When Kyle Higgins finished his gritty, superhero-filled college film The League, he wished he could flesh out the characters and concepts that he'd only begun to explore in the 27-minute movie.
Now he and co-writer Alec Siegel are finally getting that chance, with the new Image series C.O.W.L. coming in May. Based on the premise that a group of superheroes form a labor union, the series takes place in an alternate version of 1960's Chicago.
Announced last week during Image Expo , C.O.W.L. is being drawn by Rod Reis, with art that gives an otherworldly feel to the already stark lines of the '60s.
Higgins first established himself with comics for DC's Batman office, and he's reuniting for C.O.W.L. with his co-writer on the movie. Newsarama talked to Higgins to find out more about the world of C.O.W.L. and got some preview art to share with readers.
Newsarama: Kyle, what does C.O.W.L. stand for?
Kyle Higgins: The Chicago Organized Workers League. In the book, it's 1962, and the organization has been around for almost 15 years. And when it was first formed, there were a lot of threats out there. A lot of post-war threats. They operated at their peak in the 1950's.
But it's a time of change in the world. There are more shades of gray in the early 1960's.
So in the first issue, we'll watch C.O.W.L. go after the last of the great 1950's villains, a mercenary named Sky Lancer. And the thing that drives the series in the first arc comes out of the question, "What does C.O.W.L. do now?"
There are still external threats, and we'll see those in the book. But their biggest threat is internal.
It's a really different take on superheroes, and it's a big world-building book.
Nrama: You've announced that the hero who formed C.O.W.L. was the Grey Raven, but the book will an ensemble book, right?
Higgins: Yeah, and the cool thing about the book is that it allows us to look at what's happening from different viewpoints and perspectives — not just the superheroes, but from everyone affected.
Nrama: And this is a world and idea that started in your short film, The League?
Higgins: Yeah, the idea actually came really early on during my college career. I had the idea that organized superheroes could be an entertaining concept. As I was transferring to Chapman University, I needed a writing sample, so I actually wrote a two-page scene within the world of organized superheroes. It was initially a parody of the Justice League labor union, and the hierarchy that would exist, and the tensions that would exist internally because of that.
When I got in to Chapman, I started to thinking about what I wanted to do for my thesis film, to write and direct. And I circled back to this idea. But this time, instead of being a parody, it was a more serious approach.
One of my best friends, Alec Siegel, and I started talking about a superhero labor union, but in a more serious context. And we stumbled across the idea of the 1960s being an era, especially in Chicago, where this could have happened. That was the beginning of the idea behind The League, which Alec and I co-wrote and I directed.
Nrama: And that was the film that got you your first writing gig, right?
Higgins: Yeah, Joe Quesada reached out to me after he saw it, and that started things for me in comics.
But it's always been a dream of mine and Alec's to go back to that world and really explore it in new and exciting ways. The short film is more like a trial run, you know? Testing things out. And after three years writing in the Batman office, when I decided to make the leap into creator-owned books, C.O.W.L. was something that was at the top of my list, in addition to a few other things I'm doing at Image, that we haven't announced yet.
Nrama: Getting back to the concept of C.O.W.L., because it takes place in the 1960's, did you do much research into the era?
Higgins: Yeah, and it's been fun for Alec and I, because we've been playing around with the question, how much is our history, and how much is alternate history? Because if you start playing around with super powered beings in the real world, as we are, then history would be altered.
In this world, superpowers started after the deployment of the atomic bomb. And that's where the history in this universe deviates from our history.
So it's been a lot of fun to explore what the ramifications would be. The aesthetic of the book is a little like James Bond, because with these superpowers, technology would be pushed a little further, you know? It's more advanced than it actually was in the '60s. There are jetpacks. There are laser weapons, and wristwatch communicators — you know, the kind of things that, growing up in that era, were the things that people were dreaming about inventing.
I remember reading an interview with Brad Bird about The Incredibles, and he said, "I want the version of the future that we were promised in the '60s, not the version that actually happened." And that's the sensibility that we're applying to our version of the '60s. Although… it's not exactly the version we were promised. In some ways, it's actually worse.
Nrama: Looking at the art, it really sets the mood for the story. How did you end up hooking up with Rod Reis on this series?
Higgins: I met Rod Reis while working on Nightwing. In the first 16 issues of the book, he colored over Eddie Barrows and a couple of the other artists. The first time we met, at a comic convention, he was doing watercolor commissions for people of his own illustrations. And I was blown away. I had never seen him do anything other than coloring. I didn't know he also penciled and inked and everything. I floated the idea of C.O.W.L. past him at that time.
His style is so interesting, and it fits so well with the world of C.O.W.L. His art is like if you put Bill Sienkiewicz and Phil Noto in a blender. With the '80s kind of storytelling sensibility that Rod is tapping into, it just fits so well.
I just felt like, if we were going to do something related to superheroes, it had to be different. And it had to feel different — the art had to really stand out as something unique. We don't want to just do a run-of-the-mill superhero story. There are a million out there. So it really started to form once Rod came on board, because I knew how it was going to look. It solidified the visual identity for the world.
Eric White did a fantastic logo for us. Eric actually designed the characters for the original short film. And then Trevor McCarthy did the first cover. And it's awesome.
Nrama: So did you work on the idea with Rod before you ever took it to Image?
Higgins: Yeah, yeah. And I was actually meeting with Eric [Stephenson of Image] about a different project, and he saw some of the art that Rod had done for this project. And he asked about it. And although I told him we were just working on it for fun. And I told him Rod was actually thinking of releasing it in Brazil first, and then we'd see if anyone in the U.S. was interested. And Eric said, "Well, I'm very interested!" So we set it up right then and there. It's funny how things work out.
Nrama: You mentioned another project that you had talked to Eric about. So you have another Image project coming?
Higgins: Yeah, I do. I have another project that we're not ready to announce yet. So far, it's an environment and a company where I've had nothing but good experiences. And with something like C.O.W.L., I've had such a connection to it for so long that I'm thrilled it's going to finally get into the hands of readers. The reaction has been great since we announced it. And the experience of working on these projects has been so fulfilling and creatively rewarding.