Beyond Impossible: Electrogenesis and the Legacy of Milestone

"Mr. McDuffie created characters and shows that will last long after us."
Matt Wayne (original writer of Static), Marcus Anderson (Sean), Kee Seymore (Virgil Hawkins), Leon Langford (Screenwriter), Gabrielle Shepard (Producer), Harjus Singh (Director) and Geoffrey Thorne (Panel Moderator)

Success at the Long Beach Comic Con. L to R: Matt Wayne (original writer of Static), Marcus Anderson (Sean), Kee Seymore (Virgil Hawkins), Leon Langford (Screenwriter), Gabrielle Shepard (Producer), Harjus Singh (Director) and Geoffrey Thorne (Panel Moderator)

The announcement of new projects from Milestone 2.0 at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con gives the success of Electrogenesis, a short film from graduates of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University, a perfect ending. Written by Leon Langford and directed by Harjus Singh, the film was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign and has passed 50,000 views on Youtube. Clearly a labor of love, the project garnered wide praise by focusing less on Static and more on Virgil Hawkins. Set after his tenure in the Teen Titans and before joining the Justice League, the film provides a different take on a beloved character co-created by comic legend Dwayne McDuffie. Perhaps the best known of the original slate of Milestone Media characters, Static made the transition to TV animation and was one of the “launch” titles incorporated into the New 52 way back in 2011. Static’s popularity is a testament to the creative mission that defined McDuffie’s career. An outspoken critic of the comic book industry lack of diversity, McDuffie pushed beyond the extremes that define minority representation. As he explained, “You only had two types of characters available for children. You had the stupid angry brute and the he’s-smart-but-he’s-black characters…There was no diversity and almost no accuracy among the characters of color at all.”[1] Despite the example provided by Milestone, the comic book industry continues to struggle with the same problem. This is why the dynamic space created by fans is so important. Like Star Trek fandom in previous generations, fan activism related to Milestone continues keep McDuffie’s mission alive. In the aftermath of SDCC 2015, I reached out to Leonard Langford, the screenwriter for Electrogenesis to talk about his project and the Milestone effect.

JC: How much did the example of Dwayne McDuffie inspire you?

LL: Wow, great question. I think it was his spirit of “just do it.” Just find a goal and go do it. Don’t ask for permission, just go out and get it done to the best of your ability. He was a genius and a hard worker. Mr. McDuffie created characters and shows that will last long after us. He didn’t let people or companies or naysayers stop him; he just did it.

JC: How important is identity in your view of comics?

LL: Identity is incredibly important. If you look at comics from just ten years ago, you saw a plethora of white male heroes, but if you take a glimpse at comics today you’re going to find a number of ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds. From my earlier point about what draws us into comics and super heroes, I believe it’s the feeling of living vicariously through someone. Who wouldn’t want to fly or have super strength? We can look at Superman and imagine we’re Superman. It can feel disheartening for kids not see people like them in comics. Long story, short: It’s far easier to live vicariously through a hero, the more you relate to them.

JC: How did you choose Static as the focus for your film?
LL: Well, the original idea came from Harjus Singh. The more we thought about it, the more Static seemed to be the right character for the film. He was a hero with all the right qualities, you’d want when working on a film. I remember growing up, watching the TV show on Saturday mornings and enjoying seeing a character like me on TV. His show was captivating and a head of its time. But, then it just disappeared. So we felt, that we could do something special by working with a character that the crew had grown up with. He was a character that had opened our eyes and now we got the chance to help him out.

JC: Electrogenesis was a graduate film project, did you experience resistance from your instructors pursuing it?

LL: Only a tiny bit, there was a week (though it felt like a month) were the powers at be worried we may be crossing some lines by making a film about a copyrighted character, but we had to assure them that there are hundreds of fan-films online and none of them had incurred the wrath of Warner Bros., so we felt safe.

Kee Seymore and Marcus Anderson

On Set: Kee Seymore (L) and Marcus Anderson (R)

JC: What was the biggest challenge in creating the film?

LL: From a writing standpoint, I would say cutting back. When you’re writing a super hero film, you want to do all these big and elaborate set pieces with CGI and explosions…then you see the budget and you’re like, “…Nope.” Though the basic storyline remained the same between Sean and Virgil, there was a lot of extra items we wanted to include (like: Dimming street lights and large electrical signs when Virgil would confront Sean, having the desks in the room float, Virgil taking out the gangsters in a more shocking way). I did write a nice scene where Sean finds out Virgil is Static, then comes back in the room, and they talk and through subtle wordplay Sean reveals what he knows and Virgil tells him to leave, but it didn’t work in the final draft so , “…Nope.”

JC: Some of the Milestone creators endorsed your project. How did this come about? What did that mean to you as fans?

LL: Unexpected. Humbling. Gracious. Are just some of the few words that come to mind, when I think about it. I believe life and God works in mysterious ways. So the same event, that we were scheduled to go to for fundraising purposes was the same event where they were announcing the Dwayne McDuffie awards. This was all at the Long Beach Comic Con in September. We managed to meet them there and told them about our film and we stayed in contact after that. Throughout the production we talked to a number of people about the script and eventually had Matt Wayne (one of the original writers of Static) at the premiere in March. It was humbling and quite satisfying. It felt like, “Yes. We did it right. We understood Dwayne’s vision and we got it right.” We are eternally grateful for all their help and support and we hope we did them proud.

JC: What is your reaction to the news of Milestone coming back from SDCC?

LL: We are incredibly excited about this. Our goal in making the film was to help push Static Shock and Milestone back into the mainstream media (hence the title “Electrogenesis”). Now we can in NO way say we sparked the return on Milestone 2.0, but we like to think we contributed 0.001% to their decision to bring it back. Either way, we’re quite happy to see Static back in fine form and proud to say we got the chance to work with such a great character.

Follow me on Twitter @JulianChambliss, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on Facebook.

[1] Margalit Fox, “Dwayne McDuffie, Comic-Book Writer, Dies at 49,” The New York Times, February 23, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/24/arts/design/24mcduffie.html.

I study the real and imagined city. From comic book adventures across media to classic books and magazines, the interplay between imagined and real landscapes offer an opportunity to explore culture, identity, and community in the United States.

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