The Ninjabot


Posted on May 6, 2014 at 9:12 pm by Heather Antos

UntitledKyle Higgins may be best known for his work writing DC Comics titles such as Deathstroke, Batman Beyond 2.0, and Nightwing, but this past C2E2 we sat down to talk about his first creator owned series to be published by IMAGE Comics – C.O.W.L.




HEATHER ANTOS: C.O.W.L. is the title of your new book coming out May 28th. What’s it about?

KYLE HIGGINS: C.O.W.L. is about a superhero union in 1960s Chicago. It stands for the “Chicago Organized Workers League” and it’s kind of a cross between The Justice League and Mad Men, for a lack of better comparison. At its core it’s really us exploring the corruption of an American institution in the early sixties through the lens of superheroes and comics. It’s a very interesting time period politically, at the beginning of the loss of America’s innocence, and a great time for change! And so, our superheroes entering this era have to deal with and confront that change. This is a world and a time that is no longer built on the black and white principles that superheroes are used to from the post-war days. Now they have to operate in this kind of morally ambiguous era and the principles that that they were founded on are coming into question.COWL01_041514-1

The thing that interests us [co-writer Alec Siegel] is really when you look at different institutions, different organizations, different governments, at a certain point they all become about self-preservation. And so with C.O.W.L. having been around for thirteen years when we open issue one that’s kind of the point that they’re at. When these groups get so big they inevitably lose sight of why they were started in the first place.

To get more specific, when we open issue one the organization is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the city of Chicago. So, the first seven pages of the book are an action sequence as the ‘Trinity’ – the three most powerful characters in C.O.W.L. – takes down the last of the Chicago Six, who are the big super villains of the 1950s.

HA: You started your career writing a few one-shots for Marvel and then for the past few years you’ve written Gates of Gotham, Deathstroke, and Nightwing for DC Comics. What’s it been like changing from a ‘universe wide’ group to a ‘creator-owned universe’ where you’re the one who gets the ultimate say in what happens?

KH: Well that part of it is awesome and so creatively fulfilling! You know, I’m a super OCD micromanager so doing a book that we have total collaborative control over the sense of story direction, the design of the book, the letters column, the interior front cover, all of that stuff is so appealing and alluring to me. I used to work as a graphic designer, also with my film background; all of these things that you don’t get to have a hand in at DC or at Marvel I get to now call the shots on. Now, the flipside of that is: it’s all up to me. So getting the book to the printer, coordinating the artist, the letterer with our editor (Andy Schmidt) – the whole process is a little bit of a power shift. Typically in a work-for-hire situation the editor is your boss, but Andy is kind of not working for me necessarily, but working with me. If I don’t agree with a note Andy has I don’t have to do it. So yeah, they are both very different worlds and they scratch different itches, but for where I am right now this is definitely the route that is most appealing to me.

HA: Speaking of your film background – as The League is what actually got you an offer to write comics – has your experience writing film influenced you in anyway?

KH: I mean, I don’t know that it’s helped, it’s just kind of who I am. I try not to question it too much. I think I tend to write very cinematically, more in cuts,   and I see the movie in my head as I write. But it’s a balancing act because comics aren’t movies and they shouldn’t be. Comics are comics. I just think that my natural style and voice falls more on the cinema side of the spectrum. In the little things too; I tend not to write voiceover – though I did a lot of it in Nightwing – I like doing things more in a naturalistic way through dialogue; I like conversations, I like silent panels, and I like reaction shots. I like ‘talking head’ pages, the bouncing back and forth between reaction shots. And all of that comes from my film background.

HA: Absolutely! So with C.O.W.L. taking place in a period such as the 1960s, has there been a lot of research?

cowl_02KH: Well, there is a research process. We’ve been working in this world since 2006 when we were researching to do The League. Siegel and I are both from Chicago so we’re both big into Chicago’s history. But, with a project like this the very second that you introduce superpowers into the world you create a divergence. So questions then come to mind involving how life would divert – like comic books! What would the comic book industry have been like in 1962 if C.O.W.L. was actually around and there were essentially superheroes? Would it be art imitating life? Would it be life imitating art? So really, it’s an alternate version of the 1960s where we can fit history where applicable but we don’t ultimately have to be slaves to it.

The other cool thing is we’ve pushed technology a little further in C.O.W.L. It’s kind of like a James Bond movie – they all talk on wristwatch communicators, things like that. Our kind of rational is that if there are these kinds of powers that exist in this era then technology might have advanced in some subtle ways. I mean, they still have to take phone calls out of phone boxes, so it’s been a fun balancing act.

HA: Where did the original idea for The League and C.O.W.L. and the story of a ‘superhero union’ come from?

KH: Well it actually started in 2005 when I was transferring to Chapman University in Orange County and I had to write a sample for the film school application. At some point I was working a summer job and we were joking around about superheroes and then labor unions came into the discussion. Another guy made a joke like, “What if the villains became villains because they didn’t make the union?” And I just thought it was really interesting! So when I transferred to Chapman I wrote that idea as a little three page story. In the fall of 2006 I started thinking about what I wanted to do in two years for my thesis film and I just decided that I wanted to do something big, that took advantage of my post-production background, and also something that could be a calling card for me after school. So that’s when I decided to really explore the whole ‘superhero labor union’ idea. I started trying to find a serious angle on it and that’s when the 1960s era clicked for me; it grounded the story in a really interesting way and brought a lot of moral and ethical questions up with the labor unions and politics at the time. We shot the film fall of 2007 through spring 2008 and the final version was finished in November of 2008.

HA: So it’s been quite the long process leading to C.O.W.L.!

KH: The funny thing is – and I’ve never told this story – I got into writing at DC because of The League as a comic book.  Alec and I wanted to do it and we had an artist a few years ago named Alberto Muriel. We really liked his samples and he drew six or seven pages and Alberto’s agent, Eduardo, asked me where we could see it published. I had a few places in mind and Eduardo asked, “Well what about DC?” At the time I didn’t know anyone there and I knew that they didn’t really dabble in creator owned properties. Eduardo’s reply was simply, “Wait, you don’t know anyone at DC? Let me introduce you to Mike Marts!” So Eduardo emailed Mike Marts, CC’d me in introducing me and I immediately wrote back, you know, saying how great it was to meet him. We agreed to grab a beer at C2E2 in the upcoming weeks. When we met we talked a little bit about comics, not really anything specific, but mostly we talked about sports, movies, and just stayed in touch after that. Ultimately one day he gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in writing two back up stories for Detective Comics. That led to Gates of Gotham which then of course led to Nightwing! So it really all does come back to The League in the end!

HA: Having been working on this idea for such a long time, then, is C.O.W.L. planned to be an on-going series?

COWL003_COVER_1KH: Yeah! I would love to see this book go on and on! It is currently an on-going series, so, sales permitting, I would love to see it go fifty issues! That would be amazing! Rod Reis, the artist, does some amazing work for the book, Alec and I have a ton of stories mapped out for this! My favorite series are the ones where the characters change and grow and evolve. So for us, the big thing with C.O.W.L. is that we don’t want to play things safe, and our characters, while interesting, are not sacred. The hardest thing about writing a lot of the Batman stuff that I’ve done is that you know Batman isn’t going to die. No matter how crazy you make things you know the characters will always end up back at their core. That’s the nature of those stories. So with something like C.O.W.L. that’s not the case. We can kill our characters – we can change them! If we wanted to we can turn them into villains and turn villains into heroes. We can do things that are so interesting!

HA: Very cool! So if there’s one thing you want readers to take away from C.O.W.L. what would it be?

KH: Anything can happen! Change is kind of built into the thematic soul of the series. I mean, an era in the 1960s that is such a huge time for change! Alec, Rod, and I are all going through big career changes and these characters are going to change – for better and for worse! But that’s life and that’s the story of C.O.W.L.

C.O.W.L. will be hitting Comic Stores May 28, 2014! Pre-Order your copy today!

To find out more about C.O.W.L:

Under the Radar is a column where I, Heather Antos, interview comic creators, writers, and artists of all kinds about their talents, skills, and projects to come! If you know of a comic creator who is Under the Radar and waiting to be discovered by the comic industry, contact me: @HeatherAntos

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