The Dwayne McDuffie Awards for Diversity in Comics continued to increase in scope this year at the Long Beach Comic Expo. The annual showcase for diversity in comics, named after the late and acclaimed writer had a better turnout than ever before in its third year. The event began with catering and an open bar, demonstrating the convention’s dedication to the ceremony. After an hour of mingling among the crowd, the ceremony was underway.
The panel started with a short video of Dwayne McDuffie talking about his career in the industry. The writer reflected on superhero comics and the Milestone imprint which he co-founded. The end of the video included his full roster of credits, spanning a seemingly endless number of titles.
Actor Phil LaMarr was the first to speak at the ceremony, introducing the panel of judges for this year’s awards. They included Mark D. Bright, Neo Edmund, Joan Hilty, Joseph Illidge, Heidi MacDonald, Don McGregor, Kevin Rubio, Cassandra Pelham, Gail Simone, Will J. Watkins, Matt Wayne, and Len Wein. The finalists for the awards include Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels, Shaft: Imitation of Life by David Walker and Dietrich Smith, Amazing Forest by Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas and more, StarHammer by J. N. Monk and Harry Bogosian and 14 Nights by Kristina Stipetic.
“Dwayne was a giant— literally and figuratively— he’s someone who has had an immense impact on my life and career,” said LaMarr. “This award is working towards a day when it won’t be needed,” he continued. LaMarr characterized the growth of diversity he has noticed at various conventions as a wonderful development.
Afterwards, Watkins spoke in support of Long Beach Comic Expo organizers Martha Donato and RuthAnn Thompson. Watkins also spoke about McDuffie’s influence on his life, leaving the stage with a quote from McDuffie on vigilantes and how they fight evil with the best of intentions.
LaMarr took the stage again, introducing a video message from McGregor. “I treasure and cherish the memories of Dwayne that we have together” said McGregor. He spoke about a trip to the Spaghetti Factory with the writer and his collaboration with McDuffie on the cartoon series Ben 10. McGregor recounted his memories of McDuffie’s passing, noting that he spoke to the McDuffie on the phone just before his passing in 2011.
LaMarr honored previous and current nominees for the award. Last year’s winner, Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, provided a statement for Watkins to read. “We can never fill his shoes, but we can honor his legacy,” wrote Wilson.
Upgrade Soul writer Ezra Claytan Daniels was the only nominee present and gave a speech about how McDuffie’s work influenced his own. “My brother and I latched onto to any character who looked like my dad” said Daniels. The creator went onto mention the animated Static Shock cartoon as something that influenced his career.
LaMarr introduced the keynote speaker and Riot Games Art Recruiter Sidney L. Clifton. Clifton thanked the awards staff and talked about some of her favorite comics. “I know progress has been made, but a lot has not changed,” said Clifton. She talked about McDuffie’s presence. “What matters was [his] ability to see the vision and execute accordingly,” she said. Clifton concluded by encouraging diverse creators to tell their own stories. “If you see a void, fill it.”
Watkins took the stage again and introduced presenter Charlotte McDuffie, widow of Dwayne McDuffie. She spoke on behalf of her husband, noting that he’d be pleased to see a inclusive group of people in the crowd. McDuffie announced that The New Smithsonian Museum of African American History will have an exhibit honoring McDuffie’s work in the entertainment industry coming soon. “Dwayne was always frustrated that people weren’t listening to him” said Wilson. “I don’t think he would believe it.” McDuffie announced the winner of this year’s Award for Diversity in Comics, Ezra Claytan Daniels of Upgrade Soul.
“This was such a huge honor,” said Daniels.
“This is not like the Golden Globes, you don’t just win it for showing up!” joked LaMarr about Daniels being the only nominee present and also the winner of the award. “This is, first and foremost, a celebration of Dwayne, his legacy, and the people who are continuing that work and his legacy,” he concluded.