What’s in the water in Detroit that’s creating all these artists?”
That’s what comic companies in the ‘70s asked when the so-called “Detroit Mob” started to work on more and more books. Among this wave of creators from Motown who left his stamp on the industry was Arvell Jones, who will attend the Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace this weekend.
This is far from Jones’ first convention. When he was a teenager, he attended and even helped at Detroit Triple Fanfare, which was one of the first science fiction shows to include comic books as a featured part of the event. He started out doing anything they would let him, but as time went on, he got involved in committee planning, panel discussion, and even publicity.
The show played another big part for Jones and the comic industry as a whole. It was attended by the members of what would be called the “Detroit Mob” – and, of course, Arvell Jones himself.
The group would meet in a bookstore in Hamtramck to discuss comics, help each other with their aspiring work and figure out how to break into the comic book industry. They also lived by a pact – if one got in that they would do their best to get the rest in as well.
Once Rich Buckler, who is best known for his work on many Marvel comics in the ‘70s, especially the creation of the future-dwelling cyborg soldier Deathlok, made it, one after the other they came. They got each other jobs, traveled together, and lived together. Jones’ first official job in the industry was Buckler’s assistant.
Many also worked on fanzines, in this case self-published magazines about comics. He published Fan Informer from Detroit.
“I first learned the trade as a journalist,” Jones says.
He would travel to Chicago and Cleveland to talk to artists, like Russ Heath, with history in the comics business. Heath, a comic book inker, is best known for his work on DC Comics in the 1960s.
They would tell them about the brushes he used and share all sorts of technical knowhow. This created the knowledge that networking was important, something the Detroit Mob practiced. It also may be why the Detroit style was so unique and individualistic.
This led to a lot of careers and a lot of creations.
For Jones, it meant he would go on to work on a great many characters, including a run on All-Star Squadron, a comic DC put out that included every Golden Age character. Among them were Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Dr. Fate, the Spectre, and many more. Most importantly, he co-created Misty Knight, a love interest for Kung Fu hero Iron Fist. She was also a member of superhero teams, the Defenders and Daughters of the Dragon.
Being the first to draw Misty Knight is important to a larger community than comic fans. Misty will appear in the upcoming Netflix show, Luke Cage. With Marvel’s huge success with other shows like Daredevil and aka Jessica Jones, Misty might become a big name for more than just fans of the comics.
Jones had a connection to another creator from the Detroit area. The late Dwayne McDuffie, who had known Jones’ aunt.
McDuffie is best known for his work in DC’s animation department on shows like Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as well as being one of the founders of Milestone. Milestone was an imprint of DC Comics that focused on minority superheroes. Jones did some work for them in the ‘90s.
Such a deep connection to comics is almost surprising given he started on that path because he was dissuaded from another medium. Jones wanted to make movies and almost got his father to buy him a camera. Unfortunately, when faced with the cost of things like film development and tri-pods, it was not meant to be.
Instead his father handed him pencils and papers and said they would revisit movie making once his stories were good enough.
“I always saw the potential,” says Jones. “I thought of them (comics) like movies. They just didn’t have the technology at the time to do what we were doing or tell the stories I wanted to tell.”
When he went back to his dad after he had some art published to talk to him about the promised camera, he said “now you can afford your own camera.”
Eventually, Jones did make it into the movie world when the Detroit area was a major spot for them. Unfortunately, he worked with a studio in Livonia when the complications to Michigan’s’ film industry arose and funding for movies here was dramatically cut.
A third visual media also called to Jones – television.
He became the vice president of ColourTV, where he took on a plethora of responsibilities in almost every part of the company. He was also one of the earliest website designers.
Jones is committed to helping Detroit and its young people move forward. He and Pollard started comic-oriented art classes for at risk kids in the Detroit area where they are teaching them to draw. With so many areas with low graduation rates, the idea is to get the kids interested in something, he says. If the kids are interested, they then find out there are more skills to learn.
At Motor City Comic Con there will be a man who not only has his own corner in pop culture, but is also from our own backyard.
This year’s Motor City Comic Con will take place Friday, May 13 (12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.), Saturday, May 14 (10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and Sunday, May 15 (10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at the Suburban Collection Showplace, located at 46100 Grand River Avenue in Novi. Complete information about the event, tickets, panels and VIP passes is available at https://www.motorcitycomiccon.com/