By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
This week, we lost legendary comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie. His death was not preceded by reports of ailing health or terminal illness and by all accounts he seemed to be in good health and in the midst of a thriving career. The magnitude of this loss, particularly as Black History Month draws to a close, is immense. McDuffie was not only an innovator in his field, but a force of social change in a fantasy medium that reflects more reality than you would assume. Mr. McDuffie drew no distinction between his beliefs and his craft, and would speak to the world through his work without weighing down his art or muting his beliefs
Born and raised in Detroit, he earned a graduate degree in physics from the University of Michigan and went on to study film at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. He honed his skills writing for stand up comedians and late night comedy shows. While working as a copy editor for a financial magazine, a friend got him an interview for an Assistant Editor position at Marvel Comics. It was here where McDuffie would realize his true calling.
After making a few noteworthy contributions as an assistant on special projects, McDuffie left his position at the House of Ideas to become a freelancer. He worked on various projects for Marvel, DC and Archie comics. He co-founded Milestone Media in 1993 along with colleagues Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle. The Milestone comics imprint was published through DC Comics and focused on titles created by African-Americans and featuring African-American protagonists. Though Milestone shut down its comics division in 1997, one of its titles lived on as a long running Saturday Morning cartoon series. Static Shock, based on the Milestone title Static, ran for four seasons and 52 episodes. McDuffie oversaw the transition of his creation to the small screen, writing eleven episodes himself.
Thus began his transition into the field of animation. He worked as a writer on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, serving as Producer and Story Editor on the latter. Both were very well-received by fans and critics alike. McDuffie also oversaw two entries in Cartoon Network’s long running Ben 10 franchise, Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. Both focused on the title character in his teenage years.
Most recently, McDuffie wrote two straight to DVD features for the DC Animated Universe. One of those is the amazing and transcendent Justice League: Crises on Two Earths. The other is a solid adaptation of Grant Morrison’s highly acclaimed All Star Superman. All the while, he never stopped writing for comics.
Like the rest of the entertainment business, the comic book industry regards racial and cultural minorities as a niche market. Efforts to cater to its non white readership are often poorly conceived and culturally insensitive. Dwayne McDuffie fought the good fight from the inside, using his influence and talent to facilitate much needed change. Not only did he work to incorporate characters of color in well-known flagship titles, he also developed original titles and stories that spoke to non-white readers.
To generations of African-Americans who grew up reading superhero comics, Dwayne McDuffie was both an ambassador and a champion. In an industry where minority voices are scarce, his was commanding, and ultimately irreplaceable. As we now mourn his passing, let us honor his memory by following in his footsteps. Dwayne McDuffie fought his entire career to create a place for minorities in the industries of comics and animation. It’s time for us to heed his call, and take our rightful place on the platform that he helped to establish. I’m sure that’s how he would have wanted it.