Milestone Memories

Some of the Milestone crew, circa 1995. Left to right: Andrew Burrell, Joseph Illidge, Joe Brosowski, Prentis Rollins, Mark Bennett, Jason Scott Jones, MD 'Doc' Bright, Rober Quiano, unknown, Matt Wayne, Adam (aka Maddie) Blaustein.

The writer Peter Straub once said that the defining characteristic of any Golden Age--on the personal, if not the historical, level--is its dailiness: its daily promise, and fulfillment, of the satisfactions and successes of life.

That's the sense in which my time at Milestone Comics (actually Milestone Media) was a Golden Age. I worked there, first as a colorist, then inker, and finally penciller, virtually full-time, from October of 1993 until the company folded in 1997. Sometimes putting in 80-hour weeks. I started there when the company was new, dangerous and hungry, and stuck around through its slow decline and sputtering end (I pencilled the last issue of 'Hardware', in which Hardware's golden, 3.0 armour was introduced). My wife, Jacqueline Ching, was an editor and writer there over the same period--she lived the adventure with me, even more so.

To me, and I think to a great many of the other creators there, Milestone meant the day-to-day, week-to-week promise of new work, good work with great people, its rapid publication, and the huge appreciation with which it was received by the comics community and readers at large. I said great people--I'm proud to have had the chance to work with and learn from creators like Denys Cowan, Rich Buckler, Chris Williams, Humberto Ramos, Mark Bright, Adam Blaustein, Joe Illidge, Matt Wayne, Eric Battle, Noelle Giddings, Ivan Velez, Dan Chichester--even the late, great Gil Kane. There were many others, but those loom largest in my memory of those years.

To this day I think of Denys Cowan (one of the company's four founders) as my mentor in comics. I don't know if Denys looks at it that way--what I do remember is inking dozens (scores? hundreds?) of his pages (each of which was an education, a textbook, in its own right); every three months or so Denys would sit me down and say 'This sucks, you're doing this all wrong, this is...okay. Get out of my face.' Or something very like that. And, uh, yeah--that's the crucible in which I learned to ink.

Hardware--from 'Milestone Forever', issue 2, 2010. Pencils: Denys Cowan. Inks: Prentis Rollins.

Dwayne McDuffie (who died way too young in 2011) was the gigantic beating heart of the company--a giant of a man, in every sense. He was one of those rare instances of the total package--erudite without being pedantic or show-offy, brilliantly imaginative and talented without being temperamental, persuasive but never a bully, kind, wise and commonsensical--all of it almost unseemly in a man only in his early 30s. I only really worked with him directly when I was assigned to pencil 'Bang Babies', a series which never saw print--he guided me gently and deftly through the character design process. As the company's fortunes went from bad to worse, it took a toll on Dwayne--there was a sadness and distance about him towards the end, and that was hard to watch.

The Milestone table at a New York Convention, 1994. That's me standing left, arms folded. Dwayne McDuffie, standing center. Jason Scott Jones, colorist, seated center. Ivan Velez, writer, on right.

If Denys and Dwayne were Mick and Keith (still not sure which was which), then co-founder Derek Dingle was Charlie Watts, the human metronome, always behind the scenes, dressed to the nines, that another-day-at-the-office look always on his face. I never asked what magic he was working in his office. To me at least, he was a human vibe, a presence, a leavening-effect, an anchor connecting the creators to mother earth. I smiled and waved at him now and then, and he at me, and...yup.

Michael Davis, the fourth co-founder, was definitely Ronnie Wood. As in insane. He left the company early, and I only spoke to him a couple of times. Think of Joe Pesci in 'Goodfellas', or Ray Liotta in 'Something Wild'--only not calm. Brilliant artist.

We were pretty much a family, and not even a particularly dysfunctional one. Some of my fondest memories of those years are going into the offices on Manhattan's 23rd Street of a Friday evening, a bunch of freshly inked pages in my portfolio to be dropped off, a bunch of un-inked pages ready to be picked up--and a group of us--editors, writers, artists, interns, whoever!--would go out to dinner and the movies. All perfectly ordinary, perfectly workaday. We were around each other all the time, and we preferred no one's company more than each others'. One of the sweetest times of my life.

I hadn't really thought about any of this until I saw Robert Kirkmans 'Secret History of Comics--Episode 5: The Color of Comics', which dealt with Milestone. This was followed by several heartfelt facebook response posts, notably by Chris Williams and Eric Best (both Milestone alums). What really touched me most was just the photos, the snapshots taken in the office. Pictures on film, taken with film cameras, because--it was 25 years ago. Half of my lifetime. It hadn't occurred to me how quickly it's all receding in the rearview mirror. Long enough ago that it's a gift-wrapped, certified piece of comicbook history--and I, and all those other wonderful people, played our parts in it. Very lovely, sweet, and sad. I'm very glad Milestone will be returning in a new incarnation--the only thing missing is: Dwayne.

I would add that there's a second defining characteristic of any Golden Age--they are never recognized as such until they are over. My main takeaway from the Milestone years is this: Do your best to recognize Golden Ages for what they are while you're still in them. Sometimes we're lucky enough to be enjoying more than one at a time.

At the offices of Milestone Media, 23rd Street, New York, NY, 1994. Left to right: Prentis Rollins, Chris Williams (aka Chriscross, penciller), Matt Wayne (editor).

With Wilfredo Santiago and Ivan Velez, Jr., Bangor, Maine, 1994.

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