On Monday, comics writer and animated television producer Dwayne McDuffie died unexpectedly, of complications after emergency heart surgery. He is most well known in mainstream American pop culture as one of the co-creators of Static Shock, co-founder of Milestone Media, and producer/writer of the Justice League and Ben 10 cartoons. But to describe the man simply by what work he leaves behind is only part of what made him great.
There have probably been hundreds of blog eulogies, of all sizes, since Monday. I don't have the ultimate one, or even a definitive, all-encompassing one to offer to the big RSS feed in the sky. I just have a few words that keep coming up in my head about what his work and philosophy meant to me, and how it profoundly shaped my creative goals. I can't claim to be the biggest Dwayne McDuffie fan. I haven't read many of his notable works, and my mind isn't full of McDuffie trivia. But for a while, I wanted to be a Dwayne McDuffie.
McDuffie, to me, was an activist in pop culture. He understood the nuances of racial politics, of inclusiveness versus tokenism, and on top of all that, he was a damn good writer. With other comics creators of color, he helped found Milestone Media, a publisher that had the most diverse comic books of the 1990s, as well as some of the best written. He had the talent, willpower and know-how to do what a lot of struggling, claustrophobic artists of color wished they could: Start their own company, do things their way, and be a success.
For those that don't dabble in the artistic communities of ethnic groups, there are piles and piles of starving artists trying to make it on their own, and have been for a very long time. They have their own labels, produce their own music, make their own films, fund their own projects. And a lot of them, for whatever reason, either never grow beyond the insular community that bred them, or fall by the wayside. Very rarely do they ever "break out" into mainstream success. It can be disheartening, as an artist of color, to believe that making work about your ethnic community can be a damning hindrance to your wider aspirations.