Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Thanks for the telling your stories

Acclaimed comic book and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie died today from complications due to a surgical procedure performed Monday night.  He was 49 years old.

I was floored when I heard the news.  I am a big fan of Dwayne McDuffie’s work, although I admit to being somewhat late to the party.  I first became aware of him because of his spectacular work producing the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series.  Both of these series did a great job of distilling the best elements of DC Comics nearly eighty year continuity and presenting them in a format easy for the casual viewer to understand.  Since then I have sought out his work and have rarely been disappointed by it.

I believe the reason Dwayne McDuffie was so good at this was because he gave a lot of thought to what makes comic books work and what makes them fail.  His article on “the menace of shared universes” changed the way I thought about comic book continuity.  He reminded me of something that should be obvious: the story being told is always more important than something that happen ten years ago in another book.

Dwayne McDuffie was also an important minority voice in an industry which is still dominated by a bunch of white guys.  As the co-founder of Milestone Media he created a comic book imprint where minority characters could step into the spotlight for a change.  The character of Static proved popular enough to spawn the animated series Static Shock on the WB.

Not to mention he sent Marvel Comics hilarious proposal called Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers when he felt they were being a bit stereotypical in their portrayal of black superheroes.  Considering that he was an editor working for Marvel Comics at the time, that took some balls.

Rest in peace Dwayne McDuffie.  You will be missed.


Kinocetus said...

Since when does the color of someone's skin make any difference to the quality of their contribution? I'm a little disappointed by white guys comment.

Medraut said...

The comic book industry is one which has traditionally suffered from a lack of minority and female writers. Sadly, it shows. Walking stereotypes still abound in comics, despite the best efforts of certain writers to eliminate them.

I don’t mean to imply that a white man can’t write a well-rounded minority or female character. Good writing is good writing, and not limited by race or gender. However, one basic tenet of writing is to “write what you know”. When it comes to portraying female and minority characters in comics, someone from one of these groups brings a different perspective to the table.

I believe having a diversity of perspectives is important and adds to the verisimilitude of a shared universe. In my own experience, I know that my opinions about Muslims were changed immensely by my close friendship with a member of that religion in high school and college. Similarly, becoming good friends with an out of the closet gay man in college busted a lot of stereotypes for me.

This is why I believe diversity in the comic book industry to be a good thing. When Power Man was created in the 1970’s he was one of the first African-American superheroes to star in his own comic book. As a result he was a groundbreaking character. Unfortunately, he also spoke “jive” as badly as the characters from the movie Airplane.

Maybe if there were a few black writers around Marvel back then, his dialog would have been better. I’m not saying a black man has to write Power Man. In fact, the character’s current popularity is mostly due to the writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is one of those “white guys”.

Dwayne McDuffie was an immensely talented individual, which had nothing to do with the color of his skin. Heck, I didn’t even realize he was black when I first became a fan of his. Similarly, Gail Simone is a great writer, which has nothing to do with her gender. I do think that having talented writers from underrepresented groups is important though. Not because I believe you need to fill some “quota”. However, I do believe you need to be able to play more than one note to have a symphony.

Kinocetus said...

Just my point. He was a talented individual who sadly died at a very young age, which I find far more compelling and tragic then the fact that there are more whites than minorities in the business. Someone dying at an age that I am rapidly approaching really hits home while I feel racial commentary is somewhat pointless and detracts from the real story and his accomplishments. When I talk or think about my friends I never say he's gay, or she's black etc... I say he's Jeff or she's Pam and so on, because it these subcategories don't matter to me, nor should they.

A race is something you run, colors belong in a crayon box, and diversity is an abused terminology that often keeps us divided.

True equality will only be achieved when we no longer divide people in to subcategories for any purpose.