Ms. Marvel takes top prize and acclaimed comic writer & journalist Marc Bernardin delivers a heartfelt keynote speech.
“I look at the faces of characters like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales and America Chavez and Jaime Reyes and Kamau Kogo and Lunella Lafayette — faces that I never saw in comics when I was a boy, but today, my son can — and I see progress.
It’s still not working the way it’s supposed to work, but it’s getting closer.”
– Marc Bernardin
An energetic crowd gathered over this past weekend for the second annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, presented at the 2016 Long Beach Comic Expo. Following an inspired ceremony hosted by Khary Payton, Charlotte McDuffie announced MS. MARVEL by writer G. Willow WIlson and artist Adrian Alphona as the winner of this year’s award.
The Award is named in honor of Dwayne McDuffie, the legendary writer and producer who co-founded Milestone Media. As a writer, Dwayne created or co-created more than a dozen comic book series, including DAMAGE CONTROL, DEATHLOK II, ICON, STATIC, XOMBI, THE ROAD TO HELL and HARDWARE. Nilah Magruder, the recipient of the first annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, spoke at this year’s ceremony.
The five finalists included:
ANDRE THE GIANT CLOSER TO HEAVEN by Brandon Easton (writer), Denis Medri (artist) (IDW Publishing);
FRESH ROMANCE edited by Janelle Asselin (Rosy Press);
MOON GIRL AND THE DEVIL DINOSAUR by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (Writers), Natacha Bustos (Artist) (Marvel Entertainment);
MS. MARVEL by Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist) (Marvel Entertainment);
ZANA by Jean Barker (writer), Joey Granger (Artist) (Emet Comics)
“Congratulations to this year’s winning team and to all of the outstanding nominees,” said Charlotte (Fullerton) McDuffie. “I would like to personally thank every one of them for choosing the comic book medium to share their artistic visions with the world–not only creating more diversity in the industry, but also raising the bar for excellence in the work itself, just as Dwayne always did. The motto of this McDuffie Award is: ‘From invisible to inevitable.’ Dwayne’s words. Please continue to do his legacy proud.”
“Serving as the Director of the Dwayne McDuffie Award has been one of my greatest honors,” said Neo Edmund. “This year’s award presentation was both enlightening and inspirational. The wonderfully diverse range of entries that were honored came from an equally diverse range of creative voices. It is my intention to keep this all-important award alive until the day a truly inclusive comic book industry is not merely an idea we strive toward, but a fully realized reality.”
The keynote speech below was delivered by Mr. Marc Bernardin (left), who is both a renowned journalist (THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) and an acclaimed comic book writer (GENIUS). It really captures the spirt of why this award and our ongoing commitment as fans, producers and consumers of Comic Books is vital to building upon Mr. McDuffie’s legacy of diversity and inclusivity in the comic book industry we all love and want to get better. –
“I met Dwayne McDuffie once. Just the once, sadly. It was at the San Diego Comic Con, maybe 10 years ago. I was at a Warner Bros. animation party and my friend Shannon Denton asked me if I’d like to meet Dwayne. Correction: He said, “You should meet Dwayne.”
So Shannon walked me over and introduced us. I had co-written a miniseries for Wildstorm called The Highwaymen and a creator-owned graphic novel called Monster Attack Network. I didn’t have a lot under my belt, comics-wise. But I told Dwayne that while writing Monster Attack Network, I was greatly inspired by his Damage Control, which he had done for Marvel. His was about the insurance company that cleaned up and rebuilt New York City after disasters of supervillainish origin. Mine was about the EMS/National Guard/Office of Emergency Management outfit that cleaned up and rebuilt a tropical island metropolis after kaiju destroyed it.
And I said, “Maybe ‘inspired-by’ is the wrong phrase. We kinda ripped you off.” And Dwayne smiled and said, “Good. That’s how it’s supposed to work. You see something. You love something. It affects you and you absorb it.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work.” I think about that sentiment a lot. I am, if you were to consult my resume, a journalist. And it’s a job with a lot of systems in place. A lot of “this is how things are done, or people get sued” systems. Every place is different, to be sure. Every place has its own quirks. But there are best practices.
Diversity is something that any sane person would consider a best practice. At least, any sane person who can read a spread sheet and a census report. If the face of America, the face of the world, looks more like a Shonda Rhimes show than Maine, then so should the people who make the products that the world buys.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but as something like #OscarsSoWhite or shows, it so rarely does.
And comics, our beloved comics, is no different.
When I walk through a comic book store, looking at the floppies stacked on the shelves, I don’t see too many faces that look like mine. Or look like they’ve been in the sun. At all. And it’s hard to tell the ethnicity of the people making comics by the names on the covers — except that sometimes you can totally tell.
I moderated a panel about diversity not too long ago for The Hollywood Reporter —and, yes, I’m going to make this whole thing 70 percent about me. So, this panel. Stephanie Allain, the film producer and former executive who championed Boyz in the Hood and El Mariachi. Justin Simien, the writer-director of Dear White People, and Alan Yang, the executive producer of Master of None. And I asked them, point blank, if Hollywood was racist. And the answer was yes…in that, in the words of Justin Simien, “the system works to my disadvantage for no other reason than that I am a person of color.”
That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
Now, I don’t think anyone at Marvel or DC is a bigot. I am friends with lots of people at both companies and to a person, they’re terrific. But the system is rigged, and not in our favor. People will invariably hire the people that they know — and in order to get to know them, you need access to them. I got my access through a day job as a magazine editor in Manhattan. Plus, I’m a dazzling urbanite. But if you’re a black kid, a gay woman, or a Sikh and you’re living in Detroit or Tampa or Oakland, how do you get that access? How do you know which convention is the best for meeting editors? Is anyone telling you which hotel suite everyone’s hitting after the con wraps up and the karaoke’s done? How do you know which bar Marvel staffers frequent in New York City? Or DC’s in Burbank?
More importantly, if you’re that black or Hispanic or Asian kid (or woman of any color) why do you even want to make comics? The end product of decades of stories not told for a diverse audience is this: If the stories are not for you, you won’t read them; and if you don’t read them, why would you want to make them?
There was a time, not so long ago, when you could count the number of people of color who were writing a monthly comic book for DC or Marvel on one hand. I know, because I was one of them. We used to have meetings. And yet, I see progress.
Every year, at around this time — you know, Black History Month — there is usually a hue and cry in the comics press about the lack of diverse voices. This year, I don’t see as much. Now, maybe it’s because the Hollywood issue is drowning everything else out, but I don’t think so.
I look at the nominees for the Dwayne McDuffie Award — Brandon Easton’s Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven; the team behind Fresh Romance, led by Janelle Asselin; Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder and Natacha Bustos; Ms. Marvel from G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona; and Jean Barker and Joey Granger’s Zana — and I see progress.
I look at the diaspora of books produced by publishers like Image and IDW and Top Cow, along with some actual strides made by Marvel and DC, and I see progress.
I look at the faces of characters like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales and America Chavez and Jaime Reyes and Kamau Kogo and Lunella Lafayette — faces that I never saw in comics when I was a boy, but today, my son can — and I see progress.
It’s still not working the way it’s supposed to work, but it’s getting closer.
I’ve written comics, professionally, for a while now. I’ve got enough books to comfortably fill half a shelf. I’ve written characters black and white, male and female, gay and straight. And the only thing I’ve ever been insistent about is that the
books portray the world I live in — if that world had lasers, hyper-intelligent gorillas and an endless supply of spandex.
The very last thing I wrote for DC Comics was the New 52 revival of Static Shock. Fitting, I know. I came on at issue 7. It was canceled at issue 8. And I can’t even take any blame for that. (You’ll have to ask DC Comics how they managed to botch the relaunch of a character who once had his own successful Saturday cartoon.)
Issue 8 was supposed to be a soft reboot. Reset the table for new adventures to come. It ended with Virgil and his two best friends — Quentin and Vanessa — leaving school, the sun shining, nothing but possibility ahead of them. “What’s next?” was one of the last lines printed in a monthly Static comic cook. What’s next.
I guess that’s up to the men and women nominated here tonight, and others like them — those who think that comics can be a mirror of society, both on the page and behind it. I guess it’s up to the readers, who will vote with their dollars — forcing the publishers to reconsider who they’ll make comics with and who they’re making comics for.
I guess it’s up to you.
Thanks, and don’t forget to tip your waitress.”
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art credit-cover Marvel
interior wiki / Image