The Mary Sue Exclusive: Nilah Magruder on the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity
[Editor’s Note: Last night was the second-annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity, which honors the late Static Shock creator and Milestone Media co-founder’s commitment to representation in comics. During the presentation last night, last year’s winner Nilah Magruder delivered an important speech about Dwayne McDuffie and what the Award means to her. For the many of us who couldn’t actually be in attendance last night, we’re pleased to exclusively present Magruder’s speech in its entirety here.]
So. My name is Nilah, and four years ago I put a webcomic up on the Internet called M.F.K. It still updates, it’s free to read, and I work on it on my own, in my spare time. A little over a year ago, I happened to find the press release announcing the first Dwayne McDuffie Award. After encouraging others to submit, I realized–hey, I’m eligible too–and I submitted as well.
My comic has a modest following. It’s about a black girl who’s hard-of-hearing, and it’s an action story, but it’s slow-paced with a lot of focus on character development. It doesn’t have a ton of readers, but among the small readership it has, it seems to be well-liked.
All that to say, after I submitted for the award, I forgot about it completely. I didn’t expect to hear anything ever again.
So the e-mail I received in January, alerting me that I was a finalist, was a shock. And when I saw who else made the list…
To jog your memory, Ms. Marvel–Shaft–Shadow Hero–Hex11–all books by legit publishers, or legit creative teams…
One thing stood out to me immediately: I was the only webcomic.
I saw that list and thought, well I had a good run. Seeing my name in The Hollywood Reporter and on Comics Alliance, that was fun. There was absolutely no way I was winning this.
And that was what I kept telling myself, even as I was here last year, in the dressing room meeting Phil LaMarr and Reginald Hudlin, and then sitting between David Walker and the HexComix ladies, and then hearing Charlotte Fullerton on the stage, saying my name.
I was thinking: naaaah.
So what was it like, winning the Dwayne McDuffie Award? Hooo!
I had my phone off during the ceremony. When I turned it back on, I had a flood of messages waiting, congratulating me on the win. I was dumbfounded; the ceremony literally just ended, how does anybody know?! I wasn’t even live-tweeting!
But turns out somebody was. Most of my followers knew, and were spreading the word.
That night, I had requests for interviews in my inbox. My phone was still pinging non-stop, and finally I had to turn it off. In the following week news sites and bloggers were spreading the news.
My little webcomic had a very modest following. It hit about 600 unique visits on a good day. After the award, the number rose, and kept rising. There have been so many days when I wondered if this story would ever become something bigger, if it could ever be viewed as a professional work. And suddenly sites like io9, Geek & Sundry, and the A.V. Club were talking about it. Suddenly, I was being asked to sit on a panel at San Diego Comic Con. I sold the books at WonderCon and had my most successful show ever.
I’m a queer black woman who posts a little webcomic on the Internet–as many queer black women do, because the mainstream won’t publish our stories. To the mainstream, we’re practically invisible. We might as well not exist. But the Dwayne McDuffie Award made me a feel a little less invisible. A little more professional. A little more worthwhile.
Congratulations to this year’s finalists. I’m excited for all of you, because I know what it’s like to struggle to hone your craft and work in silence, and finally feel like your voice has been heard. And to the creators out there who have a story to tell, please tell it. Please share it. We want to read it. To the marginalized, the excluded, the voiceless, the Dwayne McDuffie Award is for you. This is your acknowledgment, your affirmation that you belong here, and your story matters.
The 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award winner was Ms. Marvel. The other nominees were Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur, Andre The Giant Closer to Heaven, Zana, and Fresh Romance.
Nilah Magruder is a storyboard and concept artist artist in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Maryland, from a young age 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.
Nilah received a B.A. in communication arts from Hood College and B.F.A. in computer animation from Ringling College of Art and Design. She has illustrated for comics, children’s books, film and commercial television. Interested in exploring diversity in storytelling, she launched the action-adventure webcomic M.F.K. She believes that everyone should have characters with whom they can relate in their chosen entertainment, be it comic book, novel, film, TV, or video game.
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