In the middle of a sandstorm, a young woman emerges clutching an urn full of her mother’s ashes, bleeding out along with her fatally wounded animal companion. The circumstances that lead to Abbie’s introduction are largely a mystery in the first volume of Nilah Magruder’s M.F.K. (Insight Comics), which follows the heroine on her path to recovery in a small desert town terrorized by rogues with extraordinary abilities. M.F.K. originally debuted as a webcomic, and Insight Comics has taken steps to ensure that readers of the webcomic will want to seek out the printed edition by giving it the oversized hardcover treatment. With thick paper stock and sewn binding, this is a sturdy, striking package, ideal for classrooms and libraries that will pass the book through many hands.
While there are a few instances of adult language—two uses of “fuggin’” and one “asshole”—M.F.K. is a book with significant all-ages appeal, delivering drama, action, and comedy with a warm, lively art style. M.F.K. plants the seeds of a larger fantasy narrative, but it starts small by focusing on Abbie’s time in Little Marigold, building an immersive setting and a charming cast of characters. Magruder isn’t in a rush, and she’s much more concerned with giving readers a strong impression of this environment and its inhabitants than jumping into the grander plot points, which gradually come into relief over the course of this first book. She’s put plenty of thought into the mythology and class dynamics of this world, but that never gets in the way of what is most important: Abbie’s struggle to move on after her personal tragedy.
Magruder understands the value of humor in pulling readers into a story, and M.F.K. is full of gags that balance out the tragedy of Abbie’s life and the hardships of the town that has welcomed and healed her. Much of that comedy rises from slapstick violence: Abbie accidentally slams a door in her friend Jaime’s face and triggers a gushing nosebleed; Jaime’s grandfather bashes him with a shovel to get his attention; Abbie’s doctor chucks a bedpan at her face when she gets out of bed to use the bathroom. Magruder turns to the exaggerated expressions of manga to accentuate these moments of humor, and that eagerness to go big energizes the character interactions.
There’s a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender in M.F.K.’s DNA, and fans of that series will find much to enjoy in this book’s melding of Eastern and Western comic-book storytelling and its elementally charged action sequences. It takes a while for Abbie to reveal her extraordinary abilities, but when she does, it’s a major moment of release that is deeply tied to her emotional trauma. Magruder was the first black woman to write for Marvel Comics with last year’s A Year Of Marvels: September, but that story was just a tiny taste of her talent. This 2016 Big Issues explored how black women are using webcomics to carve a space for themselves in the comics industry, and it’s great to see Insight Comics take notice of Magruder’s work and bring it to the printed page with such strong production values.