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C2E2 2011: Dwayne McDuffie Memorial

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In February of 2011, the world of comics and animation unexpectedly lost one of its own. Dwayne McDuffie, who died of complications resulting from heart surgery, had been a founding father of Milestone Comics, co-creator of the superhero Static and the character’s animated incarnation Static Shock, and was one of the lead writers on the Justice League animated series. At C2E2 this year, Mark Waid and Eddie Berganza presided over a panel that remembered Mr. McDuffie and his effect on those who knew him.

Everyone who spoke described McDuffie as a somewhat intimidating presence at first but a very kind, generous, and inspiring person. Waid mentioned that writer Christopher Priest had based the character Steel off of McDuffie in his physical appearance, scientific curiosity, and his compassion. A member of the audience said that McDuffie thought of everyone like a peer, regardless of who they were, what they had worked on, or what stage of their careers they were in. McDuffie always treated people with dignity and gave weight to what they said, taking it all in and truly listening. Waid agreed, claiming that great writers are usually great listeners as well and have an uncanny understanding of people.

This trait of McDuffie’s was a big part of why his stories spoke to so many. His work with Milestone in the 90s made him a pioneer in the diversification of superhero comics. However, McDuffie did not simply write minority superheroes, at least not with the conscious choice of treating them as such. He wrote people, and he refused to get hung up on race, gender, or other factors. The heart of the character and the story were what mattered and this helped his work appeal to fans of all backgrounds. A young woman in the audience remarked that she had loved Static Shock and felt that everyone deserved to see themselves reflected back on the screen or in the comics pages. The fact that this was a Caucasian female, rather than an African American male (whom a jaded T.V. exec might assume was the sole target audience of Static’s adventures), showed the universality of McDuffie’s work.

Others remarked that McDuffie made his fellow writers want to find “the thing that’s unique about them” and write the best stories they could. Audience members shared anecdotes of long story sessions or phone conversations with McDuffie, who addressed the flaws or areas of improvement in a writer’s script without ever insulting or tearing that writer down. His example and his graciousness as a writer and as a person inspired others to want to do their best work.

One audience member said that McDuffie’s loss had left a gaping hole in our community and that it was “up to all of us, especially the creative types, to fill it.” Waid closed the panel with a request for everyone to think of people in their lives who are important to us and to let them know, rather than wait until it’s too late. He also directed us to a tribute to McDuffie on YouTube set to the Justice League theme. When I sought the video out to add to this article, I found a slew of tributes to McDuffie and his work. This, if nothing else, shows how many were touched by Dwayne McDuffie and will miss his contribution to our industry.

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