There have been obituaries, blog posts, thoughts about passed comic creators before, but rarely were they about people that (cliche alert) passed in the prime of their lives/careers. This past Monday, Dwayne McDuffie (49) died from complications after emergency heart surgery performed the day before (his birthday, no less).
I wanted to give a short tribute to the man who was probably (as potentially negative as this could sound to some people) the most important African-American nerd working in comics, TV and film by sharing some anecdotes, recommendations and links that I’ve come across on the Internet in the past week. Almost every creator seems to have a good story about Dwayne McDuffie.
McDuffie, a physics grad (truly a nerd’s nerd) rolled into comics as an assistant editor and started making waves fairly fast. Damage Control* was a great sitcom-esque series about a construction firm that cleans up superhero messes. Cheeky, hilarious but mostly just plain well written and fun — something that some say is missing from comics these days.
Noticing an annoying trend in the depiction of black superheroes in Marvel Comics, McDuffie sent a pitch to the Marvel Powers That Be for the epic “Teenage Negro Ninja Trashers”. (Marvel’s black guys seemed to all skateboard while DC’s all seem to have electrical powers. Comic book racial stereotypes anyone?)
McDuffie went on to co-found Milestone Media, a comic book company owned by African-Americans. While I hate excerpting from Wikipedia too much, this quote of McDuffie's really nails the approach to Milestone's comic universe:
If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character, then they aren’t just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn’t all white people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn’t do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that’s wider than the world we’ve seen before.
Dwayne went on to become a key player in what I consider THE best superhero cartoon of all time: Justice League Unlimited. Dwayne’s editing and writing helped the series, originated by Bruce Timm, cover some great story lines and established John Stewart (created as a backup to Green Lantern Hal Jordan) as a key player in the Green Lantern mythology. Or, as comic creator Matt Fraction said it:
appreciate it for a sec: kids’ll see another toothy white guy in another toothy superhero movie & think “he’s not MY green lantern.” #dwayne
McDuffie went on to write for the incredibly fun Teen Titans cartoon on CW, and run a revamp of the Ben 10 franchise.
Some other great reads on McDuffie’s work are Dwayne McDuffie and the Parakeet, Ten things you should know about Dwayne McDuffie, and These Long Years, and the Miles: Remembering Dwayne McDuffie as well as Women In Comics’ looong roundup of all responses related to McDuffie’s passing.
So long, Dwayne. thank you for some great work, not to mention, oh, saving superhero cartoons.
* = which should be a darn movie or TV show, are you listening, Marvel?
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in their indie comic, dark ‘n gritty days, is shedding all his green wares on eBay. Kevin apparently collected one of everything Turtles (who the hell would collect pop culture objects in such a manner? Oh yeah.) but the collection also includes an original Jim Henson’s Creature Shop made Leonardo costume from the first TMNT movie from 1990. Overall, 50 boxes, starting at a measly $50k. Get out your pocket books!