The word “loss” encapsulates a lot of concepts, large and small. You lost that receipt with an idea on it — an irritation. You lost a job — financially crippling. You lost your mind at that club — not so shabby.
It is difficult to describe what it’s like to lose a person to the gaping chasm of death when you didn’t know them all that well. That’s some of my challenge with the passing of Dwayne McDuffie. I followed his work — mostly in comics, admittedly, but I did enjoy the Justice League episodes I saw. I hung out with him a time or two at conventions. He even took me to lunch once, when he was working at Warner Brothers Animation, showing me his office and giving me some tips on how to survive in the content creation game. But I didn’t know his wife, didn’t speak to him on his birthday, I wouldn’t have expected him to pick up the phone and call me about something random.
Dwayne McDuffie, 1963-2011
When the news of his death hit me, I was at work at MIMCO, in a planning meeting, multi-tasking with website updates and social networking check ins. Like the sudden and unexpected death of a young woman I’d worked with (she was 25, healthy and insanely vibrant), it shook me and made me stare at the low peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains outside my window and just think. I’m 38. I don’t eat a lot of unhealthy stuff, I walk a lot, I’m lean, I try not to give a crap about much so I won’t be stressed. I can’t foresee a day when I’ll be dead. Neither could that young woman. Hopefully, neither could Dwayne.
As of last week, he was promoting the critically acclaimed All Star Superman — an adaptation of Grant Morrison’s mind-boggling maxi-series that “many fans consider the quintessential Superman story.” Literally, he posted on Facebook on Sunday. It’s Tuesday. He’s gone.
I won’t go into his whole history, but his work at Marvel and DC (especially co-funding Milestone Comics with Derek Dingle, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Christopher J. Priest, the last of whom designed the logo) inspired me greatly. My favorite property was Blood Syndicate — a super powered street gang — but Hardware has echoed my corporate experience once or twice and Icon inspired me (but somehow, also, Clarence Thomas — go figure). Before all that, here’s the first time I ever recognized him as an entity …
Click to enlarge, image courtesy of Every Day Is Like Wednesday
I remember seeing that “pro file” in the editorial page of a G.I. Joe comic (I collected the series religiously) and being awed. Years later, I brought up the final quote (“… deep down, I’m every bit as terrifying as I look”) to him in the aisles of San Diego Comic-Con and he brushed it off. “I’m a pussycat,” he protested.
“Maybe now,” I laughed back.
Dwayne couldn’t believe that his creation Static never had a serious action figure. It drove him nuts. He blogged about it, he talked about it. I believe that his decision to bring Milestone into the DC Universe was, in part, because that if Static was a Teen Titan, he could get a proper action figure (not some Subway kids’ meal incentive). I sincerely believe that. Sure, there was what some industry watchers called “a truck load of money” too, but the action figure was the kicker (you should have seen his office at WB Animation, it was a Black geek paradise). Jai Nitz told me that “There will be an older version of Virgil (from the Batman Beyond eps) released later this year to end the JLU toyline.” That, likely, was greatly gratifying for Dwayne, as was finally satisfying his dream of working on the Fantastic Four.
In my experience, he was extraordinarily nice, even when he didn’t have to be. I interviewed him for failed retail site NextPlanetOver, right before the Static Shock series was going to air, and he was very willing to discuss topics that frustrated some. He was gracious, he was kind … but admittedly, he did not tolerate foolishness, as a story about a 1989 period when he was a Marvel editor showed …
Click to enlarge, image courtesy of Comics Should Be Good
He had his challenges, as all of us do, but I for one will always celebrate his accomplishments. I was honored that he knew my name, that he respected my work, that he thought I was good enough that he could take time to talk to me and advise me, even in the scant chances we had for that to happen. I could post a string of rememberances (and on my Facebook profile I have, sadly, it’s a walled garden so I can’t just directly link … I think) but this one from Chris Sims is as good as any.
In Dwayne McDuffie’s passing, Black geeks in particular lost our hero, a larger-than-life combination of intelligence and savvy, accomplishing a great deal on merit alone in an industry built to ignore and marginalize a tall, gruff, Black man like him. The reflection in his glasses was more nuanced than the entire careers of many people who he saw come up in the funny book game. I miss him already, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend.
In the words of our ancestors, anedge hirak Dwayne McDuffie, and thank you for everything, within the city of Dakota and elsewhere. I hope, for all that we’ve lost, we’ll one day find you again.
Playing (Music): “Without A Fight” by Janelle Monae