Magruder and ‘M.F.K.’ win the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award

March 01, 2015 | 7:19 p.m.
Nilah Magruder, winner of the first Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award for her web comic "M.F.K." at the Long Beach Comics Expo. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

Nilah Magruder, winner of the first Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award for her web comic “M.F.K.” at the Long Beach Comics Expo. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

Nilah Magruder, a storyboard and concept artist in Los Angeles, and her web comic “M.F.K.” won the first Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award on Saturday during a celebratory panel at the Long Beach Comics Expo.

“I feel like Jell-O,” Macgruder said. “I am completely overwhelmed and it’s really exciting. I never expected this because there are so many good nominees. It’s a complete honor.”

The other nominated titles and creators are: “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).

Magruder’s “M.F.K.” is about Abbie, who wants to get to the mountain range Potter’s Spine, scatter her mother’s ashes and then live out her life in solitude. It doesn’t turn out like that in this post-apocalyptic world, though, as the young girl helps to defend a village from bandits and much more.

g ms marvel Magruder and M.F.K. win the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award

"Ms. Marvel" by G. Willow Wilson (pictured) and Adrian Alphona is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. (Marvel Entertainment)

hex11 duo Magruder and M.F.K. win the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award

"HEX11" by Lisa K. Weber, top, and Kelly Sue Milano (bottom) is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. (HexComics)

shaft duo Magruder and M.F.K. win the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award

"Shaft" #1 by David F. Walker (top) and Bilquis Evely (bottom) is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. (Dynamite Entertainment)

nilah mfk Magruder and M.F.K. win the Dwayne McDuffie Diversity Award

"M.F.K." by Nilah Magruder (pictured) is a finalist for the first Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. (http://www.mfkcomic.com/)

Magruder credits Japanese manga for helping her shape her project.

“I fell into it from reading manga,” she said. “I read a lot of shonen manga — which is action adventure comics — things like ‘Naruto,’ ‘Shaman King’ and ‘One Piece.’ Those had a lot of influence on the tone of the story. I was reading them when I was 18.

“I was seeing a common thread in all of them and was thinking that I’d like to see a story that is just like these, but it’s about a girl. In a lot of those stories, the girls were never as cool as the male characters.  I wanted to make something where the gender roles were a little more balanced.”

That theme of inclusion and broader storytelling saturated the ceremony in Long Beach even before the award was presented by Charlotte McDuffie, Dwayne McDuffie’s widow. The night was hosted by actor Phil Lamarr, and speakers included Martha Donato, executive director of the Long Beach Comics Expo and Long Beach Comic Con; Denys Cowan, comics artist and TV producer who also helped start Milestone Comics alongside McDuffie; keynote speaker Reginald Hudlin, a film producer and comics writer; and award director Matt Wayne, writer and friend of McDuffie’s who put together the selection committee.

Long Beach Comics Expo: Moment of silence for Nimoy

In his speech, Hudlin spoke about McDuffie’s influence and a chance encounter that McDuffie had with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas told McDuffie that he was a fan of Milestone Comics — specifically, a character that McDuffie wrote named Icon.

“It is a credit to Dwayne that he could write a character that could appeal to someone that was so ideologically opposed to himself,” Hudlin said. “He was a mentor to a lot of people, but we will never know how many. He would never talk about it because of his humility, because of his generosity.”

Macgruder admitted that she liked TV projects like “Static Shock” and “Justice League” growing up, only later coming to the realization that McDuffie was influencing her. Because she works in an insulated space, Macgruder said, the award was an important sign post.

“I feel like it means that I’m doing something right,” she said. “Because I do this alone, and I just do this in my spare time — I have a full-time job — I’ve been second-guessing myself a lot. I have no editor, I have no collaborator, so I’m always thinking ‘Am I portraying these characters the right way? Is this story making sense to people?’ It’s just exciting that so many people understand it and appreciate it and see the value in it.”

— Jevon Phillips | @storiz@LATherocomplex

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