Feb 21 2015
Day 21 of BlackComicsMonth is a bittersweet day. Dwayne McDuffie died four years ago today, one day after his birthday. Snow Daze comic artist, Marcus Kwame Anderson shares his reflections on the Maestro, Dwayne McDuffie.
I originally wrote this essay four years ago as a contribution to a Black History Month collective blogging event in which artists blogged about a past or present artist, entrepreneur or historical figure of African descent who they’ve been influenced by. As I wondered which of my many creative inspirations I wanted to write about, news of the death of comic writing legend, Dwayne McDuffie came across my news feed. It was a huge loss and I was reminded of the incredible impact that his work had made. I thought of the ways that McDuffie’s brilliant creative legacy inspired me in my own missions to create comics and to represent people of color with the nuance and diversity that they deserve. He was not a visual artist like myself, but his work was extremely influential to my artistic development. McDuffie was one of the Co-founders of Milestone Comics, a company owned by African Americans formed in 1993, and the writer of many Milestone’s titles. He has also done a lot of acclaimed writing for various Marvel and DC titles as well as writing for television and the silver screen.
One day in 1993 as a teenager I walked into Earthworld Comics, a mainstay of Albany NY, and found pure magic and inspiration in comic book form. I’d been anticipating this trip since my father, knowing of my love of comic books, had showed me a newspaper article about the then upcoming launch of DC’s Milestone Comics. It is an understatement to say that this was a huge event for me. In fact, I felt I’d been waiting for Milestone Comics my whole life. On the day of that fateful trip to Earthworld–a store that I’d visited many times before–I left with something different. I left with comics starring characters who not only looked like me, but also had a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds. In Milestone comics, characters and communities of color found representation beyond the token and or stereotypical roles that were too often the case in the world of comics. On the subject of black representation in comics, McDuffie said,
“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.”
My favorite Milestone title was Static, the story of Virgil Hawkins a high school student who gained superpowers after being exposed to chemicals. A high school student myself, I related to Virgil immediately. McDuffie and Robert L. Washington teamed up with John Paul Leon (one of my favorite artists) to weave a story that perfectly balanced action, humor, drama, political and socioeconomic issues, and everyday teenage problems. Static was later developed into the award winning WB animated series, Static Shock. I also enjoyed reading Icon, Hardwareand Blood Syndicate.
]McDuffie’s body of work is extensive and goes far beyond Milestone. He wrote for many TV shows, includingTeen Titans, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited (which he also edited and produced). He also wrote Deathlok, a Marvel comic whose main character is a black man trapped in a cyborg body. Though it was a mainstream comic, McDuffie cleverly worked in racial commentary inspired by his love of books like Invisible Manand The Souls of Black Folk. I admire his spirit. As a black writer in corporate America–particularly at a company as big as Marvel–the path of least resistance would have been to avoid race altogether.
Here is a video where Dwayne McDuffie speaks on the realities and challenges of being a black comic book writer.
Sadly, McDuffie passed away at the age of 49 on February 21, 2011 due to surgical complications. His influence continues to shine. This month at the Long Beach Comic Expo the first-ever Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity will be presented. He is one of many examples that we are continuing to make Black history today. I have tremendous respect for McDuffie and his work. My respect for him goes far beyond the fact that he wrote comics with people of color. I also respect him for insights like the ones he voiced in the video above. Not only was he a great writer, but he also knew what time it was. I am in the process of working towards getting some of my comics published. I hope that one day I’ll be able to say that I’ve made half of the impact on comic book culture that Dwayne McDuffie did.
Rest in peace, brother.
“In my readings, Milestone Media was cited by scores of comic scholars and culture experts as the most prominent efforts to bring multicultural heroes into the mainstream comics. I enjoyed his thoughtful representations of minority characters in all walks of life, from the ghetto to the penthouse. More impressive still was his ability to bring all such character into superhero genre without missing a beat. Icon, Raquel, Hardware, Static—these were superheroes through and through.”– Sirui Huang, PopCultureShock.com
Today should be a day of reflection and appreciation for one of the greatest names in comics, and one where we can look at all of the amazing influence that Dwayne McDuffie has had on this industry, Today, take a moment to read a comic by Mr. McDuffie or go out and buy your copy of All-Star Superman. Celebrate his life, work and legacy, and let him not be forgotten. – Sara Lima, ComicVine.com
Marcus Kwame Anderson: Artist
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to Albany, NY at an early age. I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. A black nerd long before it became somewhat en vogue, I grew up drawing comic characters and books. In high school I always had 2 things with me a sketchbook and a walkman. They were a lifeline that helped to keep me sane. That lanky teen grew up, had a family, became a teacher, poet, an emcee, illustrator, and last but certainly not least, co-creator of Snow Daze.