Michael Davis is an artist, writer, mentor, storyteller, entertainment executive, co-founder of Milestone Comics, co-creator of Static Shock, Hardware, Icon, and Blood Syndicate and creator and host of San Diego Comic-Con's The Black Panel. He writes for From The Edge for Bleeding Cool and for ComicMix. He writes;
I'm convinced that there comes a time in every creator's career when he or she has that one project that becomes the project. Be they a writer, artist, photographer, director, or whatever; there comes a time when said creator realizes without a shadow of a doubt that they have created their baby.
This is the project that they will not compromise.
No, significant changes will be made to the project, no matter what.
I've known four people who swore they had a project like that. I'm sure there are lots of folks who feel the way I do but for one thing, money.
Three of the four took a check and away went all of the above.
Static Shock pitch meetings were at times filled with the stupid. I hated any changes to the original bible, which I wrote. Some of those changes bothered me, like Static's mom killed in a drive-by. Stereotypical yes, a deal killer?
At one high-level network meeting, the question was: "How about if we make Static…white?"
I said, "How about I bang your wife?"
OK… NOT an ALL true story.
I didn't say the wife wisecrack; the network executive did suggest we make Static a white kid. Numerous changes were made to the original Static bible. Some I thought were good many I thought sucked. The show was a different story. I thought the show worked on every level regardless of my personal feelings towards the changes to the original bible. Static Shock was handled wonderfully, thanks to Denys Cowan and the late great Dwayne McDuffie.
But Static Shock was not just my baby; there were others involved.
I have three babies (projects). I will only do my way.
I've got the perfect black father joke, but I'm a more mature Michael Davis, so I'm more going to let it pass… like child support.
My first baby is a project called Mr. Smith, The Family Man. I created Mr. Smith over ten years ago, twice it was close to becoming a reality once as a TV show.
The deal and the media partner have to be right.
My second baby is called The Underground. It's a Dark Horse project and has been for a few years. If by chance, you're Mike Richardson and reading this, I will have the book finished early in 2020…ish.
It's a significant undertaking, and I'm as anal as I am black, so it's been a labor of love and frustration for many years. But, Mike, to be fair, you took years approving the story…and I'm still traumatized by the Comic-Con incident. You know the one…
Jokes aside, preferably, I would just skip the following, but that would be a cop-out. I had some health issues which contributed to a great many failings. That's not an excuse; it's a reason.
I'm fortunate to have the Dark Horse deal STILL and excited about the future of Mr. Smith, but there is one project I consider my masterpiece.
In the original article written in 2012, I didn't mention the title or subject matter. I will now and share with you its journey; it's a festinating one.
This is the story of a great idea. Five times a deal was on the table. Five times the table was turned upside down, causing it to fall off.
The first time, hate killed the project.
Second, a change of heart did.
The third was a health scare.
Forth a turned out to be a world of hurt.
The fifth was a hard-ass who needed to be checked.
Take that 4 H Club.
In 1998 a fabulous idea came to me. One of, if not the best, I've ever had.
It's never a good thing to think that your creation is the greatest single gift to mankind. So, I decided to ask three of the best writers in the industry if they thought it was a good idea. I asked Keith Giffen, Lovern Kindzieski, and David Quinn.
They all said it was a great idea. Not a good idea, a great idea. Keith Giffen called it one of the most magnificent takes on superheroes he's ever heard.
That's Keith Giffen, who said that. Keith Giffen.
THE Keith Giffen.
Lovern Kindzieski and David Quinn can hold their own with anyone in the industry. But that's KEITH GIFFEN I'm talking about.
After hearing from Keith and those other two guys, I ran it past Dwayne McDuffie. He said it was such a good idea he wanted to write it. Thinking back, I wondered why I didn't just say four guys when originally writing this.
I keep super detailed journals and have since I was in the 9th grade, memory is a funny thing, so I dug out my 2012 journals.
The following is what I wrote:
I saved the big guy for last. Lovern, David, and Keith write from their own unique perspective; most writers will tell you, write what you know. People will identify with something recognizable if you're lucky.
Dwayne will give it to me straight from the Black hand side.
As good as those guys are, I wanted Dwayne to give his take on the African American plotline. Keith Giffen, Lovern Kindzieski, and David Quinn could try but, nope.
Those are 3 of the whitest people on the planet.
And Lovern? He's a Canadian from a part of Canada; the only Black people he sees are on TV.
Dwayne liked the idea so much he wanted to write it. Damn, that's a no-brainer, I pitched the idea to Jenette Kahn, who ran DC Comics at the time.
Jenette loved the idea and said, "Let's do it."
In 1999 I pitched and sold the idea to DC Comics.
It's essential to clarify the meaning of 'sold' here.
Sold is a term used when a media outlet says OK to your project. That's a LONG way from having it produced. After you sell it, then comes the fun part, doing the deal. Black Reign has been 'sold' to DC twice; neither time was a deal finalized. I didn't pitch an idea I brought a fully formed concept to Jennette and Dwayne.
That means I the story, narrative, and structure were thought out and presented. That's important because I don't need DC's characters to do it. It works for any comic book universe or a brand new one.
You can't copyright an idea-this was WAY beyond that. I can't use DC's characters; they can't use my idea. Although they may think they can, there's a mountain of paperwork and the 2012 version of THIS article more than enough to prove who came up with what.
From the moment I met Jenette, I liked her.
I'm glad to say she liked me also. We hit it off right away. We talked about anything and everything. One day, Jenette and I spoke about fine artists, and she asked if I knew the work of William T. Williams. I did.
I knew more about his work than she. Jenette was impressed, telling me I must be a huge fan. "I'd better be; he's my cousin."
Jenette said she would like to meet him, so I made a call.
A few days later, Jenette was given a studio tour by my cousin. In my entire life, I've only asked my cousin to grant three people personal studio tours. Jenette was one of them.
That's a big deal because my cousin is a world-renowned artist.
He's the first Black artist to be featured in the Janson History of Art, the definitive book on art history. My cousin refused at first, saying until Janson recognized artists like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, who came before him.
Believe it or not, Janson agreed.
On a personal note, William T. Williams is my personal hero and why I have little tolerance for those who carry any disdain for me. Playing their game of "stay in your place" isn't ever going to happen.
I made that call because Jenette is simply a wonderful person, and I knew my cousin would enjoy meeting her as much as she would enjoy meeting him.
Some years before that, Jenette and I had talked about me coming to DC as the first black editor. I couldn't do it. Frankly, I couldn't afford the pay cut. What I did do was make a list of some people whom I thought would be great choices. Jenette thanked me for thinking of that, and actually, someone from that list was hired. No, I didn't get them the job, nor do I know if anything I said had anything to do with him getting the job. What mattered to me was DC comics had a black editor.
I tell you the history with Jenette and me because of the importance of what happened to the project I sold to DC.
My project was greenlit by Jenette and assigned to an editor at DC.
I'm not an idiot; if Dwayne McDuffie wanted to write it based on my overview, I was FINE with that. I was to handle the art.
The editor chosen, loved the idea, and couldn't wait to do it.
My project would be an important one, written by a prominent writer, published by an influential publisher with art by an artist with something to prove. I'd had two big projects before from DC. ETC, the first series ever published by DC's imprint Piranha Press and Shado, a four-issued mini-series written by Mike Grell.
Neither of those projects was my finest hour.
Although, believe it or not, I still get fan mail from France on ETC. Two months ago, I received an email from a comic book club in France asking if I was coming to France in the future.
I was and did. I went to France the year I wrote the original article. September 2012. The club asked if they could take me to dinner and talk to me about ETC.
Damn. The French must do a lot of coke…cola.
When I first wrote this, I kept the concept of Black Reign under wraps, but recent events had made it necessary to reveal I was here way before and had a deal with DC.
Back in the day, I was on cloud 9! Yes, I'm well aware it's not the most fabulous idea in the history of comics, but to me, it certainly felt that way.
Spare me comments about how there is no way I could have come up with THE best idea in the history of comics.
As I said, I know I didn't.
It's a close second…
Written by one of the greatest writers with art by a guy who was going to make sure this time he got it correct.
All was right in the world.
Except for one little tiny winy little problem, the editor wanted to change one thing.
Dear DC Lets, just kiss (no tongue) and makeup.