teen gang members. I felt like I knew what I
was writing about. The thing about the gangs of NY back then is that each
neighborhood had their own flavors and colors. The Irish, the German, the South
American, the Puerto Ricans, the Blacks, the Chinese, the South Asian, the
Caribbean blacks… they all had their ‘brand’, and that’s what they fought about;
turf and identity. When I saw the sketches and names of the Blood Syndicate (all
Black and without personality), I knew I had some work to do. If Milestone was
going to be about diversity, then I better get to work on diversifying the Blood
By the way, I didn’t know that I couldn’t and shouldn’t change things around. I
just did, and the bosses didn’t seem to mind. Everything went by them, and I was
enjoying a really big swell of inspiration and artistic freedom. When I see how
things are done these days, I realize how unusual and frowned upon that is for a
newcomer like me. I was very lucky.
So, I changed some of the characters around. The giant male Brick became the
giant female Brickhouse, complete with steel rods out of her hair. Denys Cowan, the
designer of the Milestone team, created the final look for her, but I contrived the
future storyline to make her revert closer to my original sketches. Brick was a big
force of nature that was too angry and confused to be really effective on her own.
Fade and Flashback became dark Dominicans who each had an overwhelming secret
which caused them to act out. Tech-9 became a cocky and charismatic Puerto Rican
who was beloved and hated by the others (the mandate to kill him off was decided
even before the bible was finished, since his power of undying pistol fire was
reprehensible). Third Rail’s first name was Livewire, but I think another character
had been created in one of the Batman or Supes cartoons, so we changed it. Third
Rail turned out to be Korean, and had father issues, and was secretly a small kid
who used his power to be a big powerful kid. The whole team was going to become
about secrets. I changed his look to be less 90s rocker and more like a kid who uses
a lot of black electrical tape to see how far he can stretch it. Wise Son did not
change much (at least his look). I had seen this guy around the block most of my
life. It was going to be a pleasure to write him.
There was a drippy, zombie type in the background who was going to be joining the
group later on. I liked the monster idea, but his look was not fun, I thought. I was
hoping we’d never really use him, so I avoided him until the end. Masquerade
looked like a Bob Marley type complete with overgrown dreads, colorful hat and
shades. I kept him Caribbean (Haitian rather than Jamaican) and made him
transgender. What better way to deal with TG issues than with a shape-shifter born
woman who wants to be a man. And what a great secret! Not even the audience had
to know until mid-run. Holocaust was just perfect as he was. His anger was his
selling point, and all we needed was to dig in and root out some of the cause.
Then I started adding.
I liked the idea of a talking dog. In the Dakota-verse, anything was possible, and
the bratty mutt from A BOY AND HIS DOG was one of my favorite characters.
Dwayne seemed into him as well. Dogg’s original name was going to be Mutt, and
he was going to be a black German Sheppard type, but I wanted him to be more
puppy-like so the words out of his mouth would be more jarring. The final look
came for Dogg after Chris Cross (the guy who drew more BS than anyone) just
decided on the generic brown dog look. It worked really well.
Kwai came from a team that I was toying with before I met Dwayne and the
others... the inspiration coming from my first experience tabling at one of the NYC
comic conventions. My friend, Howard Cruse, asked me to sit with him and show
off my TALES books. I noticed that, while there were many people of color in the
audience, the professionals were almost 100 percent white. Then I made the
connections about the amount of characters in comics who were of color, and
realized that there was a deeper correlation. People write about what they know.
People must also hire the same way. Of course, at the time, I was working for
Hetrick- Martin, the gay youth agency and I was so deep in that social worker
pseudo-enlightened frame of mind. For fun, I sketched my own team up and started
playing with a 20s look, and a superhero history that included characters of color,
and how they dealt with the same repression and racism their non-powered
counterparts would feel. The Color Purple was fresh on my mind. Man… I was so
influenced by pop culture back then. Still am. The kung fu flicks of my childhood
were being replaced by the Wuxia magic power of the Hong Kong studio. Tragically
beautiful women would fly in a swirl of magical cloth and hair. Kwai was born of
that. Denys created a rocker look to her that was all wrong for the final bible. I kept
her closer to my original sketches, and added the pagoda shoulder wings. I was very
proud of her design, and Chris was very faithful in reproducing her in the 8th issue
of BS, a book that presented an iconic image that I’ve seen many times on home-
made tees and jackets; Kwai flying out into the world. I also had a Louisiana super
woman named Diva, whom Dwayne wanted to use for Icon. I lent her out, figuring I
would have a chance to use her again, and even connect Fade to this team from the
past. I also had a soft spoken flower-powered Cuban woman, and a southern Black
dynamo with exploding hands… and I am grateful I did not use them in the book
or they would be lost to me like my beloved Kwai and Diva.
Uh, ok, moving on.
I thought we needed a Spanish speaker… someone with no English to reflect the
immigrant experience, especially since I established that Paris Island was a haven
for new immigrants from all over the world (which reflected what I knew about the
Bronx). She would represent one of the Spanish gangs, and be very dangerous…
and very Latina. Her powers would be water based. At first AquaMaria was going
to look small and squat… much like an Ecuadorean or Peruvian immigrant. She
even had a blow hole (my connection to water-based creatures). Denys took one
look at my sketch for her and put a stop to that. He preferred making her more
ethereal. The Abyss had just come out, and he loved that water plume that
mimicked people’s faces. He thought she should look like that. So he designed her
watery body, and was spot on. Chris, of course, made her bubblier… but she was
beautiful enough to be worshipped… a living personification of Yemaya, which is
what I considered her from then on.
I created a villain for the book, someone to really work them. The team was so
enamored of their ‘rep’ and secrets, so what better foil than a creature who can
‘read them to shreds’. Demon Fox came out of those great HK flicks which
presented demons as beautiful temptress foxes… but her real form would be as
hideous and puny as her/his soul. And why make her/him a woman…why not a
dual-gendered creature? Thus, he/she was spoken about in dual terms. I was very
proud of my design for him/her… and Chris did a great job of making her/him
majestic and scary.
Other characters I was proud of were Wise Son’s family, especially Cornelia, his
little sister, and his not much younger son, Edmund. They were a great team, and
had interesting powers as well (sort of a combo of the purple crayon and the
wardrobe). I would have loved to spin them off or do a storyline that featured them
a bit more. I was planning a whole OZ storyline too. Sigh.
ORO came out of the Shadow Cabinet crossover we did around #10. It was a great
chance to create another Latino character (Cuban to fit his pride), and someone I
could imagine would be hot enough to cause confusion between Fade and
Flashback. He had my second best costume design ever. Bad Betty was a sort of
Astro Boy as a lesbian android. She was designed after Sharon Cho, the coolest
comic book agent ever. Iota came from the same storyline, and she was my version
of an adventuring Atom slash Catwoman ala Penelope Pitstop. I was very proud of
her, because every little aspect of her just seemed to work. Chris did a great design
for her. Kuka was one of my finest creations. She was a transgendered Latina
in a wheelchair, and she was fabulous. She, of course, had her own ‘house’; the
House of L'Amour, who were a group of affiliated gays, lesbians and tgs who
formed a strong family. And she created fabulous costumes for the local heroes.
The one thing I really have to thank Milestone is for the chance to introduce not
only Latins and Latinas of different colors and hues, but issues and concepts
pertaining to difference of sexuality and orientation as well. They were ground-
breaking that way, and got no press for it.
So let’s see… who’s left?
Ah… besides some characters for S.Y.S.T.E.M. and creating the matriarchal
structure for their org, and designing some of the other later members who never
got to shine (TEMPLO and MISTRESS MERCY), I guess we should talk about
Boogieman. He was that sewer crawling creepy guy that was kept in the
background. Well… it was time to add him since he was going to debut in the 3rd
issue. There was a mandate from DC that we needed a white character. Of course
that was going to happen, but it was surprising to hear it said out loud. So, we
started thinking. I came up with some sketches and a werewolf type guy…make him
a rat man. He was going to be the ‘stereotype’ of a hip hop character. He would
carry a boom box with him as he travelled the sewers, and that how we knew he was
coming, because we’d hear his music. I wanted to make him Marky Mark… and
Jewish… all the more to deal with his issues and the whole ‘vermin’ thing from the
Holocaust. His issues would be as messed up as everyone else. He’d be a self-hating
white Jewish boy who would hide his identity to be down with everyone. No one
would know but his little buddies, the sewer rats who were enhanced by the Big
Bang event (thank you, Secret of Nimh). I was dreading writing this character… but
after I sketched him out, I realized that it would be a lot of fun. I gave him the
backwards cap, gold chains and biker shorts (thank you, Vanilla Ice). Denys looked
at the sketch and made him beefier and scarier and Boogieman was born.
Thus, the BS was born. We had a hard time finding the right artist. Trevor Von
Eden was the first guy, and he did a great job, but he was pulled out after number
one. I don’t know quite why. I hoped that it wasn’t because there was an openly gay
writer on the book, or that there would be gay characters on it as well. It probably
had to do with the working schedule and the relationship between him and the
partners. James Fry was nice, and interesting. Flashback had real booty… but he
wasn’t picked as the regular guy. Chris Cross came on at the 3rd book, and did a
pretty good job. I voted hard for him, since his characters looked closer to my
vision, and they emoted so well... and they were so beautiful. His Fade was more
Chris Williams than Ice Tea, and that was fine with me. He was on the book by the
time I got full writing credit. Ah, writing credit. Me and the boss were figuring out
the storyline and timeline. Marvel style was more about plot and adding dialogue
after the art. I liked DC style, which was full script and embellishment after the art.
Dwayne was teaching me well, and had me do the dialogue on the second book. By
the third I was doing more of everything, and was solo by number 5.
It was some of the best times in my life. Even now, with all the sour relationships
behind me, I understand how lucky I was to be in the industry at that time, and how
very miraculous it was for a nobody like me to work in the company of Dwayne
McDuffie and Denys Cowan on such important work.
More stories about my life at Milestone later on… like the infamous Archie
Syndicate story, and the in-house newspaper that blew up race relations in DC
Comics all over the place.
Okay, here goes... before we even got started, I was asked to write an intro to
Milestone for the DC Comics in-house newsletter. I was so honored and scared...
but pulled it off. And, man... what trouble I caused.
You can read it here: Ivan's Official Intro Letter to Milestone.
|I found some old forbidden drawings today from my old days at Milestone.y
only drawing work in a mainstream comic book... and banned by the bosses
at DC. heh heh heh. I turned the Blood Syndicate into Archie clones, which
made the lawyers really nervous... like they never heard of parody before.
|MORE LIFE WITH MILESTONE;
Dwayne McDuffie wanted me to wrepresent
Milestone and write the intro letter to the DC
Comics In-House Newsletter... a pretty polished
magazine that featured many of the freelancers
and their views. I was so honored and felt blessed
for the opportunity to speak for us all. Well..
Wouldn't you know that feeling was short-lived...
|I thought I did a decent job presenting my feelings... but another artist and writer
felt slighted by what I said. Oh well. He objected right away. A rebuttal to an intro
|Holy Cow. My first month at Milestone and DC and already I had to fight? Dang.
|Dwayne also defended me in the same issue. It would not be the first time. After all, I was a nobody,
and a gay Puerto Rican nobody from the Bronx at that. Who was I to dare criticize a whole industry?
I think Dwayne would laugh if he ever knew how much I really cherished this letter. Yeah, we had our
bad days, and we ended up not ever speaking again... but here he called me his friend... and it made
me think that he really was... a genuine friend.