If you’ve yet to come across Nilah Magruder then you’ve been missing out on one of the most vital, surprising, and exciting voices in comics. To celebrate the recent publication of her beloved webcomic M.F.K., we sat down with Magruder to talk about her career, creating comics, and being the first black woman to write a comic for Marvel.
Originally from Maryland, Magruder always wanted to be in animation. One of her formative memories was based around a beloved Disney classic. “I always go back to The Lion King. Seeing those first pencil tests when I was about 12 really made me want to get into animation,” Magruder reminisced, “I’ve always loved animation ever since I was a little kid. Ever since I figured out there was an industry for animation and people actually make those cartoons that you see on TV, I’ve always wanted to be involved.”
Growing up with classic anime and ’90s animation had a big influence on Magruder. “I love anime. I watch so much anime, especially shounen stuff. I grew up on Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon, and right now I’m super into Haikyuu!! and My Hero Academia. The ’90s was really great for television animation, you know like Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles, and Animaniacs,” Magruder enthused.
Though Magruder always wanted to get into animation, as with any creative pursuit, the path was a long one that ended up with her pursuing an entirely different specialty than she’d ever imagined. “I fell into storyboarding, and at first I thought that sounds really boring. ‘Why would anyone do that?’ And I was sort of really bad at it from the beginning. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to be bad at anything, and knowing I’m not succeeding really drives me to work harder. So I was really intensely focused at being better at this class. Then I hit this turning point where I went from not very good to suddenly really, really good,” Magruder explained.
Magruder is a professional storyboard artist now, but she’s also gained a huge and fervent following as a comics creator. The funniest thing is that was never part of the plan. “I didn’t want to make comics. I wanted animate but I didn’t know how. So I started making comics ’cause it was easier, something that I could do by myself,” Magruder laughed, “It started with this anime zine I was running in the ’90s, at the same time webcomics were really becoming a thing. Back then I didn’t really know the term for what we were doing. We just called it online manga, and it turns out that there was a term for it and that term was webcomics. Comics were like animation for me. It was kind of nebulous, this almost unattainable thing. When I figured out webcomics I was like, ‘Oh I can do this.'”
M.F.K. was Magruder’s first webcomic. She started posting it online in 2012, but the seeds of the story had been around much longer. “I’ve been working on M.F.K. since 2003. It’s been something I’ve been plotting in my spare time. It’s the story that never really went away, and when I got out of school I wanted to try my hand at a webcomic. It was between M.F.K. and this newer concept I was really excited about, but in the end I thought I’d had M.F.K. in my head for so long that if I was going to do something it should be that,” Magruder said.
Magruder describes M.F.K. as “a fantasy adventure about a young girl who’s taking her mother’s ashes back to her homeland, but she has superpowers that get her in trouble wherever she goes.” It also happens to be one of our favorite webcomics; it is now available as a gorgeous hardcover collection from Insight Comics. For Magruder, it was a surreal experience. “It was super weird to see M.F.K. published as a book because these characters have been in my head for so long. Even the process of sharing them online was weird in that way because now they exist and people know them. But seeing it in print is a whole other experience, and I wanted to put it in print ’cause I knew there was an audience I wasn’t reaching online, primarily kids,” Magruder said, expanding on her reasons for wanting M.F.K. to be published as a book.
Last year Magruder became the first ever black woman to write a story for Marvel in their 78 year history with 2016’s A Year of Marvels. She gave us an insight into just how that came to be. “I was unemployed and I got an email from my agent saying, ‘Hey, Marvel wants to know if you’re available for this story. They wanna do this team-up with Rocket Raccoon and Tippy Toe.’ And I’m sitting at my desk screaming because it’s Marvel and the timing was great. If anyone was going to reach out and pitch a story to me, this is that story. Talking animals are my jam. So I was like, ‘I have to take this,'” Magruder shared.
As for what’s next, Magruder’s upcoming story is a radical middle grade graphic novel about horseback riding called Creaky Acres. She said it never ceases to be a treat when people love her work like we do. “I’m always very surprised and flattered when people like what I do, and I’m grateful and excited to work on more,” Magruder chuckled.
Images: Insight Comics/Marvel Comics
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