Full disclosure: like most of you out there, I am a regular comics fan. Every week or every couple of weeks, I scrape some dollars together and I go buy comics. I am not an industry insider and I can’t pretend that I know the ins and outs of the business. What I can tell you is that with being back into comics again nearly 10 years now after a 20 year hiatus, I am quickly growing concerned with the state of the comics industry. When you look at what’s happening with the Big 2, there are a few really obvious issues happening that has many fans like myself concerned. Big event fatigue, a huge disconnect with visual media and comics, an uneven saturation with toy lines and of course constant reboots. Worst yet, being who I am, I still see an even larger problem with diversity in the comics industry. Sure, there may be more characters of color now and there also may be more prominent women featured in some titles but I still don’t see more of that diversity happening in creative teams, in board rooms and in executive positions. Earlier this month, Eric Stephenson, publisher at Image Comics, gave a speech which basically boiled down to him pleading to comic companies to change their ways or watch the industry bubble burst again. While it was a good speech, there is still something that many people of color are still without when it comes to comics and that is adequate media representation.
So why bring Milestone up?
I am bringing Milestone up because if anyone remembers, Milestone made an announcement over a year ago that they were returning to comics. While among my colleagues there was an air of excitement, I was very cautious with my approach. My thoughts at that time, don’t believe anything until you actually see something. Then of course, San Diego Comic Con came along and we get the announcement that Milestone Media would team up with DC Entertainment to create Earth-M and then…nothing. I really want to know what happened with this deal and why we haven’t seen any books. We haven’t heard any further announcements nor even any works in progress. I am bringing Milestone up because if there ever was a time when people from all walks of life needed this company, it’s now. It’s been over a year and it’s almost easy to forget what a moment it was when we heard that they were coming back.
There is talent out there.
Before anyone takes this the wrong way, Dwayne McDuffie was an innovative comic creator and businessperson. Obviously without him, we wouldn’t even HAVE this conversation right now. I said that to say however, in my opinion, since his passing, too many people feel like there is a void that can’t be filled without his brilliance or his leadership and that simply is NOT true. In many cases, it has felt like the world A few years ago, I was invited to go to an event in Baltimore in which Geppi’s Entertainment Museum had an exhibit featuring artwork from Black creators over the years and their impact on pop culture. Honestly, it was humbling to be around such talent which also included Michael Davis and Denys Cowan. The one question that sat in the back of my mind is, with all this talent in one room, why isn’t this talent being pooled together under one umbrella to create books that would rival whatever not only the Big 2 puts out but even Image and Valiant? There are even smaller publishing companies like Titan and Alterna Comics which produce a modest number of indie titles that Milestone can easily compete with.
Sure, I hear and I constantly see great diverse talent producing good work but that talent, in my opinion is too scattered. Everyone wants to have their own label, ownership of their characters or publishing house. Fine if you want to do that but to me, it’s not as cohesive as having a collective unit of talent. And let’s face it, no matter how chaotic things may be at Marvel and DC in terms of their quality of books, they wouldn’t be as big as they are now if creators never came together in one large unit. Maybe one could learn what went right or wrong with Marvel and DC and apply it to Milestone…but again, I am just a random fan with concerns being able to relate to my comics. I don’t think there is anything stopping others from coming together as a group and finding the same success that Image comics has found in producing independent and creator owned content.
Why we need Milestone
It’s more than obvious as to why we need Milestone Comics now. Until mainstream comics decides to give consumers equal representation not just in comics but in the creative process as well, we will still continue to get what we have gotten piecemeal for the past few years. While it’s great news that Ta-nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze are working on Black Panther, it’s still a drop in the bucket as to what could be done to draw in more diverse readers. Right now there are too many characters getting recast into different roles just because of their gender or skin color, characters that are poorly written or drawn by people who don’t know nor understand the characters, or prominent characters cast into the background or mysteriously written out. These changes wouldn’t be so bad if some of the comics being done were good editorially speaking. Look at the sales numbers of the Captain America books since Sam Wilson took over. It currently sits at 67 as of January 2016. 5 years ago it was at 22. Another reason why Milestone is needed because quite frankly, I am tired of people who don’t like their heroes co-opted by people of color or gender saying that “why don’t they just create new characters.” There are many reasons why it’s not as simple as it sounds, however with Milestone back in play, I believe that there would be an outlet for people seeking new characters to identify with to have books they could turn to. Heck, as a cosplayer, it would be a great way for many of us to embody some of these creations! Of course it also becomes an issue of marketing but this is really why we need Milestone right now. Nobody at the Big 2 is really taking bringing characters of color any more seriously than the crumbs we are thrown occasionally. On another front, look at the uproar that has come about when Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch or Idris Elba as Heimdall. There are even a few people who are miffed about Wally and Iris West’s casting on The Flash, but that is their hangup that they need to work through.
To wrap this up, I just want to say to anyone out there affiliated with Milestone or with any company that features people of color, you are needed. If the bigger companies won’t come to us, then we are looking to you for guidance. Again, I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes or what you need from us as consumers to make it happen but we need you. I don’t have any answers on how to solve this issue, all I have are questions. We need you guys to make cons like ECBACC to rival whatever the mainstream can put out. With all the talent scattered around the world, maybe it’s past time to band together and show the world that we don’t always need to look up to Spider-man, Superman, or Wonder Woman as our inspiration. Sure, many of those mainstream characters have their place, but we need more Static Shocks, Icons, and Xombis. We need more bad ass women like Michonne. We need more rational and methodical characters like Mother’s Milk. More anti heroes like Spawn. For every Bishop, we need a Martha Washington. But, we need more characters to be created by hands and minds that identify with their creations and we need them sooner than later.
I, as a reader have reached a point in comics where it’s hard to justify my monthly purchases of some of the same stale books and even looking at the indie publishers out there, it’s only a few books that keep me occupied and a big reason is that rarely do we see ourselves in these books. We as diverse readers need to be saved from the craziness of the Big 2 especially if we aren’t being featured. Rarely do we get our stories told and heard by the mainstream, so while it’s great to have heard the Milestone is coming back…a year later there still is the question, where are you and when will I see you again?