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A Chat With Kyle Higgins, Writer of Image Comics’ C.O.W.L (And an Exclusive Playlist)

Image Comics’ new series C.O.W.L. drops today, from creators Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and artist Rod Reis. Set in early sixties Chicago, C.O.W.L. (which stands for Chicago Organized Worker’s League) takes the concept of the labor union struggles of the period and puts them through a superheroic blender. We got the chance to chat with creator Kyle Higgins (Nightwing, Batman Beyond) about how this concept came together, the influences behind it, and what lies ahead for the future.

Nerdist: First off, how did you come up with the idea for C.O.W.L? And is this a idea you’ve been carrying around for a long time, or something that you came up with more recently? And what part did your co-writer Alec Siegal have to do with the inception of this book?

Kyle Higgins: C.O.W.L. has been with me, in one form or another, for the last nine years. It started as a short story that I wrote in order to get into film school at Chapman University. Eventually, when I started thinking about making a thesis film, I came back to the idea. Alec and I have known each other since high school, and write screenplays together. At that time, I asked if he’d want to come on board and help me write the film. That turned into him moving out to Southern California, I directed the film, and in the fall of 2008 we were finished with The League.

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N: C.O.W.L. is all about the fall of the superhero union; what made you decide to cover the end of that era, and not the beginning of it? And is the beginning of it something you’d be open to covering one day?

KH: Ends are more interesting than beginnings. At least, to us. Plus, everything seems to be an origin story these days. With something like C.O.W.L., the building of the organization and how it worked properly has a lot of merit… but that’s not what attracts us to the idea. Exploring the corruption of this American institution is much more in our wheelhouse. Maybe we’re just cynical (laughs). But yeah, we’ll be getting into the early days and showing how C.O.W.L. started. That is a story down the line.

N: With the sixties setting and the ensemble cast, there have been several comparisons to Mad Men. Was the show an influence (beyond the time period?)

KH: A little, sure. But not any more than The Wire or Game of Thrones has been. Big, ensemble casts that feature even bigger character arcs is what C.O.W.L. is modeled after. That said, Mad Men is the easy television comparison to make, for the reasons you just said, just as Watchmen is the easy comic book comparison. Although, I’d say we have more in common with The New Frontier than we do Watchmen. But that’s just me.

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N: Speaking of ensemble casts, what are the challenges with writing an ensemble versus writing a solo character like Nightwing?

KH: Keeping the arcs clean is tricky. And figuring out how each storyline connects– thematically and logistically– within an issue is definitely a challenge. But on the plus side, we always have something to cut to. For me, ensemble casts and subplots help me keep momentum in a book. And even though Nightwing wasn’t an ensemble cast, I got pretty good towards the end of juggling all the different subplots and keeping things moving. Giving the book a nice pace. It was great training for something like C.O.W.L.

N: With this book being about a superhero union, you probably had to do a fair amount of research on the real life unions and their history. Did you learn anything significant that you didn’t know before you started this project?

KH: Oh man. Yeah. And we’re still doing research. I have books sitting in front of me right now on Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s and other articles about the AFL-CIO in 1962. Of course, the politics and the labor negotiations are all backdrop for our characters. Using your Mad Men comparison, C.O.W.L. is our Sterling Cooper– it’s the vehicle for the book. A story generator that allows us to put our characters in complex situations.

N: Labor unions are probably something that is more controversial now than they have been in a long time, at least with persons of a certain political leaning. Knowing this, are you prepared for a certain amount of backlash?

KH: At this point, if I weren’t used to people hating what I do, I wouldn’t be doing it professionally (laughs). I was just telling my girlfriend the other day– negative comments and reviews really don’t bother me when I’m proud of the material. The only time they bother me is when I agree with them. When the book or project turns out to be less than what I wanted it to be. But C.O.W.L. isn’t that.

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N: Chicago is where the book is set (so far.) Is there any intention to take the story out of the confines of the city at any point?

KH: That’s a great question. Yeah, we have plans for exploring the rest of the country and some of the world.

N: Obviously writing a creator-owned book is an entirely different animal than writing Nightwing or anything for DC or Marvel; is there anything that’s easier about writing a corporately owned character, and vice versa?

KH: No, I’m just as passionate about Dick Grayson as I am Geoffrey Warner. Both have their challenges, and they’re very different challenges. Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis… these guys aren’t mine. There’s a long history for them and I really can’t do too much to them. Creator owned characters are obviously the opposite.

N: Can you give us any hints for the future of C.O.W.L? What can readers expect in the future?

KH: I would say… don’t get comfortable. What you think you know after issue 1 may or may not be true. Plus, no one in the book is safe.

And when you pick up the first issue of C.O.W.L, be sure to listen to this special C.O.W.L themed Spotify playlist while you read it, to put you in the proper head space for all the retro goodness.

As an added bonus, we have an exclusive Spotify playlist curated by Kyle Higgins to jazz up your reading experience.

Have you read C.O.W.L.? What would go on your playlist? Let us know in the comments below.

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