It was one year ago when Dwayne McDuffie unexpectedly died. Many great tributes were written about him by professional peers, friends, and fans. Those who knew him were stunned and saddened, and even those who just knew him through his work suffered a great loss.
Reading those tributes made me want to write one, too. After all, I was lucky. I was a fan of his before I got to meet him, then I got to be his friend. Surely I had some insight that should be written down and shared with everyone.
Here was the problem. I didn’t have anything insightful. Other than to write, “Gosh, it really sucks when your friend dies.” True statement? Yes. Insightful? Not really.
It’s been a year now. I still don’t think I have anything insightful to write, but the difference is that now I’m not going to let it stop me. Dwayne’s absence in my life has been on my mind lately, and I thought I should put some thoughts down. If this seems particularly rambling or boring or too “look at me! look at me!” – then I apologize.
Okay, expectation-lowering disclaimer over. Let’s talk about Dwayne.
I was a fan of Dwayne’s writing before I met him. In 1989, I bought Marvel Comics Presents #19 that had the Damage Control preview, and then ended up buying the mini-series because I loved the concept and the writing.
The first time I met him was at the Hamburger Hamlet in West Hollywood – probably in 2004. The Writer’s Guild Animation Writers Caucus used to have monthly get-togethers there, and he was at one of the first ones I went to. I approached him and talked about Damage Control with him. We exchanged cards and I tried to schedule lunch with him, but our schedules never meshed.
It must’ve been 2005 or 2006 when I carpooled with him to the Hamburger Hamlet with our mutual friend, Matt Wayne. As Matt drove, Dwayne made me laugh for the first time-
The state of Michigan is shaped like a human hand. So people from Michigan, when they want to show what part of Michigan they’re from, they’ll point to their hand.
Now people from Florida...
First time he made me laugh. First of many times.
That’s one of the things that people didn’t always know. Dwayne was funny. Like REALLY funny. He knew his stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, classic television comedy, film. He was a student of comedy. Well, I mean he was super smart, so he was a student of everything. But he could converse about comedy and had a biting quick wit.
Maybe you knew that already. But there are things about Dwayne that you may not have known-
-Dwayne was an amazing conversationalist. Quick phone calls with him would turn into hour-long conversations. He was so well-read and well-versed in everything that he could tell you about various topics, but he was also just so damn funny. All that put together made him a masterful story teller – whether it was writing Justice League stories or just telling you what happened when he went to buy office supplies and got stuck in line behind Cylon #6.
-Dwayne was great with kids. Dwayne never had kids of his own, but he was so naturally good with kids. It’s one of those things where kids can tell who has a good heart. I have some wonderful memories of Dwayne entertaining my kids – making them laugh, playing soccer with them, laughing because of something my kids did.
-Dwayne loved animals. He loved dogs and cats. He even owned cats when he was single, even though he was allergic to them. I never saw him more upset than the time we saw a dead dog at the side of the road.
-Dwayne had the best Christmas tree ever. Take my word on this. His Christmas tree was intense. A blinding work of art.
-Dwayne was a Mac early adopter. He was the first person I knew to get an iPhone that summer of 2007. MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iPads, every new iPhone. He was always the first to get one.
-Dwayne would help you, even when you didn’t expect it. I had a problem with a job once – not a big deal, but I vented that someone had messed up and made my life more difficult on a project. The next morning he called me out of the blue, told me he’d been thinking about my problem, and had a great solution for me. He was right – it was a great solution, and it was totally unexpected.
-Dwayne was the best gift giver. He really thought about things. When he learned about you, he would file away details that would make it easier for him to pick out amazing gifts later. One year for Christmas, he bought me a set of comic trade paperbacks that I had wanted but never spent the money on. Somehow he knew. He figured out that I loved that comic book growing up, he saw that I didn’t have them on my bookshelf, and he got them for me.
-Dwayne spoke up for his friends. Along the same lines of the way he’d remember things about you for gift purchases, he would remember you when opportunities arose. Dwayne was unavailable to write a particular animated movie project, but he remembered that I was a huge fan of the property as a kid and put my name in. I wasn’t qualified, but he spoke highly enough of me to get me considered for a dream project – all because Dwayne could remember these details about his friends.
There are probably more bits about Dwayne that I’m forgetting, but these are the ones that jump immediately to mind.
I suppose I should mention the last time I talked to him. It was a week or so before his death. It was just a short phone call that turned into a great conversation about politics, his family, the current state of comic books. He would then leave for New York for the premiere of All-Star Superman. I told him I wouldn’t be able to make it to the L.A. premiere because I was going to be in Las Vegas to play in a hockey tournament. I posted a picture of my hockey sticks on Facebook. Dwayne, who was rarely on Facebook, “LIKED” my photograph.
It seems silly to feel emotional over someone clicking LIKE on Facebook. So just call me silly.
The last time I saw him was that night in the hospital. It’s been a year since that night and I still can remember every detail like it just happened. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse.
What is unquestionably a blessing was that I got to be Dwayne’s friend.
I guess I should finish with the first time that I knew that Dwayne and I would be friends for life. It was a Sunday morning brunch at the Daily Grill in Burbank. Several friends of author Nancy Holder had gathered there to hang out with Nancy. Dwayne was there with his then-girlfriend. Dwayne and I chatted about various topics, then I mentioned that I had re-watched Woody Allen’s Love and Death
That’s where I learned how much he loved Woody Allen. We cracked each other up repeating back many of our favorite lines from that film. “Polish conscientious objector!” “Wheat!” “What is this, slap Boris day?” “Socrates was a man.” “I got screwed!”
I sometimes wonder what Dwayne would think of all this. I think he’d be happy with the out-pouring of love and respect he got from his friends, peers, and fans. I think he would like how he got the WGA Animation Writers Caucus Lifetime Achievement Award. I think he would be annoyed with how DC cancelled the Static Shock comic book the way it did. I think he would be happy with how Justice League: Doom turned out.
In that sense, I think Dwayne would be happy that he left behind a great lifetime body of work.
But beyond all that, I think what would have made him really happy would have been to see more inclusive stories. Boys. Girls. Black. White. Gay. Straight. Adults. Kids. Comic books, television, movies, and books that inspire everyone to be better than they are.
In that sense, I think we all have a lot more work to do.
Matt Wayne here, longtime pal of Dwayne’s. I’ve been leaving the hard work of posting content for this site to Eugene, as I try to come up with a way to share memories of my friend without getting personal. I keep hoping to invent a system to make all these random memories resolve into a portrait of the finest man and the finest mind I’ve ever met. Seems simple enough, but I haven’t worked it out.
Instead, I’m going to list a bunch of things that I got into because Dwayne recommended them to me. I’m sure that this won’t leave us with a complete sense of Dwayne, but it’s all I can do. Blogging isn’t supposed to add up to anything, after all. Merely to add up.
Let’s start with some novelists:
ROBERT PARKER – I bought all the used Spenser paperbacks I could one day around 1989, on Dwayne’s strong recommendation. I’m almost certain that we were standing in a great used book and knickknack store called the Scouting Party, on 7th Avenue and 10th street in Brooklyn. This was just about the time that the Spenser series had misfired a couple times, in Dwayne’s opinion. But I went back and read them from the beginning, and I have to say, they’re almost always well-crafted and among the best detective fiction written to that point. (Dennis Lehane was kind of a game-changer for the genre. Dwayne was an early adopter, as usual.)
Once, I was planning a dinner for my girlfriend in Brooklyn, and told Dwayne about it on the phone. I told him what I was concocting from what was already in the freezer and a few bucks (I was broke for all of the 80s). And I guess it did mirror a recurring bit in the Parker mysteries. When I mentioned slicing a pork tenderloin into medallions he drawled. “Spen-suh!” a la Hawk, and we both broke up laughing. From then on, whenever I was telling him something that implied I was a resourceful and capable cook, which happened a lot, I’d get the same “Spen-suh!” and it was always funny. Because, you see, it was Dwayne doing it.
Which brings up Hawk. Dwayne overlooked Parker’s occasionally Tonto-like portrayal of Spenser’s black friend—Hawk’s dialogue could be relentless with dropped articles and even verbs when possible–because there was so much he did right with the character and the work was well-structured. He overlooked it just like he overlooked the descriptions of Spenser’s wardrobe in the early (1970s) books. Dwayne was aware of the mainstream’s prejudices but he never forgave them or pretended they weren’t there. Which is something you’ll hear again and again if we continue these media memoirs. And he loved Avery Brooks’ portrayal of Hawk on TV. He was also fond of Parker’s more recent heroes, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall–he viewed them as necessary, in some ways a reboot of Spenser. Thirty years ago, Spenser had been past his prime and a bit more cautious in a fight. In his 60s the obligatory man-of-action stuff was becoming too painful to enjoy.
RITA MAE BROWN – When she’s on, she’s amazing. Rubyfruit Jungle and In Her Day are classics. The Southern stuff with Wheezie and Juts was fantastic. While I found her mysteries (which feature a dog and cat as the sleuths) to be whimsical and adorable, Dwayne was a mystery connoisseur and felt they were hacky. He also recommended her book on writing, Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual-although he felt that Brown went to great lengths to show off her command of literature and name-drop. “I always like an author’s SECOND-most famous work best,” was Dwayne’s ironic mimicry of that common pretentious pose. Dwayne also thought she had one of the best ears for dialogue of any writer. Brown’s “Somebody shot the dots off her dice” to describe a crazy relative was one of his favorite lines ever, one he sneaked into a few different scripts over the years… most recently in an episode of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien.
Dwayne took dialect very seriously; aside from ten minutes in a core English class in college, I never thought about regional dialects until I had access to Dwayne’s library in Brooklyn. He had many books on the subject.
One of Dwayne’s many rules of writing: “Writing in dialect is a tricky business. Unless you’re Mark Twain or Zora Neale Hurston, don’t even try.” Notice that he didn’t exempt Robert Parker or Rita Mae Brown.
The “Don’t even try” in that last bit reminds me of another big influence on Dwayne, Fran Lebowitz. She wrote, and Dwayne often quoted the following: “Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try.” More on her (and possibly Mark Twain and Zora Neale Hurston) later.
Please excuse me if this introductory post is awkward or verbose or boring. This isn’t easy to write.
My name is Eugene. I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of Dwayne McDuffie’s friends.
I can tell you all the things about Dwayne that you probably already know – that he graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Physics, that he attended NYU Film School, that he worked as a writer and editor at Marvel Comics, that he created Damage Control for Marvel, that he co-founded Milestone Media, that he co-created Static and its animated series Static Shock, that he wrote and story-edited Justice League Unlimited, that he wrote and story-edited Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, that he was nominated for and won awards.
Impressive list, isn’t it? Dwayne McDuffie was an impressive man. But his Wikipedia bio doesn’t give you the whole picture of how impressive he was. Intelligent, funny, gentle, compassionate, charismatic, principled, self-effacing, great with kids, generous, hard-working. One of those people who always gave you the most unexpected-yet-perfect birthday or Christmas present. A terrific story-teller. The best conversationalist. An amazing family man. A true friend.
And he left us way too soon.
Fortunately Dwayne was much loved. His friends and family have all rallied together, helping to share the burden of the huge emotional toll that comes with losing a loved one. But in addition to the big things, there are the little things. Small formalities that Dwayne left behind that needed to be dealt with, including what to do with his website.
In the next few months, there will be changes as the website shifts from one that promoted his work to one that reflects his immense legacy. On this blog, the plan is to post things that he wrote, including his old columns and scripts, and get his friends and colleagues to write their stories and tributes about Dwayne McDuffie. A few of us have great stories that Dwayne shared with us that we want to share with you.
The message board forums will remain. Over the years, Dwayne liked to interact with his fans there. Even now there’s a small but active community of Ben 10 fans there.
And for legacy purposes, we’ve kept his original website much the way he left it.
If you have any questions or concerns or requests of what you’d like to see here, click on any of the “Contact” links and send them my way.
I’m still not sure what Dwayne would have wanted done with his website. But knowing him, I think he’d be happy with how it looks as long as it displayed right on an iPhone and iPad.
Again, please excuse me if this post was awkward or verbose or boring. It wasn’t easy to write. Hey, I’m someone who writes professionally and I find this post barely intelligible.
Dwayne McDuffie would’ve written it better. He always did.