Tag Archives: Blue Devil

February is “Comics Should Remember Dwayne McDuffie’s Values” Month

ImageToday would have been the fifty-first birthday of Dwayne McDuffie, a colleague and friend I admired a great deal. Tomorrow will be two years since his death. Dwayne was among other things the creator of Static, a superhero I consider to be the best since Spider-Man. (Though I’ve been known to boast that Blue Devil, by Gary Cohn, Paris Cullins and me, deserves that honor, Dwayne knew what I really thought.)

Dwayne was also a man who knew his own mind, sure of what he stood for and what he’d stand up for. That he found a way to turn out terrific superhero adventure stories that appealed to young people at a time when the comic book superhero had largely become the province of much older fans (though he wrote for that older audience too) was something I considered a small miracle.

Dwayne’s work at DC and Marvel, his co-founding of Milestone Media, and his successes at Cartoon Network are well-known. What I want to do here is take a moment to remember his kindness.

One year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Dwayne and I were talking and walking past the tables of small, independent comics creators, stopping now and then to see what new and unknown work was bubbling up from new and unknown artists and writers.

Like anyone, when I see a comic that looks worth reading, I’ll grab the book, reach for my wallet and ask how much it costs; but when someone knows my name and my work, they’ll sometimes tell me just to take it, no charge, perhaps describing it as a fair exchange for the reading pleasure I’ve provided them. Knowing that the marginal cost of a comic book is surely not the cover price, and that the profit from one sale was not going to make or break their weekend, what I normally did was accept the gift with thanks and move on.

On this occasion, luckily for me, it was Dwayne who found something that intrigued him first, and when he reached for his wallet, he got the same offer I was used to, and likely deserved it more. But he responded in a way I never had. “No, man,” he said, “you worked hard on this. How much is it?” He made them take the money, and he made them feel good about making comics. And since I don’t believe he counted mindreading among his many talents, he missed my acute but thankfully internal embarrassment.

Needless to say, I don’t take free comics from young creators anymore. They’ve worked hard on those books.

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Amethyst ups and downs

I heard the latest news about Amethyst, that the current DC Comics series she’s been starring in has been canceled, on Facebook. That’s where I always hear that a character I had a hand in creating will be showing up in a new comic or cartoon or as a toy or what have you. Which is not to say that DC has made a special point of keeping me out of the loop; there’s a long tradition of comic book publishers pretty much ignoring the artists and writers who invented their characters when those people are no longer doing work for them. And I’ve got it a lot better than many of my predecessors who created far more well-known heroes than Amethyst or Blue Devil: I have a contract with DC that specifies the royalties I’ll receive when my work is reprinted, adapted or licensed, and DC always pays.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see my characters (not that they’re “mine” in any legal sense) used in a way that seems to fundamentally misunderstand them. Or sometimes to understand them but decide to change them anyway, as appears to be the case with the recent Amethyst series: DC recognized they had a character who could be altered to appeal to the “Hunger Games” audience, and so they took a story about a thirteen-year-old girl with a loving family but a hidden and wondrous and dangerous heritage, and made it about a seventeen-year-old who’s been living a desperate and unhappy life on the run before she discovers those older dangers. (I couldn’t say whether the “wondrous” part can be found in this version, since I’m only going by what I’ve read about the series, not having bought the comics myself).

It’s an understandable approach on DC’s part, adapting what they already own for today’s market, even if it didn’t make me happy. But making me happy is actually not in the contract I signed with them.

In any case, the poster on Facebook who called my attention to the cancelation of the Amethyst comic was happy to see it go, and figured I must be too. Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it definitely didn’t represent the Amethyst I’d like the public to know; but on the other, it’s never a good thing to have your work canceled and the impression left that it’s not marketable. Thankfully, I’m not looking for employment in the world of DC and Marvel heroes these days, so I don’t have much concern that those companies will take away a lasting impression that my stuff doesn’t sell. In the big picture, in fact, it’s their stuff that doesn’t sell…not like it did in the 80s and 90s when the bulk of my work for DC (and some for Marvel and Malibu and others) was done. The “public” that knows the latest comics incarnation of Amethyst is a pretty small one, far smaller than the number of people who’ve seen the charming minute-long animated shorts now appearing on Cartoon Network (which definitely “gets” the original comic book series, though it necessarily skimps on a lot of the detail and nuance).

And I do feel bad for Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti, the talented writer and artist who poured a lot of themselves into the current series and who I hope will find immediate work to replace it. Better yet, somebody should pay them both to work on projects of their own creation. That’s not the way the monthly comic book industry works, I know–Gary Cohn and I were hugely fortunate to have come into the business at a time when publishers, DC especially, were excited about trying new things–but I’d like to believe such a moment could come around again.

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