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Denys Cowan Peels Back the Mask on New Question Book

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

He's back, after years and years, Vic Sage is back in his own title. When this book was announced I could hardly contain my excitement. The Question has long been one of my favorite characters. The O'Neil & Cowan run is one of my all time faves, so when I found out Denys was returning I almost couldn't believe my eyes.

Denys, along with Jeff Lemire, are giving the Question his long overdue spotlight. The minute I saw the announcement I hit Denys up and he was more than happy to sit and chat with me. I could sit and talk comics with him all day. His enthusiasm for the medium is infectious and it shows in his work.

Anyways I'll let you guys get to the interview. Hope you enjoy. Make sure you pick up the book this Wednesday from your LCS.

COMIC LOUNGE: So you're returning to The Question this year. What drew you back after all these years?

Denys Cowan: I thinks it's been over 25 years since I did the original run. I did come back to the character in 2009, but a lot of people slept on it. It was part of DC's Blackest Night crossover. It was the last "official issue of THE QUESTION.

People kind of slept on it and didn't really acknowledge it. Which is ok, but I did come back to it.

It was one of those things, that because people slept on it a little bit, it was always in the back of my mind that I didn't come back to that character in the right way.  "One day, if I ever get the opportunity, if I can come back in the right way, I will."

In the mean time, a couple years ago, a buddy of mine (Jeff Lemire) comes up with a pitch. Jeff and I had worked together on GREEN ARROW, we did an origin issue. I always like working on Jeff's scripts because he's very visual, a brilliant writer. But he had come up with a take on Question and next thing I know I was getting a call from Dan DiDio asking if I would be interested in working with Jeff, because he had requested me as the artist. I was like "Yeah!, I'll do it".

So that's how I ended up working on The Question again. They asked me, but it was something I had consciously been thinking about doing for a long time.

COMIC LOUNGE: With the book being published through DC's Black Label imprint, how graphic/mature will this book be?

COWAN: I don't know exactly if Black Label is like an excuse for people to do like porno comics or show Batman's, you know or whatever. I don't know if that's what this label is for. I've seen a few Black Label books, I wasn't looking for that or anything. 

My approach is basically to just draw the stuff I've always drawn and hopefully better than I've always drawn it. I'm not showing anything or doing anything. There's no story elements that was put in any of these issues, that would lend to "Oh man, it's graphic violence because it's Black Label". No, we're just trying to tell the best story we can. However that falls is the way it falls.

I mean we're trying to kick the art up and make it really good, but I would do that anyway.

COMIC LOUNGE: The series you did with Dennis O'Neil, was very martial arts heavy, can we expect the same with this book? A lot of fight sequences?

COWAN: If it's called for. I mean the martial arts in THE QUESTION was a very organic thing that kind of evolved with who this character was and what he was doing. When we first meet Vic n our series, the martial arts and spirituality is not a huge part of who he is yet. So, I think in a way that the Black Label book is closer to the Steve Ditko version , then it is to the Dennis O'Neil version. As the series goes on we'll be doing more martial arts but initially it's not martial arts heavy.

COMIC LOUNGE: The last time you worked on The Question, the series dealt with a lot of societal issues and stuff  going on in society at the time. I mean I read this series a couple years ago, and it seemed like it dealt with corruption and things going on in society at the time. What would you say the theme of this series is? 

COWAN: Well, Jeff Lemire is not Dennis O'Neil, and we respect what Dennis did, he (Lemire) loved what he did,  but it's not quite the same. What this book explores, is right in the title (The Many Deaths of Vic Sage). So for four issues, he's literally investigating his death over and over again and trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. Who is he? Why is he alive? And, Why did he die?

I don't know anyone who gets to investigate their own death. It's one of those things, that's almost like a zen cone, that keeps turning in on itself. I keep dying but I'm alive, and I'm investigating my own death. "Who killed me? How can I be alive, but I'm dead". It's very Question like.

COMIC LOUNGE: I mean you kind of already answered this, but how did you and Jeff hook up for this project?

COWAN: Yeah Jeff suggested me, because I think Jeff really like the original Question book that Dennis and I did. He was a really big fan of that. I think I was his first and only choice.

COMIC LOUNGE: What has the collaboration been like, between you two, thus far?

COWAN: Jeff is great, because he's also an artist, he's very visual. A lot of writers can write really nice words but they don't necessarily translate into good pictures. They translate into great dialogue maybe and its florid writing on the page, but doesn't necessarily translate to a visual image for an artist to say "Ok this is the scene I have to draw". Jeff is exceedingly good at that.

Every script you get from him is instantly like a cinema. You can literally see, in the way he's doing his panels and descriptions, you can see the way he's setting it up. You can see every picture that he wants. He's very visual, without him having to say necessarily "This character picks up a gun and does this". It's just the way he writes, I respond to it.

I've worked with a lot of writers and there are very few that I clicked like that with. One of them is Dwayne McDuffie, another of course is Christopher Priest. Jeff is definitely like that. There's just a thing.

COMIC LOUNGE: So he let's you interpret the script your own way then? Does he give you minimal direction?

COWAN: He gives detailed direction, sometimes minimal sometimes maximum. But, he trusts me to tell the story. He trust me to tell the story in the right way. So there are things I see that we need to emphasize, that he didn't, so I'll emphasize that. He's never disagreed. That's how we work together, very natural, very organic. I don't question anything he writes. Actually wait, that's not true.

When we sat down for breakfast one morning, there was a scene. he had written for the next Question which I'm drawing now. It's a western issue and he had "Many townsfolk were gathered with pitchforks, and they're fighting off the cavalry that's coming down the mountain on horseback". Haha, I looked at him and said "Jeff I ain't drawing that shit". He said "What?" I was like "You want me to draw the townspeople on horseback, in the middle of the town and everything's going on? You know what that is?" I just looked at him and he goes "Oh man, ok I'll tell you what. Five townspeople are fighting a few guys". Because its not the crowd it's what they represent.

So I'm constantly making choices like that. I'm not that lazy but I'm like we don't need to show a bunch of people to get this point across, we can show ten people and  get the point across. Stuff like that.

COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any other plans for the Question after this book?

COWAN: I don't know. He's already moving forward in other books. Didn't Bendis bring him back? Jeff Lemire announced it and people were like "Hmm??"

COMIC LOUNGE: Yeah because this was the way Question should have been brought back. Not as a side note. I definitely think he's an underrated character.

COWAN: I would say that he deserves his own shine. I would say that I love what all the other artists did on The Question. I loved Renee Montoya but  to me there's only one true Question, and that's Vic Sage. 

There is one TRUE Question artist, and that's Steve Ditko. Myself and everyone else, we're just riffing on what he did. We didn't invent anything.

COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any other projects you're working on that you can talk about?

COWAN: I can't. There's several projects that are in the works. mostly everything I do know is creator owned. So with my partner Reggie Hudlin, we have several things that are in development at a couple movie studios and comic book publishers. So we'll see how that works out. I can't talk about any of them.

I'm working on an old character, that was around in the 70's, part of the blaxploitation movement. That's been a lot of fun. I can't reveal what that one is either though. It must be frustrating for an interviewer, when I'm like " I can't talk about something".

COMIC LOUNGE: Last question, do you have any update on the Milestone books?

COWAN: None that I could tell you on the record. We all look forward to them coming out eventually, I'll say that.

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