Black History Month 2011: Denys Cowan

February 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Denys Cowan
Selected Works: Hardware: The Man in the Machine, The Question Vol. 2: Poisoned Ground, Batman: Lovers and Madmen

I’m usually pretty okay at figuring out an artist’s influences, but Denys Cowan is a mystery to me. There are traits he shares with other artists, sure. He’s kind of scratchy like Bill Sienkiewicz got on Moon Knight once he hit his stride, or maybe some of those really dirty Jamie Hewlett pages. He works cityscapes like Frank Miller used to when he was on Daredevil, where they don’t quite make real life sense but they make perfect visual sense. His figures are a little off, just this side of Kirby’s flexible proportions.

That’s not to say that his art is a hodgepodge of techniques from other artists. Cowan’s art has certain aspects in common with other artists, but his art definitely stands alone when you look at it. Whatever his influences, he’s created something that’s distinctly his. The way he draws muscles are a couple points that stand out to me. Cowan draws some knobby elbows and knees, a couple of joints I generally think of as being bends in comics art, rather than anything with detail. It’s such a little thing, the sort of thing you have to work to see, most likely, but there it is: knobby elbows.

His faces are good, too. If you look at a close-up of Hardware or Barraki, they look black. Not just comic book black, where they look like generic (white) dudes with brownish skin, but actual black. Broad noses, full lips, cheekbones, everything. He nails it.

One last point: I listened to GZA’s Liquid Swords until the tape popped a couple times. Cowan did the cover and liner art for that, and I still love them.

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Puffy is Good, but Milestone Is Forever

February 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I wrote a bit about Milestone Media in honor of the release of Milestone Forever #1 this week. It’s a brief history and essay on its impact, a lot of which gets forgotten nowadays.

A brief excerpt:

Oh, you knew it was coming, didn’t you? It’s Black History Month, baby, pay attention!

Milestone was never the “black” comics company. Its creators, like its characters, were a multicultural blend of various races and ethnicities. It stands to reason that when your company is composed of a variety of types of people that your books will reflect that reality, doesn’t it?

In the case of Milestone’s comics, that is definitely true. “Blood Syndicate”‘s cast was composed of black, white, Chinese, Korean, canine, Latino, and alien characters. In fact, in a move that is still amazingly rare, “Blood Syndicate” featured Latino characters of different Latin ethnicities. A Puerto Rican, a Dominican, and a Salvadoran in the same book? That’s incredible, because most companies just stop at “Generic Hispanic Character.”

It’s nice that mainstream comics are making a play at paying attention to people who aren’t white dudes again, but don’t forget that before Batwoman, before Steph Brown, before Jaime Reyes, and before Luke Cage was on the Avengers, there was Milestone. Give credit where it’s due. Pay attention.

There’s this Malcolm X quote I like. He said, “You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress.” If you’re doing something now that isn’t as forward-thinking (or equal, or normal, or whatever) as seventeen years ago? That ain’t progress, doggie. That’s playing catchup to everybody else. It’s nice that you’re trying, but either do better or go home. I’m not going to congratulate you for finally doing what you’re supposed to have been doing for decades. That’s like congratulating parents for paying their rent. Newsflash: you’re supposed to be doing that.

And that’s about as negative as I’m willing to get over race & comics this month. I’m tired of fighting.

Go give that post a read. Denys Cowan comments below and he dug it, which basically made my day.

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