The Most Creative Person That I Have Ever Met
Off to College
I admit that I was homesick after I arrived at college. I couldn't afford to go right away. I just didn't have the money. So when I finally left, I went alone. All my friends in high school were already gone since I started a year later, saving money while working for my father during that year. Since I didn't know anyone, I didn't want to go in blind with unknown roommates so I found a dorm that had quite a few single rooms. It cost a little more but it was worth it. Still, it was hard living away from home, not knowing anyone. Most of my high school friends went to different schools so it wasn't easy.
Life in the dorm on the first floor wasn't much easier, especially when drinking large amounts of alcohol and throwing up in the hallway short of the bathroom was the kind of entertainment that my fellow dorm mates enjoyed. Tell a good joke, at least you thought it was a good joke, and they would stare at you bewildered. But make a few grunts and they would laugh hysterically.
Obviously, I avoided them whenever I could. I resigned myself to the fact that this was the behavior that I was going to have to put up with for the next four years. Their way of life just wasn't me, but as I think back I came very close to dropping out and going home those first couple of weeks. I am glad I didn't because something remarkable took place near the end of the winter term. The second floor, right above us, made an 8 mm dorm movie. Yes, this was the time when video cameras, at least cheap ones, didn't exist. The movie was featured a few times over a couple days to accommodate all 600 residents. I didn't think much about it initially. I thought, what was it going to be about, excessive drinking, grunting and hollering, or stupid pranks such as a Jackass movie clone?
The Movie Was Incredible
When I finally saw the movie, I was amazed. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. It was a beautifully creative quirky comedy. Unlike home movies where the sound and color is all washed out, I couldn't believe how good you could make an 8 mm film look. The movie was wonderful and incredibly funny. It was about Batman and Robin going undercover in the dorm to find the villain or villains who were stealing pizzas. In an added, very funny twist, Robin had suffered a head injury where occasionally he thought he was Mr. Rogers.
The whole movie was great. Even the end credits with a flashing psychedelic bat with a haunting song about Robin the boy wonder was amazing. There are just too many good scenes to relate here, such as Albert taking a standard dial phone on a red pillow on one of the university busses, such as Batman trying to cure Robin of his alternate personality, or such as the continuity alert siren that goes off when Batman suddenly finds himself outside wearing Robin's cape and bringing in a different villain from just a second before.
The funny continuity alert scene was the most revealing. When batman complained, a person with a yellow hard helmet came into the scene. He then called for the director and writer of the movie to look over the script. This was when I got my first glimpse of who this creative person was. Yes, I had seen him before but now I knew he was the talent behind the movie.
From then on, it was my goal to move to the second floor. Finally, I would meet people that I had a common interest in. I would meet individuals that had a level of interest and intelligence way beyond the ones that I knew who simply wanted to turn green and pass out.
I Moved to the Second Floor
Luckily, rooms where available on the second floor. As I began my sophomore year I was eager to meet everyone. Ironically, the person who was rooming across from me was the only person who knew me. The year before we had lunch or dinner once in the cafeteria. I barely remembered it or barely remembered talking to him.
His name was Josh, and he asked me if I had lunch yet. We went to the cafeteria and I asked him about the movie and the person who wrote it and directed it. Luckily, most of the people involved, included the actors, had come back to live in the dorm on the second floor. But more importantly, the creator of the movie had returned too. I asked Josh if I could meet him. He said he would introduce me, possibly later in the evening.
However, it didn't go well. Josh came back to me and told me that he wasn't interested in meeting me. Once he found out that I was an engineering major he said no. From his experience, engineers were not creative.
I Had to Take a Test
But Josh came through and convinced him. When I finally met him he asked me about four or five pointed questions. To be honest, I can't remember exactly what he asked. I just remember his face. He was rather harsh. He was serious. He showed displeasure. I didn't think he liked me.
But somehow I must have made an impact, because from that point on I would begin a journey into the world of the most creative person that I would ever meet. More than three decades later a comic book reporter on his website would write about how privileged he was to meet him for one day at a convention. For myself, I had the privilege of three years. On that day I met Dwayne McDuffie.
A Great Time
The following years were some of the best times I have ever had. Dwayne would go on to make three more movies where I was the still photographer and simply a helping hand. The second movie was a comedy about two detectives trying to solve a series of bizarre murders in the dorm which ended in Batman and Robin coming back to catch the killer in the last scene. The third was a behind the scenes movie based on the first two, and the final movie was a romantic comedy which included an unusual character who could materialize from closet to closet and which included fast food that required a forklift to deliver.
The acting in Dwayne's movies was remarkable considering, of all the actors involved, only one was acting in plays on campus. All the others were non actors that Dwayne picked and persuaded to be in his movies. It was not only because of Dwayne's good writing but he also knew how to bring out the best in people. When he paid you a complement, he genuinely meant it because overall Dwayne could be very blunt. He usually spoke his mind. He would never praise to be polite. If he told you that you had a talent. You had a talent.
As the years went on I enjoyed the many talks we had. I enjoyed the many nights staying up late, filming scenes on his movies.
Good Things Always Come to an End
Eventually, as it is always in life, all good things must come to an end. I never saw Dwayne again after the end of the school year in April of 1984. He graduated and moved on to graduate studies at NYU. I stayed for another year but school was never the same after that.
When we first got to know each other, he said that I was one of the weirdest persons that he had ever met. From Dwayne, that was the ultimate compliment. Years later, when he was just about to leave he told me that again. He said that I didn’t belong in engineering. He told me I was far too creative for that profession. He said that I should write.
As I look back on my experience with Dwayne, in school, I surprisingly don’t remember that much. Maybe it has to do with some of the hardships that I went through later on, such as being diagnosed with cancer twice. Maybe I just didn’t want to look back at a time when life was simpler and more interesting where you could pursue a goal, with a friend, that you had a genuine passion for.
It is funny what I do remember about Dwayne. I remember the quote that he had on his bulletin board that said, “Entropy Requires No Maintenance”. I remember the book he had on his shelve that had a white and grey jacket titled “How To Become Super Intelligent” in black letters in the white section and the harder to read black letters in the grey section that said, “By Eating Gifted Children."
I enjoyed the many conversations I had with Dwayne. If you simply wanted to drop in and say “Hi” it would never usually end there. Dwayne could pull you in. He could pull you into his world where you didn’t want to leave. He was not only funny but he was so well versed on everything. So many times I found myself saying, “Oh crap it’s late” and then getting to bed after 1AM or 2AM in the morning.
In the same way, I can only remember a few of the many conversations I had with Dwayne. I remember him telling me a story, written by one of his favorite authors, which I don’t recall, about the first astronauts going around the back side of the moon and finding it hollow with a lot of boards nailed together. I remember talking about owning particle zoos.
For myself, I tried to follow Dwayne’s advice but life took me in a different direction. I did write. I wrote a few short stories. I even started a novel. I was also working on a special kind of magnetic field sensor that I got a patent on. Initially, everything looked great with the invention. I submitted it to the Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle manages all of the government facilities around the country such as Lawrence Livermore, National Argonne, and Los Alamos. So, to get accepted was like winning the Nobel Prize. However, to my surprise, I got a call from a physicist at Battelle on my sister’s birthday in July of 1994. They wanted to develop it. The Air Force base in Norfolk wanted to experiment with my invention. They were going to develop two prototypes. After they were finished, Battelle was going to develop it commercially. A few weeks later I gave Battelle an exclusive license.
The first thing I thought about was that I would never have to work at a regular job again. Now I could work on more ideas and I could also write full time. But it was never meant to be. Despite reassurances, a few months later, the rights to the patent were eventually returned to me the next year in February. The project had been cancelled because of the base austerity program of the 1990s. The Air Force base at Norfolk was targeted for closure. Everything fell through. Two months later, I was diagnosed with cancer.
I never returned to working on any new ideas and I never returned to creative writing since then. I got the wind knocked out of me and I have never been able to get my breath back. From then on, I reluctantly pursued a boring career. I guess I wasn’t weird anymore.
I Am a Character in a Comic Book!
At the time of the cancer diagnosis and the whole invention fiasco, I was going to graduate school at a local college. I came so very close to quitting but I stuck it out. I had to complete a master’s thesis. In turn, the research that I helped with resulted in a published journal article for two of the professors. I got my name on it even though I didn’t come up with any of the ideas. I simply did the grunt work.
I never did ask my professors for a copy of the article that they published. It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I did a search on my own on the internet. As with any search, it is interesting the number of people that have the same name as you. I found a plastic surgeon and a country music author with the same name.
I found the article that I was looking for but I noticed something else that was unusual. My name popped up as an employee of a company called Damage Control. Looking into it further, I found out that Damage Control wasn’t a company, well it was, but not a real company in the real world. Damage Control was a Marvel comic. And the creator of this comic was Dwayne McDuffie.
Dwayne's Wonderful World
Once again I found myself being propelled into Dwayne’s world. After he graduated from NYU, Dwayne got a brief job as a copy editor at Investment Dealers Digest. He probably could have stayed there and lived comfortably. But this wasn't Dwayne. I am reminded of the Stanford commencement speech by Steve Jobs. I am reminded of this particular statement from Steve; "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." Dwayne had this figured out way before Steve's inspiring speech in 2005. Unlike many of us, Dwayne didn't compromise. As Steve Jobs ended his speech with the words; "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." Dwayne hit this head on.
He joined Marvel Comics in 1987. A year later he created Damage Control along with artist Ernie Colon. He left Marvel in 1990 and freelanced for Marvel, DC Comics, Archie Comics, and Harvey Comics. His next idea and big project would be his greatest milestone, pardon the pun.
In 1993, along with Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, Derek Dingle, and Christopher Priest, Dwayne launched Milestone Media creating the characters Hardware, Icon, Static, and the multicultural group of super heroes called the Blood Syndicate. A year later Milestone published Shadow Cabinet, Xombi, and Kobalt.
Milestone ceased publication in 1997 but Static became the animated series Static Shock running from 2000 to 2004 with 52 episodes. Dwayne moved to the west coast to work on the series as an editor and writer, authoring 11 of the episodes. Once, he began working on Static Shock, Dwayne's work on other animated series steamrolled.
He worked on Teen Titans, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. He was brought in to help revamp Ben 10 with Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, and Ben 10: Omniverse. He wrote the direct to DVD animated films Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, Justice League: Doom, and All-Star Superman. He wrote the story for the video game Justice League Heroes.
For all of this impressive work Dwayne was nominated twice for an Emmy for Static Shock in 2003 and 2004. He was nominated three times for the Eisner Awards, and for a WGA Award. He won the Humanitas Prize for Static Shock in 2003 involving an episode about gun violence. He won a Wizard Fan Award in 2008 for Favorite Breakout Talent. He won eleven Parent's Choice Awards. There is one more award that Dwayne won, but I will mention that later.
For the next four or five years I was back in Dwayne's world. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Static Shock during that time. It continued with the episodes from the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I especially enjoyed the cross over episodes with Static and Batman and Robin, with Static and the Green Lantern, with Static and the Justice League, and with Static in the time travel episode crossing over with Batman Beyond. But as with everything good, it eventually came to an end. I longed for more.
The premise behind Damage Control is both funny and logical. Dwayne envisioned a company that would repair and clean up property that was destroyed or damaged by super heroes and super villains, and paid by super hero insurance. I especially liked this part in Dwayne's proposal to Marvel; "Restoring the Statue of Liberty's arm when somebody yet again tears if off to use as a weapon." Dwayne's idea was so unique that Village Roadshow was going to develop a live action feature film. If it will ever be produced, I don't know. I hope it does. In the first Iron Man movie, in the final scenes after the battle between Tony Stark and Obadiah, there is a brief shot of a TV ticker mentioning that Damage Control will repair the damage. If Marvel put this in the Iron Man movie, I can only hope that some day a Damage Control movie will follow.
When I first learned about Dwayne from the character that he named after me in Damage Control, I also found out that he had a web site. Dwayne was on the forums quite often. For a long time over the years, I wanted to log in and write to Dwayne but I didn't have the courage. From time to time I would look in to see what was going on.
I Reached out to Dwayne Again
Finally, in 2006, I mustered up the courage. I created a log in and I started to write on the forums. I especially went on the forums when Dwayne was online. I didn't mention who I was. I left some clues but initially Dwayne was not aware. Then, one day, there was a discussion about a site on the internet that told you how many of you there were when you entered your name. Some of the people mentioned their results. I then wrote about my results. I mentioned that I was a character in the Damage Control comic. Dwayne was curious who I was. When I told him, he asked me to email him my phone number.
I did email him, but I never got that call. It did bother me initially but I also knew that Dwayne was very busy.
Dwayne Is No Longer With Us
So many times over the years I imagined meeting Dwayne again. I wanted to retire early. I wanted to travel to the comic conventions. I imagined saying "Hi" and again being pulled into one of his wonderful conversations. But deep down this was never going to happen and now I know it won’t.
The brief conversation on the forums was the last contact. I didn't find out until much later than everyone else. I had lost my job at the end of 2008. The following year I was diagnosed again with cancer. I just didn't frequent his internet site for a long time. When I finally did visit last year, I found out that Dwayne had passed away.
It is now two years. Dwayne's website is still up and running and I was happy to see that Dwayne won his final award. He was co-recipient of the Writers Guild of America, West Animation Writers Caucus' 14th Annual Animation Award.
As I began writing this, I was frantically looking for a large envelope that Dwayne had sent me way back in the fall of 1984 when he just started at NYU. Eventually I found it, not in the place that I expected, but I found it!
When I opened it after all those years, I was again happily transported into Dwayne's world. He sent me a screenplay from the forth and final movie that he did here and he included an incredible drawing of all of us involved. It is unsigned but Dwayne had to have created it. I just don't remember. Did he create it in here in Michigan or did he create it later when he was at NYU?
Along with the screen play, he sent copies of seven of his short stories and commentaries. I was amused at the letter that he sent me asking, "How are things in the banana dimension?"
I enjoyed what he sent. It was typical of Dwayne's talent, both funny and insightful. In "Sock Shy of a Full Load" a scientist discovers why socks end up missing after they are put in the dryer. A combination of heat, static electricity, and motion creates a wormhole and some of the socks are transported away. A spacecraft is built on this principle, but it fails to work. The astronauts remain on earth but each one is missing a sock. In "A Few Words in Defense of Cynicism" Dwayne defends himself against accusations that he is a cynical writer which includes a graph of rainfall in Switzerland versus good year for ducks.
There is more, like, “The Squirrels in the Walls”, “The Secret Origins of Black Children”, and “Getting Into His Work”.
In Dwayne's story, "Job Offer" God offers his job to any human that would take it. He wants to give it up because He has no one to talk to at His level. He is lonely, depressed, and bored. Dwayne's story was lighthearted but he had a point. As I reread this story after so many years, I do remember having a conversation about this topic with Dwayne. I always wondered if the creator of the universe is lonely. However, I don’t think so anymore. I see God laughing. Two years ago He met Dwayne and said “Hello” and well, you know what happened next.
- Dwayne McDuffie, Comic-Book Writer, Dies at 49 - NYTimes.com
Mr. McDuffie diversified the pantheon of superheroes by creating popular black characters in print and on television.