There’s been a lot of conversation on twitter about what looks like is going to be a walkback of sorts on Marvel’s big diversity push of the past few years. Marvel’s VP of sales David Gabriel made some comments in a recent interview that got a lot mileage on twitter, and not in a good way. Here’s a piece:
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.”
Now they went and clarified that some, stating that the sales for most of their new characters and titles are good enough to indicate that people are happy with them, obviously because that set off all kinds of alarms bells. But the PR damage has already been done, to quote Jim Ross. This is all in response to a downturn in sales as 2016 closed out. The man was asked for an explanation and he came up with what he could, based on what he’s been hearing.
Now to be honest, a lot of that ‘people didn’t want diversity’ stuff can be traced back to the message boards and Facebook groups out there where there have been constant complaints since Sam Wilson became the new Captain America and Jane Foster took over as Thor towards the end of 2014. ‘Forced diversity! Stop changing characters! Just make new ones! Stop trying to appeal to the tumblr corwd!’ There have absolutely been people who don’t want diversity, and they move the goalposts whenever you try to corner them. They hate the idea of race or gender swapped characters like Foster and Wilson taking the mantle from the original wearer (somehow Dick Grayson taking over for a while as Batman wasn’t an issue, nor was Wally West being the Flash for damn near 20 years, or Winter Soldier being Captain America for a while). And when you try to corner them on it, even if it’s just asking the question ‘what’s so bad about it?’, they move the goalposts to avoid giving you their real answer. Of course a lot of these people haven’t picked up a new comic in over a decade and are just complaining for no reason but that’s a whole other thing for another time.
People like that are not going to buy any of these books, whether they feature a gender or race swapped wearer of a mantle or a new character entirely or an existing character elevated to a new prominence. They may not like the idea of Sam Wilson as Captain America but they’re not breaking down the door of their local comic book store asking for Cyborg, who has existed for decades and just got his own book in 2015. They don’t like Foster as Thor but they didn’t go out and save Mockingbird’s book from only lasting eight issues (they were harassing writer Chelsea Cain off of Twitter instead; nice work, losers). They didn’t line up for Batwing from 2011 to 2012 or Mosaic in 2016 either, so new characters aren’t the answer for them either. The bottom line is that this group is set on certain characters and want them to look the way they always have, which is at its core problematic because the biggest name characters were almost all created during a time where every heroic figure was given a white male identity, leaving little to nothing for anyone looking for something else. They’re no budging no matter how you move the pieces around on the board to suit them.
And Marvel has used the comments from this crowd to roll out the excuse train for why they’re going to roll back their diversity push and Make Marvel Great Again, when the reality is that books fail for all kinds of reasons. Some aren’t marketed properly, some aren’t rolled out at the right time (Mosaic debuting as a character in a self titled book was probably not a good idea, complaints about the quality of said book notwithstanding), some just aren’t very good (which is bound to happen if you put a lot of books out; some are going to suck). Never mind the complaints that have been around for a while about too many new number one issues for ongoing books, too many events, too many stunts (killing off Wolverine when everyone knows one day he’ll be back in his original form one day), or too high prices ($4.99 and $5.99 for some books or more for some variant covers is way too much for younger readers and even some older ones). Never mind the announcement of books no one was asking for (Man-Thing, anyone? Deadpool the Duck?) They’ve apparently boiled it down to ‘people didn’t want a lot of those diverse books we were going with’. And that’s ridiculous; there are plenty of reasons within the non-diverse books they put out to explain the sales dropoff..,
But they’re not the only ones to pin this on. A lot of us who have wanted more diverse characters and creative teams haven’t held up our end of the bargain. To be blunt, we haven’t bought the books like we should. Whether it’s pirating comics and reading them for free, or dropping off from buying and reading some of the titles when its no longer cool to do so (how many people were all over Black Panther when it first dropped and let it go once it was no longer a Black Twitter discussion piece?), never being as serious about it as we claimed to be and not getting any of themto start with, or just not wanting to stop getting some of the books with white characters that we enjoy to make room for a few books with the diversity we claim to want so bad? There are black comic book readers who prefer their Captain America blonde haired and blue eyed and just aren’t saying anything, after all. And they parrot the complaints of their white ‘Don’t change anything’ counterparts to cover for their lack of support, even though the books in question aren’t the ones getting new number ones every year and a half or so tied to events that you have to buy a bunch of other books to understand what’s going on (h/t to Kriss at MTR Network for pointing that out for me).
At the end of the day, like with any other retail product, money talks. You can’t demand something then not buy it if it’s given to you. That goes for comics, music, wrestling, movies, whatever. If you don’t spend your money when a company like Marvel goes as far as they have to change the landscape of their character roster, then what do you expect from them going forward? They made a real investment in potential and already existing readers from diverse backgrounds, and we did not collectively reward them for it. Some of us have been really good about it, some have been ok but not great (that would be me – I’ve gotten some of them but in all honesty I could afford to grab a few more than I have so I’m not without fault here), and a lot of us have been terrible. And while Image has been way ahead on this front and deserves support the fact of the matter is the Marvel and DC drive the train here and have a pop culture reach that extends beyond comics (Marvel can take Sam Wilson and put him on the big screen as Captain America to a billion dollar box office, something Image can’t), so they need to be both pressured supported to do the right thing here. For the same reasons making our own isn’t sufficient either.
You have to spend your money if you want things to change, folks. Otherwise you get what we have here – the failure of a few books being used as an excuse to drop a whole initiative, logic be damned. We gotta stop letting this happen.