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Tom’s already written a great tribute to Dwayne McDuffie, but I need to write something too. And I don’t use the word “need” lightly there.
Typically, when I hear about the death of someone in the comics industry, I feel sad for that person’s family and friends, perhaps think a little about my own connection to the person’s work, and that’s about it. I don’t know that I’ve ever written a personal memorial about anyone. Dwayne McDuffie is different. I met him once, but didn’t know him outside of his work. Still, I’m feeling his death like I don’t feel comics industry deaths and this column’s going to be a bit selfish as I get this out.
Like Tom, my connection with McDuffie began with Milestone. I grew up in the South where…I guess the polite way of saying it is that racial diversity was prevalent, but that doesn’t do justice to the situation. It makes it sound almost utopian, which is ridiculous. Anyone who’s spent much time in the South (or really just seen a lot of movies set there) knows how complicated and heart-breakingly frustrating it can be. But one thing that I’ll always be thankful for is that I got to know a lot of people outside of my own race. Enough so that I took it for granted.
After college I moved north to look for work and landed in a suburb that was much less diverse than where I’d grown up. Like before, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about this. I didn’t “miss” being around people unlike myself anymore than I actively enjoyed being surrounded by folks just like me, racially and culturally speaking. The issue just wasn’t on my radar.
What was on my radar was getting back into comics. I’d gone to school in a small town with no comic shop and was thrilled to live in a metropolitan area with many different places to buy comics. I dived right in and it was only a couple of years later that Dwayne McDuffie and Friends launched Milestone.
Dwayne McDuffie was a great writer of superhero stories, consistently producing solid, entertaining tales about characters familiar and unfamiliar, across a variety of media. He was also a vocal advocate for diversity in the superhero genre, both in terms of characters and creative personnel.
My first real exposure to Mr. McDuffie’s work was through Static, the 1993 series he co-created with fellow Milestone founders Derek T. Dingel, Denys Cowan, and Michael Davis. The Milestone panel at the ‘93 Chicago Comic-Con was handing out copies of Static’s first issue — a shiny-silver-logo variant, naturally — and I was hooked instantly. In any age Static would have stood out as an energetic and thoughtful teen-superhero serial. In the summer of 1993, though, with the speculators’ market at full swing and superhero comics chasing one fad after another, Static’s reliance on fundamentals was especially refreshing.
To some extent I think that’s what helped make Mr. McDuffie’s work so effective. He understood that the best superhero stories bring the epic and fantastic down to personal levels, but he was careful to slight neither the epic nor the personal. His work spotlighted relationships as much as spectacle. When Earth was invaded by Hawkgirl’s home planet of Thanagar (in “Starcrossed,” a 3-episode arc of “Justice League”), it tested both Hawkgirl’s loyalties and her relationship with Green Lantern. McDuffie’s tenure on Fantastic Four started by repairing the damage to the Richards’ marriage wrought by the events of Civil War. The Beyond! miniseries (a sort-of sequel to Secret Wars) was all about relationships, since it stranded a handful of superheroes on a distant planet.
“Milestone was the shared vision that we would provide the world with images that had been excluded from the mainstream for decades. Dwayne was the key to making that dream a reality to our company and comic book fans, as well as those who sought tales of adventure. […] Dwayne realized the importance of creating such images because they represented heroes and opportunities. He also saw comic books and animation as a way of dealing with such issues as racism, sexism, gang violence, gun control and conflict resolution without sacrificing entertainment value.”
– Milestone Media co-founder Derek T. Dingle, on his friend and business partner Dwayne McDuffie, who passed away Monday at age 49
I’m still in shock over the sudden, tragic death of comics writer, Milestone Media co-founder and animation producer Dwayne McDuffie, as I’m sure many of his fans, friends and fellow creators are. I’ve rounded up some thoughts and memories from some of those folks, as well as a few items of note about memorials and some of his work.
Awards | Barry Deutsch’s Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as part of the prestigious Nebula Awards. “When the nice lady from the Nebula committee called me, she said this is ‘essentially the Nebula Award for young adult books’,” Deutsch writes. Although graphic novels are specifically mentioned in the Andre Norton Award guidelines, this appears to be the first time one has been nominated. The award was established in 2005 in honor of prolific science fiction and fantasy author Andre Norton, who passed away that year. The winners will be announced May 21 in Washington, D.C., during the Nebula Awards banquet. [SFFWA]
Passings | We’ll collect reactions later today to the sudden death of respected comics and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie — Comic Book Resources has remembrances from more than a dozen industry figures — but I wanted to go ahead and point to a handful of links: The Associated press obituary; a few words from Christopher Irving, accompanied by a beautiful portrait of McDuffie photographed by Seth Kushner on Feb. 13; the origin of Static; and a look at Spider-Man anti-drug PSA comics written by McDuffie. There’s also McDuffie’s message board, where he interacted candidly with fans on a regular basis. Two threads are devoted to the news of his death and memories of the creator they often referred to as “the Maestro.” The site’s administrator has posted a message last night on the main page: “Dwayne’s family and friends would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of condolences. They are much appreciated in this difficult time.” [Dwayne McDuffie]
Warner Bros’ animated adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is so reverent and faithful toward the source material that the film, to a certain extent, feels like a pale copy of its inspiration.
That’s not necessarily a damning criticism. Bruce Timm and company took the right approach in attempting to get as close a conversion from page to screen as possible (to do otherwise would have pleased no one). But the comic itself is so rich in detail and episodic in nature that even a trim, streamlined version like this that still manages to hit a number of the right high points feels a bit flabby in comparison. Saying “the book is better” is a rather easy cheat for a critic — the book is almost always better, but I suspect that fans of the comic won’t be able to watch this without running a compare/contrast checklist in their head and find the film coming up a wee bit short. The good news is that those coming fresh to the material probably won’t notice anything wrong at all.
James Denton (Desperate Housewives), Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace, Happy Feet) have been cast as the voices of Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor in the upcoming All-Star Superman original animated movie. Warner Bros. announced the direct-to-DVD project in San Diego this past summer.
Bruce Timm is executive producing, and Sam Liu, who directed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, will direct this one as well. Dwayne McDuffie, who wrote Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League Unlimited and many other animated programs (not to mention comics) wrote the script.
The DVD will be released next spring.
A quick round-up of Comic-Con updates, additional announcements and interesting links:
• Warner Bros. Animation officially announced a DC Universe Original Movie based on All-Star Superman, the award-winning series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. The direct-to-DVD animated feature, set for release in spring 2011, is written by Dwayne McDuffie, who calls the series “one of the greatest stories in comic book history.”
• ICv2.com has additional details about one of the more interesting announcements from the convention, Fantagraphics’ partnership with Disney to publish the complete Mickey Mouse comic strips by Floyd Gottfredson. The collections will be released beginning in May at a rate of two volumes a year. They will retail for $29.99.
• Tom Spurgeon rounds up the selections from the Thursday panel “The Best and Worst of Manga 2010.”
• I enjoyed Todd VanDerWerff’s coverage of Comic-Con for The A.V. Club, including his visit to Artists’ Alley, and this broader post in which he questions whether the convention is “worth serious news coverage.”
• In the midst of Comic-Con, the Los Angeles Times rolled out a look at digital comics and their potential impact on the industry. “Comic book stores have a very close relationship with their customers,” says author and critic Douglas Wolk. “But the old-school collectors are aging, and it may be that the print comic goes away eventually. There is an entire generation of readers who is not interested in physical copies.”
• Grant Morrison chats briefly with IGN.com about his newly announced series Batman Inc.
• Is it just me, or are the round-ups of convention “winners and losers” pretty much meaningless? I’m sure Snakes on a Plane was declared a “winner” of whichever Comic-Con it was promoted — 2006, maybe? — and we all know how that played out.
According to this post over at DC’s The Source blog, original Milestone Comics editor-in-chief Dwayne McDuffie is teaming with several artists who worked on the original Milestone Comics line back in the 1990s to wrap up the stories that were being told in those books before the line was canceled. It also sounds like it’ll somehow transition the characters from their separate Milestone-verse to the DCU proper, where we’ve already seen them show up in the pages Justice League and Teen Titans.
McDuffie will team with John Paul Leon, Mark Bright, Chris Cross and Denys Cowan to wrap up the stories from Hardware, Icon, Shadow Cabinet, Blood Syndicate and Static. I figured we were well past ever seeing these characters again in their original environment, so this is welcome news, even if it is “a bittersweet tale that chronicles the literal end of a universe.”
The San Diego Comic-Con kicks off with Preview Night a week from this Wednesday. If you are a publisher, creator, retailer or any other kind of exhibitor who would like to let folks know about any special plans you have for the show (panels, signing schedules, exclusives, debuts, etc.) drop me an email and I’ll run it here.
Also, a reminder: the programming schedule is out, so you can start putting together your to do list. This post at the Daily Cross Hatch, which includes a rundown of what various indie comic creators will be doing at the show, might also be helpful.
Creators | Joëlle Jones will have a new sketchbook featuring the seven deadly sins at the show.
Comics | Wildstorm will distribute a free primer on their universe of characters — Authority, Gen13, etc. — at the con. Titled This Is WildStorm Universe #0, the book will lay out “where each WildStorm Universe team began, where they are now… and offering a few hints about their future.”
Welcome to ComicsLive, a guide to upcoming signings, conventions and more. If you’d like to submit an event for inclusion, please email them directly to me. Please include the venue, city and state, start time, event details and any related websites where we can send folks for more information. Virtual events, like online creator chats, are also welcome.
Friday, July 3
Bloomington, Minn | CONvergence — “a celebration of the funny side of science fiction and fantasy” — continues through Sunday and will have Dwayne McDuffie and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew as its special guests, among others. More details can be found here.
Brooklyn, NY | The comic shop Rocketship will host a release party for local artist Adam Suerte’s latest comic, starting at 8 p.m. Details here.
White River Junction, Vermont | First Friday Book Release party, with four new books debuting by Colleen Frakes, Denis St. John, Morgan Pielli and Jen Vaughn at Revolution. Details here.
Writer Dwayne McDuffie revealed today on his message board that he’s been fired from Justice League of America, saying “it was my own doing.”
His dismissal came after “Lying in the Gutters” columnist Rich Johnston “ran a compilation of two years or so of my answers to fans’ questions on the DC Comics discussion boards,” McDuffie posted, referencing this May 4th column. “I’m told my removal had nothing to with either the quality of my work or the level of sales, rather with my revelation of behind-the-scenes creative discussions.”
If you look through the column, you’ll see several statements that show McDuffie’s frustrations with working on the title, from comments on how the Anansi storyline was “about my not having control of the stories in my book” to remarks about how DC’s big guns — from Superman and Batman to Green Arrow and Captain Marvel — weren’t available for his use.
“I’m doing ‘Cap’s Kooky Quartet’,” McDuffie wrote. “Of course, in this case Captain America isn’t available, either.”
McDuffie did share some “what might have been” thoughts on JLA:
I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, because next summer was planned to feature a JLA-driven crossover, where my book’s story line would have been the driving force. I’m distressed by where I left Black Canary, as my intention was to use the current subplot to strengthen her character and relationships with the new membership, and instead I’m leaving her at the bottom of a hole I’d intended to rebuild her from. I was also just about to get a regular artist for the first time since I’ve been on the book, which would have been nice. That said, I’m sure DC’s going to put together a creative team that will generate major excitement around JLA, which is as it should be.
He also said he has a pretty full plate, as he’s editing Cartoon Network’s Ben 10: Alien Force and the upcoming Ben 10: Evolutions series. He’s also working on a new project called Milestone Forever for DC, just finished a video game script, and is writing a direct-to-DVD animated feature for Warner Animation.
As for Justice League, it looks like Issue 33, which came out today, is his last. Len Wein is writing the next few issues, and was doing so initially to give McDuffie a break while he worked on his various TV projects.