Remembering Dwayne McDuffie

dwaynemcduffieThings were different when I was a kid growing up. For the most part, you didn’t know what comic book creators looked like. Sure, everyone knew what Stan Lee looked like, but that was about it. The few comic creators I had contact with back in my youth were all white, and for some reason, it just sort of stuck in my head that all comic creators had to be white. This was, of course, reinforced by the vast majority of comics that were being published, which only had a relatively small number of black characters.

The first black creator I ever met was Ron Wilson, and it changed my life. I was probably about 12 or 13, and seeing Ron in person, and talking to him changed my world. Knowing that a black person actually worked in the comics industry suddenly opened up that possibility to me.

Years later I met Dwayne McDuffie for the first time. At this point he had already co-created the Milestone universe with guys like Denys Cowan and Michael Davis and everyone else who churned out some really quality work back in the early 1990s. By comparison to Dwayne and the other veterans of Milestone, I was a nobody. My only work had been self-published, and no one knew who I was (not that I’m all that well known now). But the thing that struck me most about Dwayne was that he never treated me like a fanboy or some wannabe creator with very little to show for himself. Dwayne treated me like a peer, even though I wasn’t. To borrow a phrase from my grandmother, he was “real folks.”

milestone1The first time I met Dwayne was at San Diego Comic Con. I had been publishing BadAzz MoFo for several years, but had no reason to believe anyone actually knew who I was or knew my work. I introduced myself to Dwayne, and he responded, “I know how you are. Good work. C’mon, walk with me.”

Over the years, my relationship with Dwayne was like the one I share with many professionals in the comic book industry—we would see each other at a convention, exchange pleasantries, and go on about our business until the next convention. The difference with Dwayne was that he always made sure we had time to really exchange pleasantries, even if it meant we had to walk and talk at the same time. We did a lot of walking and talking, but that’s how it goes at comic conventions. Once in a while I would email him, and he was always kind enough to respond. And he even gave me a great interview for Back Issue magazine. I don’t know if we could be considered friends in the strictest of terms, but I had the greatest respect and admiration for him, and he was always real folks with me.

The last conversation we had was back in 2010. It had been a brief exchange, but it had been profound. We talked about the struggles of being a black creator, and creating work that showcased characters of color in comics. Dwayne talked about the need for creators of color to think big, to strive to tell our stories in a way that showed us as human beings within the larger world, and not just being content within a framework of separate-but-equal. Comics (and all of pop culture) needs to be for everyone, and not divided up and parceled out to different audiences. A good creator must be able to create stories and characters that engage and entertain people regardless of the their color. And a really good creator does this with a cast of well-defined and diverse characters.

In his life, and after his death, Dwayne McDuffie continues to be an inspiration.  And I’m not just talking the inspiration that comes from the many projects that he blessed with his talent. I’m talking about the inspiration that comes when someone is decent to you, shows you a little respect, and offers an encouraging word or two. One of the best things I ever learned from Dwayne was how to be real folks.

I can’t speak for any other creators of color, but I personally feel a level of responsibility to not only entertain, but to also encourage young people who have yet to realize their own potential. Ron Wilson opened my eyes to potential when I was a kid. And by just being a decent human being, Dwayne encouraged my potential.

The world of comics and animation has come a long way thanks to Dwayne. He was a talented creator, period. I say that just to clarify that Dwayne’s ethnicity is not needed to describe his talent. His work was not stuck in the marginalized ghetto that can often plague some creators. But at the same time, he was a black man, and in the world of comics and animation, he held it down better than anyone else. Dwayne went places and created work that many of us aspire to do. He was an inspiration to all kids looking to get into comics or animation, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

I hope that as a creator and a human being, I can be half the man Dwayne McDuffie was. And in my attempt to entertain, enlighten and inspire young people, I hope that I can be as real as Dwayne always was with me. May you rest in peace, Dwayne.

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Black History Month 2014: Winston Zeddemore and the Importance of GHOSTBUSTERS

Winston-ZeddemoreIt’s Black History Month. That means it is the one month out of year that everyone is posting the sort stuff I post all the time. And that means that I need to step up my game. For my first (and possibly only) entry for Black History Month 2014, I’ve decided to write about one of the most important African American characters in the history of cinema—Winston Zeddemore. Before any of you roll your eyes and stop reading, hang with me for just a little longer while I explain why a character from the movie Ghostbusters is so important.

One of the most enduring cinematic conventions is the supporting Black character that is killed off in movies. Anyone who has seen enough movies has recognized this sad and tired cliché, and plenty of people have asked why this happens so often. I’ve addressed this issue in my essay “Why’s the Brotha Gotta Die?” which is included in the collection Becoming Black: Personal Ramblings on Racial Identification, Racism, and Popular Culture. In that essay, I talk about what it was like for a Black audience seeing Ghostbusters within the context of the established norm of Black characters getting killed in film. “For much of the White audience, Ghostbusters was a comedy about a group of guys who hunt ghosts and save the world from a deadly spectral army. For much of the Black audience who saw the film, Ghostbusters was a comedy about a group of guys who hunt ghosts and save the world from a deadly spectral army, and the Black guy lives in the end. For many White people in the audience, the significance of Ernie Hudson’s character Winston Zeddemore living was lost on them.”

I go on to explain more about the importance of Winston Zeddemore: “On the surface, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) was the token Black guy with some great memorable lines in the otherwise all-White cast of Ghostbusters, which made him, by every stretch of the imagination, the perfect Disposable Brotha. However, Hudson’s character is unique, not just in the fact that he lives, or that his race is, with the exception of one line of dialog, a non-issue. No, the thing that makes Winston Zeddemore such a unique character is that he is the most grounded in reality, and serves as proxy for the audience. As the average guy on the street, looking for a job, with no experience with the paranormal, Winston Zeddemore is more like the audience than the other Ghostbusters. In essence, when Zeddemore joins the team, the audience is joining the team. From a standpoint of racial ideology, Ghostbusters is a significant film because it not only forces the audience to relate to a Black character, much of the audience’s relation to the other characters in the film is filtered through a Black man.”

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Cartoon Fun Time 14

sleepless 2Take insomnia, mix in equal doses of depression and anxiety, and this is what you get at three in the morning.

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Cartoon Fun Time 13

marvin1 I started seriously drawing back in 1978 or 79. Most of the stuff from back then has not survived over the years, but there is a handful that remain. Here are two cartoons I drew featuring Marvin the Martian, drawn when I was in 6th grade. I got in trouble for the top one, because my teacher felt I was making some sort of sexual reference (which I was, because this was just after I learned what a blowjob was).


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Cartoon Fun Time 13

r2d2Another work of art from my youth. I drew this when I was in 5th grade (1978-79).

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Cartoon Fun Time 12

snoopyMy first ever comic strip. I did this when I was in the 6th grade (and was quite proud of myself for coming up with the joke).

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Confessions of a Failed Comic Book Artist, Part 6 (a.k.a. Split Personality)

split personalityAbout a month ago I was going through a box of junk that had been sitting in the bottom of a closet, when I made an amazing discovery. In the box was a file folder full of stories and art that I created between the years of 1979 and 1982. Most people would be embarrassed by stuff like this, but I was merely amused, as it gave me a glimpse into my imagination when I was just a kid. One of the things I found amongst all this old work was a comic project I called Split Personality. I have no memory of this project at all. Clearly, it was inspired by the Marvel character Deathlok the Demolisher, but seriously, I do not remember this at all.

Looking at the work, it appears to be consistent with the stuff I was doing around 1981 and 82, when I had discovered Heavy Metal magazine, and started to do stuff that was more gritty. I have no idea if I ever created anything more than this character bio and one page “epilogue,” which was actually a prologue. So, here, for the first time, is Split Personality.

split personality 2

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Dealing With Depression (or You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat)

jaws bigger boatI woke up this morning feeling a twinge of disappointment that I didn’t die in my sleep. It’s not so much that I really want to be dead, so much as I just want to stop being alive, and that’s my depression working its special magic on me. Continue reading

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Going Out of Business Sale!!!

out of businessMoPix, the website where two of my films are available for download, is going out of business on Friday, January 31, 2014. As a result, I’m selling downloads of both films for as little as possible. Both Damaged Goods and Black Santa’s Revenge are on sale for 99 cents each. Damaged Goods is a feature length (un)romantic comedy (click HERE to purchase Damaged Goods). Black Santa’s Revenge is a short, and the title says it all (click HERE to purchase Black Santa’s Revenge).

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The Army of Dr. Moreau

covers 1-3The first three issues of The Army of Dr. Moreau are now available digitally for 99 cents each. This is my most recent comic mini-series, drawn by Carl Sciacchitano, and colored by Sara Machajewski, The Army of Dr. Moreau is published by Monkeybrain Comics and released through Comixology.

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