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Monday, September 14, 2015

Shawn’s advice to the Publishers of Milestone Media 2.0. Part 2

In Saturday’s blog I went down a list of areas the new publishers of Milestone 2.0 need to work on as they restart the adventures of Hardware, Icon, Static Xombi, Kobalt and the Blood Syndicate Since there was a lot of information to cover I decided to break it up into two parts The list continues in this blog and goes over other areas in their business such as:

6. Build the villains into credible threats. On the villain front Milestone 1.0 just kind of introduced bad guys. But because they didn’t give them enough of backstory readers really didn’t care about them. Most Milestone villains felt like jobbers placed there to be squashed by the heroes. If a villain doesn’t feel dangerous, the reader has no incentive to continue reading the comic to the last page or to pick up follow-up stories featuring them.

One of the things I learned from watching WWE develop its heels and reading oldschool Marvel was how to build up a villain into a credible threat. Good villains make the reader feel a sense of danger and make them worry if the hero is actually going to be able to beat them. Moreover, they make the reader wonder how they’re going to come out of it alive. Villians drive conflict and if the villian’s part of the story isn’t strong enough the reader isn’t going to have a reason to root for the hero.

7. Think BIG. Most Milestone 1.0 stories were really on that small scale of the imaginary spectrum. And when you write superhero stories you have to think BIG. A comic story just can’t just be small. It has to POP to get a reaction out of the reader. Like pro wrestlers or Hollywood movie stars, Superheroes are larger than life characters. So their stories have to be on a bigger scale than your standard tale.

When I wrote Isis: The Ultimate Fight I imagined something that started like a pro wrestling feud and led up to a climax like something out of a major WWE Pay-Per-View like Hell In a Cell. When I wrote Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess I imagined something on the scale of a big-budget superhero movie like The Avengers. When I wrote The Temptation ofJohn Haynes I imagined things happening like the action comedy Ghostbusters.  And when I wrote the upcoming John Haynes: The Man Who Rules The World I imagined a big budget action feature. Something with larger than life multidimensional characters, a story that grabs the reader and doesn’t let them go until the climax. Milestone’s writers needs to write these kinds of stories for their heroes if they hope to compete with Marvel, DC, Image and Valiant, Boom! And Dynamite.

Bland and drab.
8. Give us BIG ACTION on the covers. Most Milestone 1.0 covers were…Meh. They usually had heroes posed on them in stiff formal art worthy of an artists’ commission or a museum. Sorry, that’s just not good enough to compete in the entertainment business these days with eBooks, action movies and WWE wrestling. Covers have to SHOW a story, not tell it.

Bright and grabby!
A cover is the readers’ first introduction to the character. And on comic books It has to tell a story with an exclamation point! Comic covers have to tell a story with ACTION. They have to whet the readers’ appetite and get them anticipating the purchase of the book. A Comic cover has to SCREAM at the reader BUY ME!

A great examples of action oriented covers are those on Chris Samnee’s Daredevil. Samnee puts art on the Daredevil covers that makes comic fans ready to make the purchase, and eager to read the next issue. Milestone’s publishers need those kinds of covers if they want sales from casuals and new readers.

9. Avoid Events. Milestone was at its weakest when doing event storylines. Shadow War was…Meh. And World Collide was just hot garbage with worms and flies. And don’t get me started on Long Hot Summer.

Events didn’t help the Milestone Universe grow at all. The conspiracy story behind the Big Bang slowed the pace of books like Hardware and Icon and the events like Shadow War bogged things down to the point where the stories just didn’t flow smoothly.

Yes, back in the 1980’s annual multi-series events helped people discover slower selling titles as the reader was compelled to buy those titles to complete the storyline. But the Milestone Universe was fairly new and didn’t really need to launch an event yet. The individual comics themselves needed to be the event! Most of the characters needed those first 12-24 issues to define themselves in their own titles. With this being a new universe the stories in each book needed to be primary focus.

10. Avoid Gimmicks.  New costumes All-new All-different. Revamps. Retcons. Reboots. Relaunches. Stuff like Hardware 2.0, Buck Icon and Darnice Rocket Yeah, these gimmicks have their place. On a struggling title with slow sales or a book taking a different creative direction with a new creative team. But there’s no place for a gimmicks in a comic book universe less than five years old.

One of the mistakes Milestone made back in the 90’s was trying to do too much. That prevented readers from getting to know a character like Icon. And in the case of Hardware, all the new armors prevented readers from even remembering what they look like. In between the conspiracy to figure out who was behind the Big Bang, events like Shadow War and Worlds Collide there wasn’t much room in a Milestone comic for characters to be developed or for relationships between heroes and villains to be established.

While gimmicks get peoples attention for the short-term all they do is distract readers and prevent them from connecting with characters and their stories in the long term. That’s especially bad for a fledgling universe of characters and a company starting to build or in this case rebuild its brand.

The goal of Milestone for the first five years should be primarily on the individual heroes’ stories. The primary focus should be on letting readers get to know the characters, memorize their looks and and showing them using their powers in cool ways. What’s going to get the attention of readers and keep them reading are well-crafted stories featuring these elements.

11. Please keep the profanity, gore, and excessive violence out of Milestone this time! One of biggest turn-offs I had when I read early Milestone titles was the gory and graphic violence. I remember seeing panels in Blood Syndicates where Tech-9 blew off people’s hands, and an early issue of Kobalt sliced off a crook’s fingers. Oftentimes in Milestone books there were decapitations, mutilations and other horrific violence. Yeah, comics show violence but when the heroes are out doing stuff like this it really doesn’t allow the reader to see them as the good guys.

Comics are Black and White With good guys wearing the White hats and bad guys wearing the Black hasts Milestone really should want to create that line in the sand between their characters.

Then there’s the profanity. Yeah, I know Milestone wanted the dialogue to sound “Real” but again it doesn’t make for a good reading experience.

These days when I’m writing books in the Isis series and the E’steem series I try to keep my content PG or PG-13. I really want readers to feel comfortable about buying and sharing my titles. So there’s no graphic violence, graphic sex or profanity. PG-PG-13 is the standard WWE and Hollywood movie studios use these days so they can reach the largest audience and Milestone really needs to follow that standard as well this go around in the comic book marketplace.  

Easy to access and tells a story with thecover!

11. Make every story an entry point.  One of the things I learned from Jim Shooter’s blog and successfully applied to the Isis series is making every story an entry point. Every New Milestone comic will be someone’s first and every story has to be written in a way that the reader can get to know the characters and follow the adventures.

Milestone did a good job on this back in the day. But in this era of 100 issue cross-overs I’d hate to see them start down that road. Keep the comics accessible and the readers will come.

12. Do NOT franchise any characters or make “families”. Back in the 1990’s Technique was supposed to be the female Hardware. And Buck Icon and Darnice Rocket were supposed to be fill ins for Icon an Rocket. Unfortunately with Milestone being a relatively new universe all these replacements did was create confusion at the comic shop and was possibly one of the reasons behind the decline of Milestone 1.0.

In the first two to five years of publishing comics there is no need to create variations of characters. Each character really needs to be unique and stand out. They need to spend most of their time establishing the missions of their heroes, their direction for their stories and rthe elationships with their supporting cast and villains. Once the formula for the heroes is down, then you can bring in variants and derivatives.

Another trend Milestone 2.0 needs to avoid is making supporting civilians into heroes. Comics really need the Lois Lanes, Jimmy Olsens and Richie Foleys. Civilians show the reader why the hero is special and why their mission is important. If anyone can put on the costume and do the exact same thing, then why should the reader care about the hero and their adventures?

Characters really need to carry their own books and show what makes them special. There will be a time to add secondary hero characters to a hero’s book, but in the firs two to five years it needs to be all about the main character.

13. Understand that the 2015 book market is not the 1990’s book market. Back When Milestone debuted in 1993 the comic market was on the tail end of a speculator boom. People were buying anything comic related in the hopes of scoring a payday later on. However in this 21st century everything is different. In addition to a twenty-year slump in the comics market, the publishing industry has also changed.

The approaches publishers used in the 1990’s and even before 2008 no longer work. The publishing industry is a new marketplace and publishers no longer have the leverage they used to. The market is more creator oriented with Print-on-demand technology and ePublishing such as Amazon’s Kindle, Smashwords and webcomics allowing them to access the marketplace. Not to mention fierce competition from movies, TV and social media. With so much competition for the attention of the comic reader these days, Milestone is going to have to provide the highest quality comics and give the reader the most entertainment value for their dollar.  

14. Establish a webcomic. In addition to print comics, one of Milestone’s strips should be a weekly or biweekly webcomic on the official website. Webcomics are a great way of introducing online readers to Milestone’s universe of characters and promoting upcoming issues with previews. Many artists like Bill Walko of the Hero Busine$$ and R.K. Milholand of Something*Positive have built strong followings online with thieir webcomics and I believe Milestone could build an audience with a webcomic featuring one of their characters.

Webcomics are one of the steady growing marketplaces for comics over the last five to seven years and they’re a place where many fans have found new comics new characters, and artists and become fans of them.

15. Establish a digital comics imprint. In addition to a webcomic Milestone definitely needs a digital subscription service. Today’s new readers who want to access older comics from the 1990’s will appreciate the opportunity to access all the history and continuity comics on their smartphones and tablets. It’d also be a great way to allow new readers who read comics on these devices to download their comics.

Combining the webcomic with promotion of the digital comic imprint could net Milestone some strong sales in a five-year plan.

16. Be open to hiring new talent. Milestone wasn’t really open to bringing in new talent in the 1990’s. And that pretty much prevented the company from growing. The comic industry desperately needs new blood and from what I’ve seen on the webcomics scene there’s a lot of great talent looking for an opportunity to learn and take its craft to the next level.

The only thing keeping a lot of that talent from working at any comic company is compensation. Most creators like myself these days own their characters and we do not do work for hire contracts. If Milestone is serious about attracting new talent this time around they’re going to have to offer some sort of licensing and profit sharing on merchandising and possibly allowing creators to keep the rights to their own characters.

 Back in 1994 I submitted a resume and cover letter to Milestone. Never got a response. By 1996 the company was gone. Again, I’d love to be a part of the new Milestone and make a contribuition this time around. With my twenty plus years writing experience and publishing background running the SJS DIRECT imprint these last seven years I think I’d be a valuable asset to the company. I wish the creators of the new Milestone the best of luck and I hope they can take the characters to the next level this time around in the marketplace.


  1. Someone one Hooded Utilitarian found many of the Milestone Comics mediocre and unsurprisingly your posts agree with that statement.

  2. Interesting Ad. You have a link to the piece? Would love to read it.

  3. Hello Shawn. I love your videos and I saw that you were having trouble finding "cover artists", that are good and cheap. I am not a professional artist but I can do professional grade work. I would like to Email you some samples of my work. It is going to take me a few days to get the samples together but please send me your Email address to: