The SDCC Files: In Memoriam – The Black Panel Pays Tribute To Dwayne McDuffie

By Arturo R. García

At one point during this year’s Black Panel, artist Denys Cowan said what maybe everybody in the room was thinking: “It’s strange being here without him.”

Though the trademark sardonic humor of host Michael Davis still emerged on occasion (“I guess this don’t happen at the White Panel,” he said when he experienced some tech difficulties) this time around, Davis led Cowan and the other panelists in sharing their memories of the late Dwayne McDuffie – not just as one of the men behind Milestone Media, or as a prolific comics and television writer, but as a friend, colleague, and more.

“Dwayne was my writing mentor, my best friend, he was the godfather to my kid,” said Matt Wayne, a frequent collaborator of McDuffie’s. “Milestone was the best time of my life.”

Fittingly, Milestone had a heavy presence on the panel: Davis and Cowan were partners in the company with McDuffie, as was Black Enterprise Magazine Editor-In-Chief Derrick Dingle, who appeared via Skype. Also contributing via Skype was director Reginald Hudlin, who urged any budding creators in the audience to honor McDuffie by using technology to use technology to help their own stories see the light of day.

Meanwhile, actor/comedian Wayne Brady, sent in a short testimonial from the set of the new version of Let’s Make A Deal:

Also on the panel were cartoonist Keith Knight, voice actor Phil LaMarr, multimedia artist Tatiana EL-Khouri, and writer Keith David, who said he felt that creatively, McDuffie, who passed away in February, just after the release of All-Star Superman, an animated film adaptation he wrote.

“I was stunned when he passed,” David said. “I had been e-mailing with him the day before. All we can do as creators is to aspire to the leap he took.”

Some of the other panelists traded anecdotes about McDuffie’s intelligence – “Dwayne got it,” Lamarr said. “And by it, I mean everything.” – and generosity: Knight noted that McDuffie always took the time to talk to you about your work; Davis, who called McDuffie his inspiration for creating the Black Panel in the first place, teared up while discussing an occasion when McDuffie gave him notes on some of Davis’ own character designs.

Other accounts surfaced during the audience participation portion of the panel: one fan said a submission he sent to McDuffie led to a four-hour script critique session, and subsequently to a job for him writing on McDuffie’s television show Ben 10. And writer Brandon M. Easton told the panel that it was advice from McDuffie that led to him getting a writing job on the new Thundercats animated series.

Those testimonials underscored McDuffie’s legacy to both of the industries he worked in – one Cowan exhorted the audience to continue on his behalf.

“Bury the man, but not the plan,” Cowan said. “The revolution goes on.”