The Real Icon: A Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie

The True Black Sci-Fi Soldier

“Today, the worlds where the battles for truth, justice and the American way are fought are chock full of superheroes of all ethnicities and genders. This is due in large part to McDuffie, who championed diversity during a comic, animation and television writing career that spanned more than 20 years.

The sudden death of McDuffie this week at age 49 has sent comics aficionados, as well as the multimillion-dollar comics industry, reeling.”

– From Jesse J. Holland, The Canadian Press

Justice League Unlimited

He brought thought provoking tales to comics that embraced people of color and that’s a legacy that will forever be cherished. He helped bring it to the forefront and look how its formatted the way comics have been looked at today. And for that, I thank him and will forever keep his works near and dear to me.

– Sean Mack

All-Star Superman

Sudden unexpected death makes us put a creator’s body of work, their life’s work and mission, into context. Many people who will never know or notice his name have enjoyed his work (especially in animation, where he definitely helped create lots of great stuff for television and direct-to-dvd), and many in comics and animation have benefited from the fruit of his convictions.

– Samax Amen

I found out that Dwayne McDuffie passed away on Tuesday afternoon. My friend, Anish, texted the news to me as I was getting ready to teach my Game Design class. At first, I was understandably shocked. It was a tough week already. My great-aunt and my brother-in-law’s great grandmother passed away on the same day the week previous and they were both buried the following week… And that was Monday. When I received word of Dwayne’s transition, man that was it. I’ve been a bit of a mess ever since.

Now, my great-aunt, who battled cancer, was in her eighties when she left the material plane, and great-gran was in her nineties when she joined the angels. They had good runs, great runs. But, Dwayne, Dwayne was 49, in the prime of his life, making moves, kicking ass and taking names. He just completed All-Star Superman, which already was an anticipated hit. He, along with Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis, was the architect of Milestone Media. He made Justice League Unlimited one of the best cartoons ever to hit television. He gave us Static Shock, which was one of the top children’s cartoons of the nineties. He changed the game, for all of us, and he did it with the style, grace and panache of a true Detroit hustler.

Yeah, he was from the D, my hometown, the home of innovators, not imitators. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan, my alma mater. He was my hero as he was the hero to a lot of us in the game. He showed us that we could do it, really do it, without compromising who we are and what we’re about. Brotherman was Hip Hop and Tribe brought the Funk, but Milestone with Hardware, Blood Syndicate and my favorites Static & Icon brought the Soul.

Static

I’ve been reading all of the stories and anecdotes from the many people Dwayne touched in his life. Here’s mine:

Milestone is the reason why I’m in the comic book industry. Milestone showed me that I could have a career in comics being myself, with my point of view, creating characters that looked and sounded like me. When I first started making the rounds trying to break in, Milestone was the first company that I went to… And, they were great. I remember walking up to their booth, with comics to sign and portfolio in hand. Dwayne and Denys signed my books and Denys looked at my portfolio. There were Icon pages, Black Panther pages and a 3-pager featuring one of my concepts. Denys looked at my portfolio, looked at me and said:

“You want to make your own comics.”

I was flabbergasted. He was right and I told him so, but I also said that I wanted to get into Milestone. He said, “If you want to make comics, make comics. But, if you want to work for us, make some changes to your artwork and give us a call.” Then, he handed me the card, the Milestone business card. It was like the Golden Ticket. Exicted, I went home and worked on my stuff. I even set up a meeting when I went out to New York the following spring break, walking twenty-two blocks from the offices of DC Comics to Milestone for a meeting that they forgot we had scheduled, but still made the time to see a young, wet-behind-the-ears artist.

I never got the Milestone gig, but it didn’t matter. I was inspired. And Denys was right. I went and created my own thing, my own company. Because of Milestone, Griot Enterprises exists. Because of Milestone, The Horsemen exists.

Fast forward to 2005. The Horsemen had been out for a few years. I had to shut down publication due to a lack of investment funds to print new material. However, this is around the time that Print-On-Demand options for publishing were beginning to open up. This was the opportunity to get back out there. I had just started writing the yet unpublished Hip Hop Chronicles graphic novel and had to be at the SDCC for some meetings and some signings. I created and printed up some postcards letting everyone know that Griot Enterprises was coming back. I felt that it was going to be an uphill battle. After all, aside from a four-pager in the More Fund Comics graphic novel in 2004, there had been no new Horsemen material. I figured that the few fans I generated had all but forgotten about a brother. In any event, I was pleasantly surprised. A lot of brothers making books and reading books remembered the book and were excited to see something new. It felt good. Then, I saw him.

Icon, Rocket, Static & Hardware

There he was, big as life, yet extremely approachable, holding court. I was nervous. I walked up to him and shook his hand. I told him I was down with his work since Milestone and was loving what he did on JLU. Yes, I was a gushing fanboy and not ashamed of it. When I was done jocking, I told him about Griot Enterprises and how I was trying to fully get back into the game. Then, I handed him a postcard featuring The Horsemen and asked him if he ever had the chance to check the website out.

“Griot Enterprises?” He asked.

“…Yeah,” I said perplexed.

“The Horsemen… That’s you?”

“Yeah…”

“Man, I loved that book! I always wondered what happened to you guys!”

I was floored. Here I am, standing in front of one my heroes, and he’s gushing about my book. Stunned and amazed, I told him that I was coming back and that I wanted him to write the foreword for The Horsemen trade. he graciously gave me his phone number and told me to give him a call.

Now, I didn’t use that phone number often, and Dwayne never got around to writing the foreword, but that didn’t matter. It was enough that we connected… And we kept connecting. When I heard that Milestone was coming back to DC, I hooked up with Dwayne at SDCC and told him that I wanted to be down, in any capacity. We followed up with a phone conversation talking about how Milestone was going to be incorporated into the DCU and what books were going to launch. I told him that I would love to work on Icon and would send him a pitch. He said he’d look at it, but told me that Icon was his, that he was going to write it…

…And I felt him on that, intimately. At the end of the day, Dwayne McDuffie is Icon. Not the politics, but what he represents in the industry. He was the Martin and the Malcom, the Poitier and the Jackson. He broke down barriers and changed the game forever. His was the foot that really opened the door for all of us. He was our cool big brother, the cat who never forgot where he came from. My story with Dwayne isn’t unique. All of us who had the pleasure of meeting the man has one.

Dwayne's Secret Identity by Jiba Molei Anderson

And that’s why it sucks that he’s gone. This dude was our Will Eisner, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Yes, this is big talk, but it’s justified. It’s because of what he’s done that characters the look like us are now respected. Because of McDuffie, Blade, Black Panther and Cage are A-list. Because of McDuffie, Black Lightning was a member of the JLA and John Stewart is the Green Lantern that many kids want to see on the big screen. We stand on the shoulders of a giant my brothers and sisters. Who’s gonna take the weight? We will. Big up to you, Dwayne. We’ll never forget what you’ve done for the game and for us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got comic books to create.

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One thought on “The Real Icon: A Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie”

  1. This was a very nice tribute to an extremely talented creator. A couple of years ago, I wrote about the equally untimely passing of McDuffie’s collaborator on Static, writer Robert L. Washington III. I think his was a very sad story, as well as a cautionary tale for anyone who is considering making a living in the comic book industry.
    http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/robert-l-washington-iii-1964-2012/

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