In Memoriam: Comic Book Pioneer and Champion of Diversity Dwayne McDuffie

In Memoriam: Comic Book Pioneer and Champion of Diversity Dwayne McDuffie

The worlds of comic books, animation and entertainment have lost a true giant this week: Dwayne McDuffie. He was the brilliant writer, producer and entrepreneur who brought diversity and humanity to comic books and animation through the creation of the Milestone Universe which provided multicultural characters and contributions to Justice League, Teen Titans and Ben 10. Dwayne also served as a mentor to legions of writers, artists and creators. He had turned 49 a day before his death this past Monday, Feb. 21, of complications from heart surgery.

To me, he was a brilliant creator, champion of diversity, a loyal business partner and, most importantly, a long-time friend. Twenty years ago, Dwayne and I made history when we, along with Denys Cowan and Michael Davis, co-created Milestone Media, Inc., which would become the nation’s largest Black-owned comic book company. He passed away almost 18 years to the date when we launched our line of comics: February 23, 1993.

At that moment in history, Dwayne served as Milestone’s Editor-in-Chief and from his mind sprung some amazing characters:  Hardware, a corporate professional who used his intellect to fight crime; Blood Syndicate, a super-powered multicultural assortment of renegades who learned to work together for their own survival; Icon, a conservative hero with a brash female sidekick, Rocket; and one of his most popular creations, Static, a wise-cracking teenager who would learn responsibility through the acquisition of electromagnetic powers.  Dwayne provided hours of entertainment for children and parents alike when he developed Static Shock, the Warner Bros. animated series based on the Milestone character that lasted four seasons.

Just days prior to his death, I spoke with a group of kids and parents at the Westchester, New York chapter of Jack & Jill, the 63-year old family organization that provides social, cultural and educational opportunities, about the birth and mission of Milestone Media, which was to add ethnic, racial and gender diversity and dignity to superhero comic books, as well as build a company that would welcome the contributions of writers, artists, inkers, painters and interns of all hues. 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. He was an integral part in negotiating the groundbreaking publishing, marketing and licensing agreement that the Milestone partners structured with DC Comics (a division of Time Warner)–one of the most innovative distribution deals in the comic book industry at the time. In fact, Dwayne’s contributions to business diversity were so significant that it earned him a place on the November 1994 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine with Denys and myself.

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. In fact, Dwayne was the 2003 recipient of a Humanitas Award (with Warner Bros. Animation’s Alan Burnett) for “Jimmy,” a Static Shock episode about gun violence in schools.

When we started Milestone, Dwayne would often share his reason with our staff and the press for pushing for such diversity and the importance of creating a line of comics that would break stereotypes and not treat any race as being monolithic.

  • “If you do a Black character or a female character or an Asian character then they just aren’t that character. They represent that race, or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. Superman isn’t all White people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn’t do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that’s wider than the world we’ve seen before.”

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