Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP - Dwayne McDuffie

Shocking news hit the world of comics today, as it has been reported that comic book and animation writer and icon Dwayne McDuffie had died. Although the exact cause of death has yet to be confirmed, it is being suggested that he passed away during a medical procedure he underwent on Monday.

McDuffie got his start in the comics industry as an assistant to an editor at Marvel Comics. His first major work as a comics writer was Damage Control, a satirical and irreverent book about a construction company that specializes in cleaning up after destructive battles between superheroes and their foes. He became a freelance writer in 1990, contributing stories to Marvel, DC, Archie and Harvey Comics.

During his time at Marvel, McDuffie had been frustrated at the stereotypical way African-American characters had been depicted and created by the company. Reacting to the overtly "hip" and "urban" characters, McDuffie fired off a pitch for a new series called Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers, in which, among other things, all of the characters would ride skateboards, sport hairstyles and clothing from 1974, speak in bizarre speech patterns, and have smart white friends. The sarcastic pitch is now legendary in fandom.

In 1992, McDuffie finally was able to take a huge leap for multi-culturalism in comics when he founded Milestone Media. It was a comic book company. It featured new super heroes. It was owned and run by African-Americans. Although it featured heroes such as Hardware and Icon, the most popular and enduring hero created under Milestone was Static. Though Milestone's comic line eventually folded by 1996, Static lived on through the popular and award-winning animated series Static Shock. In 2008, DC Comics announced that it would be folding the Milestone characters into the DC Universe proper, and severely heroes have shown up in various DC titles.

During the late 1990s, McDuffie was a story editor and writer for Static Shock, which led to his other career, that of animation writer. While he worked on Teen Titans, Scooby Doo, and Ben 10, he was most lauded as one of the guiding lights of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series.

After Justice League ended, he returned to comics, writing Beyond! and Fantastic Four for Marvel, and Firestorm and Justice League for DC. Although Justice League seemed like a perfect fit, based on his experience with the popular animated series, his take struggled to connect with fans. He was fired from the book after airing his creative differences with DC regarding its direction during an online interview.

Even with this fracas, McDuffie enjoyed a stellar, almost beloved, reputation within the industry. His shocking passing, much too soon, will leave a large hole in comics. He was a unique voice in an industry that could always use more uniqueness, and even though he would surely argue that more work needed to be done to create true diversity in comics, we can thank him for much of the strides that have been made. 

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