Denys Cowan: Legendary Artist and Co-Founder of Milestone Media
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Denys Cowan is one of the most celebrated artists in the comic book industry. After graduating from the High School of Art & Design, his first published work was for DC Comics on WEIRD WAR TALES #93. His career really took of when he joined Dennis O'Neil on THE QUESTION. The book was a critical success.
From there he went on to work on books for both Marvel and DC, such as BLACK PANTHER, DEATHLOK, DETECTIVE COMICS, GREEN ARROW, STEEL, and many more.
In 1993, along with Dwayne McDuffie, Derek Dingle, and Michael Davis he co-founded Milestone Media. It was here that he helped create a brand new universe full of a diverse and interesting characters. STATIC and HARDWARE were just a couple of the major books put out by Milestone.
Years later he would go on to be a creative force behind the STATIC SHOCK animated series. The show became a hit and lasted four seasons. With Milestone gearing up for a major relaunch I took the opportunity to talk a little with the legend himself about his current work and things to come.
Comic Lounge: When did you first decide you wanted to draw comic books professionally?
Denys Cowan: Ever since I can remember, like when I was eight or nine. My best friend at the time, Derek Dingle, while we were in 3rd grade introduced me to comics for the first time. It was the "New Gods" and "Forever People" from DC Comics, drawn by Jack Kirby. I saw those and it was the first time I saw that somebody actually drew these, and that people were attached to these concepts. When I found that out I was like, "That's what I wanna be".
Comic Lounge: Who were your biggest influences?
Cowan: In comics, I like the same people that almost everyone else likes. I was a big Neal Adams fan, big
Garcia-Lopez fan. I was a huge John Buscema fan. I love Howard Chaykin's work. There's so many. Joe Kubert was a big influence on me. A lot of the older guys.. Also, Italian and French artists such as Moebius and Battaglia. People like that.
Comic Lounge: One of my favorite books that you've worked on is "The Question". What did you like best about working on the character?
Cowan: My memories of working on "The Question", is different than other people viewing it. For me, it was a grind at the time, we had a monthly deadline and I didn't have time to really into anything philosophical with the Question. It was really just getting it out and making sure it was as good as possible. The most fun I had with "The Question", looking back on it now over the years, is probably the martial arts sequences. I look at it now and didn't realize how much I did then. To show Vic Sage or Lady Shiva or are both doing there thing in the comics, now I look at it like "Gee I had a lot of fun there". So that was one of the big aspects, being able to choreograph, that was a lot of fun.
Comic Lounge: You were one of the founders of Milestone Media, which I'm a huge fan of as well. What was it like back then, when you guys first decided to create this new universe of characters?
Cowan: It was thrilling because we we're doing something that had not really been done. I mean Image did it, but they had their own little universe. When we did it was because we felt we had to create a universe for our characters to live in. What we didn't know, was that not many people were doing that. I can say that. It wasn't a time of universe building. You had a lot of different comic book companies, like Dark Horse was doing one and Malibu did one but they weren't like what we did. I remember feeling like we were doing something special, but we were doing something we needed to do, in order to do something that people would connect to.
It was a thrilling time and we didn't know how 'White Hot' it would get, with Milestone, in terms of popularity and the impact it would have. It was just trying to get these things done and try and get the universe done. We were trying to get a package together to present to different publishers, like DC, and try and get them to sign on to this radical idea.
If I knew then, what I know now, I don't know if I would have done it. I always felt like the odds were so against us. But we managed to pull it off
Comic Lounge: I think what you guys did was amazing. You brought diversity into comics that was unlike anything before it, without being stereotypical. It was unlike anything any of the other publishers, at the time, were doing. Two of my favorite books were STATIC and HARDWARE, how did you guys come up with those specific characters?
Cowan: All of us were in the room at the same time, myself, Christopher Priest, Dwayne McDuffie, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis So we all pitched in and came up with stuff. It's hard to say who did exactly what. Some people might say that came up with the whole thing. That's not what happened. We all contributed. In a way, Static and Hardware came out of different parts of needs of personalities. We needed a character that was, not light hearted but light in spirit and fun. Like the Spider-Man kind of character. So we had to create someone like that so that's how Static came about.
Hardware was really an extension of Dwayne and I. Our angry young men kind of attitudes about authority, being used, about oppression, and a lot of things. So Hardware was our vehicle to express all that. Even the title itself, HARDWARE, said what it was, it was a HARD book.
Comic Lounge: You were also involved with the STATIC SHOCK cartoon. What was your experience like having one of your creations brought to life?
Cowan: I thought it was awesome! I mean, it's something that not a lot of people get to experience. I was one of the lucky ones, it was thrilling. The first two seasons, I was the director on my own show. You have to respect the process of animation, you have to respect the artform of animation. Even being one of the creators of the comic book, Alan Burnett actually conceived the show. He was a big writer up at Warner Bros. at the time. So he brought me on and pitched me on the idea of Static and I thought it was great.
So I got on as director of animation for the first two episodes. It was a lot of work, a whole different aspect than comic books. Dealing with directors and actors and background guys. In comics, one artist is all those people and then you have the writer. But in animation you have to have all of these people because it's more labor intensive. So it was great but it was also a big learning curve for me.
Comic Lounge: So something a lot of people are looking forward to is the relaunch of the Milestone Universe. Can you give any updates on when the books will be coming out and what your involvement is?
Cowan: We don't have a set date but I know we're shooting for early in the new year. So we're looking forward to that. There's been a lot of work done on these books that people don't even know. Everyone's waiting, but we want to take the time to make sure it's great as opposed to just putting it out.
So there's Kyle Baker's stuff, which is already done. Ken Lashley's doing ICON for us. I've seen pages of that and it looks awesome. We have a new book called DUO, which three issues have been done already. There's a lot of stuff that's already been done, covers, posters, a lot of stuff. We're just waiting for the right/exact moment to roll it all out.
Comic Lounge: What would you say has been one of the most memorable moments of your career?
Cowan: Man, I have no idea. Haha... Maybe the STATIC SHOCK cartoon was one of the highlights. Launching Milestone was another highlight, when we actually published it and the books came out. There have been a few moments, like when I got THE QUESTION, that was a highlight of my career. Doing the BLACK PANTHER, you know covers, posters and some of the books I've done, that's been a real highlight as well.
Comic Lounge: Are there any projects you're currently working on that you can talk about?
Cowan: I just worked on a book at DC, while I'm working on the stuff for Milestone, called BRIMSTONE. I just did issue six of that book and now I'm doing BRIMSTONE #11 & 12. That's what I'm currently working on over at DC.
Comic Lounge: This last question is a little controversial, but I would love to hear from a creators perspective/opinion. There's been so much hate and intolerance being spread around do to this whole ComicsGate thing. As a comic book fan, it's been really upsetting to see some of the creators and fellow fans acting in this way. What's your opinion on what's been going on with this?
Cowan: I've seen so many things in comics, this is not that new this is just above ground. People have been saying this kind of crap for a long time. Now they just feel emboldened for some reason to come out an say it. To say it in public and not be afraid of reprisals or repercussions. I think this whole ComicsGate movement is shit. I think the people who do it are racist. I don't think there's any kind of justification for cutting out anybody in comics. A lot of these people who are in it, some are professionals a lot or not, have an opinion on something they know nothing about. I've seen some of their comic books and they're terrible. So they couldn't even execute their bad ideas well.
So I don't really see what they're trying to get from that movement, except to express how racist they really are. In that way, they really succeeded. Some of them have come after me and some of my friends and they just get smacked down like the punks they are. THAT'S my opinion of ComicsGate.