3/25/2015

Nilah Magruder, winner of the first Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award for her web comic "M.F.K." at the Long Beach Comics Expo (Source: Bleeding Cool)

What's it like to win the first Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award? A few weeks back, at the Long Beach Comics Expo, Nilah Magruder won the first Dwayne McDuffie award for her web comic "M.F.K." Webcomics (also known as online comics or Internet comics) are comics published on a website and have slowly been gaining recognition. The first webcomic was a parody of Wizard of OZ published on CompuServe back in 1985. Now, comics like Pokey the Penguin, Penny Arcade, Jerkcity and PvP have pushed the medium into the limelight. Now, even major comic book companies like DC and Marvel have webcomics.

At this year's Long Beach Comics Expo they presented an award named after Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific writer who co-founded the wonderfully diverse Milestone Media which spawned the animated series "Static Shock." That show earned he and his team the 2003 Humanitas Prize for a script about gun violence in schools. He also worked on DC’s "Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight" and "Justice League of America" and Marvel’s "Fantastic Four" comic book titles. He died in 2011 at age 49 of complications after undergoing emergency heart surgery. The award celebrates the contributions of comic book creators to the representation of minorities in comic books.

Charlotte McDuffie, Dwayne’s widow said in a statement, "I am so proud that my husband’s personal mission to include a more diverse array of voices — both in content and creators — is able to continue now through this award in his name, by encouraging others who share his vision of comics, characters, and the industry itself better mirroring society."

The winner was Nilah Magruder who started her webcomic back in 2012 and faced stiff competition. The other nominees were "Hex11" by Lisa K. Weber and Kelly Sue Milano (HexComics), "Ms. Marvel" by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Marvel), "The Shadow Hero" by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (First Second Books) and "Shaft" by writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely (Dynamite). The finalist was announced on February 28th at the Long Beach Comics Expo.

"Nilah Magruder’s M.F.K. is a great read," Matt Wayne, director of the McDuffie diversity award, said in a statement. "Nilah created an incredibly engaging post-apocalyptic fantasy world peopled with a broad array of characters. In terms of both excellence and inclusiveness, this is just the sort of comic the award was created for."

Nilah Magruder Photo by Michelle Kinne
Magruder was born and raised in Pasadena, Md and got her B.A. in communication arts from Frederick’s Hood College in 2005, before getting her B.F.A. in computer animation from Ringling College of Art and Design. She said she "developed an eternal love for three things: nature, books, and animation. Naturally, all of her school notebooks were full of doodles of animals and cartoon characters."

Maurice Mitchell: Thank you for joining us Nilah. For those not familiar with your webcomic (mfkcomic.com), how would you describe it?
Nilah Magruder: Teenagers with psychic powers! But a slightly more informative description: a girl travels through a country plagued by the threat of civil war to carry her mother's ashes back to her homeland.

M.M. What made you initially decide to do a webcomic?
N.M.: Back when I first came up with this story, I was a huge fan of long-form webcomics that were running at the time: Strings of Fate, Demonology 101, Cascadia, Fallen, a few others. I actually didn't read trade comics or graphic novels much (though I did fall into Manga a little later), and I was completely oblivious to the indie scene, but I loooved webcomics. I wanted to do a webcomic because that was my chief model at the time.

M.M.: That's interesting because most people, including myself are the opposite. Starting with traditional comics and reading more web. How important was it to represent diversity in your work?
N.M.: It was the driving factor behind starting M.F.K. Toward the end of high school, I noticed that when I drew or came up with stories, the characters were rarely black. It really began to bug me, and I started thinking a lot about why that was. At the same time, I noticed that girls never had a very powerful role in my favorite action comics; the rule seemed to be that a girl could be bada** as long as she didn't go up against a guy, at which point she was soundly beaten.

When I was younger, I didn't realize how much the lack of characters who looked like me had an impact on me. But, once I saw it, I couldn't ignore it. I guess it's fine for some creators, but I didn't want to tell stories that ignored reality or made whole populations of people feel unwelcome. I didn't want to perpetuate the idea that black people have no place in fantasy stories, unless they're sidekicks that won't make it to the end.

Over time I've become pretty committed to the idea, haha. I feel like I've got to keep drawing women and people of color to make up for the lack of them.

M.M. There is a lack right now, but it's getting better. We definitely need more illustrators stepping up like you have. Besides the thrill of winning the award, what does the McDuffie award mean to you?
N.M.: It means that every year, a spotlight will be placed on the wider community of comics, the part where more than just straight white able-bodied male heroes exist. It means that more and more comics are going to find the audiences that have been longing to see their stories told. I'm very excited for this future.

M.M: It is an exciting future and I think it would have made McDuffie proud and humbled. So, do you think that this will raise awareness and respect for webcomics in the industry?
N.M.: I sure hope it does! It thrills me when I see people including webcomics in comics discussion. I think a webcomic winning this award right out of the gate is huge. There was a time when it seemed like we got totally overlooked, but now with things like Kickstarter and regular features on io9 and other sites, people are seeing the variety of talent and storytelling in webcomics. Webcomics are free, but that doesn't mean the creators don't put their hearts and souls into them.

M.M.: Over the years what's the biggest piece of advice you'd give an upcoming comic artist?
N.M. The one I usually go with is: tell your story. Just tell it. Don't worry about whether you've got the skill or if this is the best time. You learn by doing, and there's never a good time, so you might as well get started now.

Oh and if you're doing a long-form comic, having a buffer doesn't hurt. :)

M.M.: Finally, would you rather sell your webcomic for $5 million and have it cancelled or keep running your webcomic, but have your audience restricted to 100 passionate fans? Why?
N.M. Cancel my comic for $5 million with no hope of ever returning to it... tempting, but no. I'd rather keep ownership of it, and hey, 100 passionate fans is pretty good!

Thanks Nilah! You can read the whole amazing webcomic at http://www.mfkcomic.com and learn more about Nilah at http://nilahmagruder.com

What do you think about Nilah and her webcomic? How should diversity in the industry change?

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4 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

Getting diversity in any medium seems to be a slow, painful process.

M Pax said...

How wonderful to meet Nilah. I'd love to see more diversity in all media/entertainment.

Tom Badguy said...

This is awesome and definitely worth the read. Good find.

spacerguy said...

Congratulations Nilah on winning your diversity award. We all want to share great ideas but some of us are unable to connect. Comics are a great medium to share thoughts especially online in a fun visual way to see what catches on. Thanks for the interview Geek Twins and Nilah for sharing her comic experiences.

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