Friday, April 14, 2017

Marvel Comics Exec Says "Diversity" Is Why Sales Are Down

David Gabriel, Marvel Comics' Vice President of Sales spoke at a recent retailer summit and said that "...people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there," and that "Any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up [at]."

This contrasts with the experience of one retailer who spoke with ICv2 on the first day of the retailer summit who said a more diverse cast of characters were helping bring new customers to his store. The latest iteration of Ms. Marvel, which has Muslima teenager Khamala Khan taking up the title role, was nominated for a Hugo Award this year. In a detailed post on that did some serious number crunching of Marvel Comics' sales for the past year, Charles Paul Hoffman wrote:
Just to be clear, “diversity” has very little to do with the drop in sales in Marvel’s top 10 books. Only three (“The Mighty Thor,” “Invincible Iron Man” and “Black Panther”) can be considered “diverse,” in that they star a lead character who is a woman or a person of color. The rest are series starring white male heroes or teams made up predominantly of white male heroes. These are Marvel’s traditional A-list heroes, being written and drawn by A-list writers and artists (almost all of whom are themselves white men), and yet they are floundering... 
While Marvel has admittedly had some misses among its “diverse” titles, it has also had some genuine hits. “The Mighty Thor” remains Marvel’s No. 2=selling ongoing superhero series. “Black Panther” has been a solid hit as well, selling enough single issues to be in Marvel’s top 10, and enough trades to make the bestseller lists. “Invincible Iron Man” (starring Riri Williams) is also in the top 10, showing very little attrition from writer Brian Micahel Bendis’ pre-“Civil War II” series. “Spider-Man” is close behind, selling about 5,000 more copies than Miles Morales’ pre-“Secret Wars” series.”Spider-Gwen” and “All-New Wolverine” are also both doing well, with more than 29,000 copies sold in February for both titles. And then there’s “Ms. Marvel” and “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” two series whose trades have also made the bestsellers lists. 
Having dug into the data, it’s become clear that diversity is not hurting Marvel. The truth is, Marvel’s “diverse” titles actually sell decently. 
So if Marvel's more diverse offerings are actually selling decently, bringing in newer clintele and winning awards... then what's up with declining sales? Professionals and fans on twitter have a few ideas:

Other industry analyses have pointed out stumbling blocks that Marvel has seemed to put in its own way, like trying to make its Inhumans line-up replace the X-Men series while X-Men hemorrhages sales and the Inhumans branding repeats many of the same mistakes of the X-Men before them. The Nerdist has an excellent take-down of how diverse casts written by the same ol' roster of white men leads to a lot of tone-deaf bullcrap that can end up alienating readers old AND new:
When Brian Michael Bendis writes Miles Morales as being upset with a fan who mentions his black heritage, or when Nick Spencer has Sam Wilson apologize to Steve Rogers for any activism-fueled anger he may have displayed in the past, it comes off as tone-deaf and leaves readers understandably less than thrilled. The same comic features multi-ethnic villains who are parodies of the “Social Justice Warrior” stereotype, who shout phrases like “You should be an ally, not helping to defend oppression culture!” and “Consider this your trigger warning!” as they throw grenades at Sam... 
Let’s also remember SHIELD #8 (2015), written by Mark Waid, where a black woman viewing her young son’s corpse remarks, “He was no angel“—the same phrase used to vindicate Michael Brown’s murder.
G. Williow Wilson, the lead behind the currently Hugo-nominated Ms. Marvel points out a few things about authenticity, new audiences, changing markets and industry expectations:
What I didn’t realize was that the anxieties felt by young Muslims are also felt by young Mormons, evangelicals, orthodox Jews, and others. A h-u-g-e reason Ms Marvel has struck the chord it has is because it deals with the role of traditionalist faith in the context of social justice, and there was–apparently–an untapped audience of people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who were eager for a story like this... Diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work. Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is the world... 
Never try to be the next whoever. Be the first and only you. People smell BS a mile away. 
The direct market and the book market have diverged. Never the twain shall meet. We need to accept this and move on, and market accordingly.
That last point is something important to remember as far as sales. The relaunched Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (which I covered here back in 2015) only sells a few thousand issues a month... but its trade paperbacks and graphic novel collections sells like hotcakes to little kids via Scholastic Book Fairs. The market is changing, how comics are sold are changing, and the audience is changing. As Alex Brown puts it on
Blaming readers for not buying diverse comics despite the clamor for more is a false narrative. Many of the fans attracted to “diverse” titles are newbies and engage in comics very differently from longtime fans. For a variety of reasons, they tend to wait for the trades or buy digital issues rather than print. The latter is especially true for young adults who generally share digital (and yes, often pirated) issues. Yet the comics industry derives all of its value from how many print issues Diamond Distributors shipped to stores, not from how many issues, trades, or digital copies were actually purchased by readers. Every comics publisher is struggling to walk that customer-centric tightrope, but only Marvel is dumb enough to shoot themselves in the foot, then blame the rope for their fall.
Looking at a diversity initiative as the beginning and end of what's needed to help improve the state of comics is short-sighted and wrong-headed. Instead of just having the same white men tell stories with some characters of color here and there, there should be structure in place for minority writers and artists and creators to tell the stories they want to a mainstream audience. Diversity as the final and only goal is a hollow act that does nothing but reinforce whiteness and the status quo as the default. That's not the world we live in, so why so worlds we get to make up have to be that way? Free your mind, and the audience will follow.

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