Marvel VP claims that diversity & inclusion are to blame for poor sales

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If you haven’t realized already, I’m not a comic-book person. I spent my childhood – the years I could have been forming an interest in comic books – reading Babysitters Club books. Like, I have strong feelings about The Babysitters Club and I do not have strong feelings about Spiderman. At all. But because the entertainment industry fetishizes the young-white-male demographic, I’ve been forced to at least feign an interest in a comic-book and comic-book-film industry which has repeatedly reminded me that I don’t matter as a woman, as a half-Indian, and as someone who is interested in stories that are not sexist sausage parties involving the heroics of white dudes. But according to the the vice president of Marvel, the declining sales of comic-books are happening because Marvel is TOO diverse. Their universe is apparently focusing too much on ladies and minorities. If only comic books could just be about white dudes again, amirite?

Marvel’s vice president of sales has blamed declining comic-book sales on the studio’s efforts to increase diversity and female characters, saying that readers were “were turning their noses up” at diversity and “didn’t want female characters out there”. Over recent years, Marvel has made efforts to include more diverse and more female characters, introducing new iterations of fan favourites including a female Thor; Riri Williams, a black teenager who took over the Iron Man storyline as Ironheart; Miles Morales, a biracial Spider-Man and Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenage girl who is the current Ms Marvel.

But speaking at the Marvel retailer summit about the studio’s falling comic sales since October, David Gabriel told ICv2 that retailers had told him that fans were sticking to old favourites.

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” he said. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales … 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.”

Gabriel later issued a clarifying statement, saying that some retailers felt that some core Marvel heroes were being abandoned, but that there was a readership for characters like Ms Marvel and Miles Morales who “ARE excited about these new heroes”. He added: “And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel universe and pair them with our iconic heroes. We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! … So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus [on] our core heroes.”

Online, readers scorned Gabriel’s remarks, pointing to Marvel’s tendency over the last few years to focus on restarting and rebooting storylines, creating a complicated web of interwoven universes, as well as an overwhelming output that fans struggled to keep up with.

Ms Marvel creator G Willow Wilson responded to Gabriel’s comments, writing that “diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work” and criticising Marvel’s tendency to introduce the new iterations of fan favourites by “killing off or humiliating the original character … Who wants a legacy if the legacy is sh-tty? A huge 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. Nobody could have predicted or planned for that. That’s being in the right place at the right time with the right story burning a hole in your pocket.”

One retailer told ICv2 that increased diversity had brought a new clientele to his store. “One thing about the new books that go through my store, they don’t sell the numbers that I would like,” he said. “They do bring in a different demographic, and I’m happy to see that money in my store.”

[From The Guardian]

There’s always a lot of talk about diversity and many of us – myself included – just take it on faith that diversity/inclusion is always going to be good for business, or at the very least, it will be zero-sum gain: the new audience you bring in will make up for the audience you lose. Maybe that won’t be the case in every insistence, but here’s the thing: even if it’s not good for business, it’s the right thing to do. There are little girls who want to be included, they want to dress up as Captain Marvel or Black Widow, they want to buy those comics and those toys and why shouldn’t they have that? There are people of color who want the same thing: to be able to identify with superheroes and spend their money doing so. And I agree with the other criticisms lodged at the Marvel universe: maybe it’s not an issue with diversity so much as people being frustrated with the lack of creativity and the endless reboots and increasingly insular worlds of these characters.

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58 Responses to “Marvel VP claims that diversity & inclusion are to blame for poor sales”

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  1. Becky says:

    So the retailers said this, not a survey of readers?

    I would’ve thought the reason for reduced comic book sales was obvious: it’s mainly print media, and the majority of their audience are white men, which limits sales.

    • Megan says:

      @Becky My thought, too. Print is tough these days.

      Also, I consume a ton of media aimed at women and I have never seen an ad for Ms Marvel. In fact, until I read this, I didn’t even know she existed. Perhaps Marvel needs to rethink how they market these new superheros.

    • VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

      I read the Jezebel? thread on this last night———the comments were a goldmine. The one thing I agree with, as a total outside who has no idea about any of this is that they have too many events that are supposed to hype up to crossovers that sound completely crazy. No one wants to go into something and be handed a reading list of 20 different comics that they have to read to get that one storyline, etc.

    • Who ARE These People? says:

      And young white men at that, yes?

    • Margo S. says:

      I agree Becky!

      All of print media is dying… that’s not news to anyone. But sure, blame minorities! Bunch of wankers.

      • Meghan M says:

        Maybe in the US, but not everywhere. In Germany, for instance, ebook sales barely grow anymore. In the UK, they continue to fall.

  2. FishBeard says:

    What a cop out.

    Studio heads always blame diversity for poorly received films, instead of a bad script. The recent Fantastic Four didn’t bomb because it had a woman and man of colour, it bombed because it was badly written and botched by the studio.

    It’s crazy that they absolutely refuse to seen reason, especially considering the amount of money they’re losing because of films with whitewashed characters.

    • Originaltessa says:

      He’s talking about the printed comics, not the movies…

    • OhDear says:

      Right? It’s not our fault, it’s those dastardly minorities!

    • Lightpurple says:

      Marvel’s films are not poorly received. They do quite well. This article is about comic books, not films. Fox’s Fantastic Four to which you are referring is an exception- and there always was a woman in that storyline. Fox and Sony’s other Marvel storylines (Spider-Man, X Men, Logan, Deadpool) do just fine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU, which is responsible for Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and on and on is doing very well – and yes, while the MCU deserves flak for whitewashing the Ancient One into Tilda Swinton and waiting so long to make a film centered on a woman or POC, they have added diversity. Nick Fury and Heimdall didn’t look like Samuel L Jackson or Idris Elba in the comics.

    • jetlagged says:

      Marvel comics and Marvel films are two different entities now. They are both owned by Disney but are run separately. The guy who is CEO of the comic universe is…interesting. Google Isaac (Ike) Perlmutter if you want to shake your head over the shenanigans of an old, rich, white guy who probably doesn’t hear the word no very often. Oh, he and his wife are yuge Republican and Donald Trump supporters too.

  3. third ginger says:

    Why is this article illustrated with actual people whose Marvel films are among the most popular on earth? Where are the comics?

  4. Veronica says:

    Oh yeah, DIVERSITY is the issue, not the years of catering to a very specific demographic and flooding it with an overwhelming material so that the entire industry is monopolized by one genre. Jaysus. I have plenty of comic books – they just aren’t SUPER HERO comic books because it’s not my jam. And now there’ s massive movie industry being generated by it for people who don’t want to waste time wading through the overly convoluted time lines and myriad of series for each character.

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that it’s possible diversity driven series don’t do as well – simply because white men (their primary demographic) have plenty of issues that reflect their own experiences and aren’t trained from birth to utilize a different minority or gender as a default. They aren’t scrabbling for any sort of representation, so they don’t see the purpose in pursuing characters and narratives that don’t court their appeal.

    (And from a friend of mine who does collect them – plenty of issues stem from the fact that much of the writing is just *garbage.* Pointed example – one of the recent X-men series has Magneto joining Hydra. Yes, sit on that for a minute. A former Holocaust survivor joining HYDRA.)

    • littlemissnaughty says:

      Word. You don’t drop diverse characters and storylines into a pool of male white nerds (let’s be honest, that really is the demographic they catered to for decades) and expect them to love it when they’ve been taught that this is all about them. Suddenly they’re supposed to share. And adjust. We all remember how well they dealt with the female Ghostbusters. Also, you need to be patient ffs. You also don’t expect the new demographic (everyone else apparently) to jump in right away. Hell, they might not even know about these developments.

      I have no clue about the world of graphic novels. Are the writers a more diverse group as well? Because giving someone a different skin color won’t be enough if the themes and stories don’t appeal.

      • Sixer says:

        You’d be amazed what exists in the world of graphic novels. I got this for Christmas. My bestest present this year. It’s brilliant.

        http://www.mary-talbot.co.uk/graphic-novels/the-red-virgin-and-the-vision-of-utopia/

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        This is awesome. But … is it mainstream?

      • Sixer says:

        It is awesome! Would recommend it to anyone. Was bought for me by a relative who loves graphic novels and wanted to emphasise to me that the genre has something for everyone – even political geeks like me. I suppose really, I should have known that stuff like this was out there – it’s not as though single panel political toons aren’t massive.

        I work in mainstream publishing but I rarely come across anything graphic, so I think it is a subculture all of its own. But certainly, as Veronica says, it is no way limited to super heroes.

    • Donna says:

      Perfect comment.

    • Oriane says:

      Yup, super hero comic books are really just one genre of comic books. And a very American genre at that. It’s probably not a not very versatile medium, not when you’re trying to appeal to different cultures and demographics. Other countries have very different popular comic book genres – not even ‘serious graphic novels’ things, but stuff like Asterix in France. I’m no expert, but a have a feeling there is a wealth of diverse comic books in the US, just not about super heroes – and that just Marvel made a ham fisted try to capitalize on that.

  5. Incognito says:

    I collected comics in the 90′s, took some time off from them, and then jumped back into collecting recently. The writing and in some cases, the art has really gone downhill. I don’t think inclusion is the problem. I do think the inability of the writers to create great new characters with their own powers and problems is part of the problem. The complicated storylines and different universes make it hard for someone to jump in, which is another problem.

  6. Mia4s says:

    Lack of creativity is a big part of the problem. The writing has apparently sucked and been restarted repeatedly on a number of the stories. The audience gets frustrated and bored.

    But I can see the drastic changes to original characters can backfire. So the new “Iron Man” is a 15 year old Black girl genius? Cool. Is that going to interest the fans of 45 year old Tony Stark? Nope…not many of them. Forget the change in ethnicity, what about the age change alone? That’s a totally different story! You get new fans and lose the old ones. The real win would be keeping your original Iron Man, creating a new 15 year old Black girl genius superhero and keeping BOTH audiences.

    Plus, they’re taking the lazy route to diversity. If it fails? Well in six months if the issues aren’t selling then Tony Stark miraculously returns and it’s bye bye girl Iron Man like she never existed.

    • Nina says:

      YES. This is something I don’t understand. It seems so lazy of Marvel to reboot their classic, well-loved heroes as women/POC as if they think it’ll appease us. Just create ORIGINAL female/non-white characters for fans from across the spectrum to latch onto. Nerds are extremely devoted to the characters they love, and won’t be so quick to embrace Amadeus Cho as Hulk, or Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel (though I do really like Kamala!). It comes across as so patronizing. Like, we uppity women will shut up if you just give us a chick in the Iron Man suit. I’m cool with reboots only if the original character has faded into almost total obscurity, like Batwoman had before DC gave us Kate Kane.

  7. Neo says:

    Maybe it has more to do with the fact that they’ve been writing the same damn story for going on a century and nobody’s that interested anymore.

    Or could it be that nobody is buying comics because you can be a “fan” and just download scanned versions.

    Or would it have something to do with the fact that people who like comics also like movies and there are plenty in the genre to entertain them.

    Or, you know, the fact that it take 10 minutes to read a comic (max), the story usually involves 4 more comics, issued over months, and they cost over $5 a pop?

  8. t.fanty says:

    I believe this, and not just for the creativity angle, mentioned above. It also strikes me that there is probably a generational swing to sales. Kids get hooked on characters and want to see more representation of them once they reach peak consumer age. My daughter loves Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl, and is a future paying customer for a movie, IF Marvel continues to feed that interest with good comics.

    On some level, it surprises me that Marvel, if all people, is thinking so short-term. A lot of these characters are still new and need time to grow. Thor has been around since my husband was a kid. Of course he is going to be more popular.

    • Desi says:

      Excellent point. They’ve been having this exact same conversation in the gaming community since Ms Pac Man was released 35 years ago. That industry saw an exploding female demographic, anticipated what it would want, and created a consumer force to be reckoned with.

      Marvel’s entire marketing strategy is a case of bone-throwing “diversity for diversity’s sake.”. There’s been no meaningful shift in their corporate culture, and their writers have clearly NOT gotten the memo.

      With the ratio of male to female artists and writers at Marvel sitting at around to 10 to 1, is it really any wonder they aren’t connecting?

      I sincerely doubt Marvel’s traditional male demographic is falling off because comics have become too “girly.” Tell a good story, and people will buy it. It really is as simple as that.

  9. Sigh says:

    It’s not just a diversity issue. I’ve been reading comics for over 30 years and it’s a storytelling issue. I’ve read the X-Men since the 80s and it is unreadable now. Complete and utter garbage. I could rant forever but unless they fix and bad writing and atrocious art no one is going to pick up a comic anymore and it goes for DC too not just Marvel.

    As for the new characters, you have to give them time to develop and get a foothold. People hated Rogue when she first joined the X-Men but look at her now. It took years for her to be seen as a hero and loved by the fans, now she almost has a cult!

  10. Desi says:

    Wow.

  11. Angel says:

    I know nothing of comics, thanks everyone for the insights:)

  12. Algernon says:

    The diverse titles tend to sell pretty well, though (Tanehisi Coates’ Black Panther run has been very successful). The problem with Marvel comics is they keep doing these massive crossovers that make it impossible for new interested readers to join, and are also bad. Civil War II was a mess, the whole Captain America/Hydra thing is a big fat fail that has turned a lot of people off those comics, and I don’t even know what’s happening with X-Men anymore. They need to stop stunting and focus on developing strong storylines written by people passionate for a specific character, like they’ve done with Coates.

  13. Daria says:

    Or maybe people are just growing tired of the whole comic book thing? All Avengers movies are the same. Seen one, you’ve seen them all.

  14. Lucy says:

    “Even if it’s not good for business, it’s the right thing to do.” This is very clear and coherent, except these big companies will eat their hat before doing something that won’t be good for business.

    • Luna says:

      For publicly traded companies in America, I believe they are obliged to do their best for their stockholders. Monetarily speaking. “Eating their hat” would be the least of the punishments. But that is off my real topic: cyborg female heroes, like a girl wearing the fabulous iron man suit, or super-powered female superheros, like Wonder Woman, are within the realm of reality — kinda, you know. But, IMHO, someone like Black Widow, who as far as I know has taken her vitamins and practiced really a lot but is a flesh-and-blood woman — I think it is harmful to show human women beating up a bunch of human men because young girls might aspire to that and feel cheated and powerless when they run into humans burning pure testosterone in their engines. It promises something that women can’t deliver. In a world of Disney princesses, the magical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie and on and on, I guess it’s not the worst thing. But is it the best thing?

  15. OriginallyBlue says:

    Sure let’s blame diversity and not the fact that they are screwing up storylines and doing too much. Captain America is Hydra? Magneto, who is a Holocaust survivor is Hydra and I think i read that Scarlet Witch​ and Quiksilver aren’t his? Wth is going on? If you have lazy writing and stories it doesn’t matter how different or good you think your idea is,, people aren’t going to be interested.

  16. Millenial says:

    I’m not sure why Marvel doesn’t just create diverse characters with their own, new comic series, rather than “rebooting” a long-favorite character. Diverse, serialized stories DO sell (see: Vaughn’s Saga graphic novels, TONS of manga marketed to women, etc…), but they sell because they are GOOD and they stand on their own feet. It’s Marvel’s own fault, they didn’t take the right approach.

  17. S says:

    Yeah, not enough straight white guys is DEFINITELY an issue in the Marvel universe. 🙄

  18. Adrs says:

    It’s not diversity itself, it’s the fact that the writers can’t tell a good story unless it revolves around a white dude. So bad stories = people stop buying your shit.

  19. Tallia says:

    I literally had a theatre Director/Writer (who has a powerful position at a theatre) once ream me out for commenting on the lack of diversity in various casts and how tired I was of it. He said (and I quote) “Brown doesn’t sell, brown doesn’t buy tickets”. I wanted beat him down, vomit and cry all at the same time. Instead I argued all the amazing shows (theatre), shows (TV) and movies that have POC and asked him how he could be so ignorant. He just laughed. I can’t even tell anyone what this person said because he is so beloved in the community that it would be he said/she said and no one would believe me. White CIS Privilege Men control the dialogue and if they want to blame their sh*tty casting choices (I’m looking at you Ben Affleck, Christian Bale (as Superman) and you Ryan Reynolds (as Green Lantern) on diversity and women, then F-you. (Stepping off soap box now)

  20. Jay (the Canadian one) says:

    You don’t need to read comics to understand reboots are an easy way to lose a reader. When they just threw away the entire arc you invested yourself in, that’s when you ask yourself, “do I want to take another ride on this merry go round or is this a good place to stop?” It doesn’t have to be diversity that loses the reader. You could reboot with a new white male character and still have the same reaction.

  21. susiecue says:

    I want to talk about Baby Sitter’s Club with you! I liked Stacey and Claudia. Kristy and Mary Anne got on my nerves. Maybe I was just jealous bc Mary Anne got to hold hands with Logan

    • Hollz says:

      BSC forever!
      Claudia was always my favourite – and I think I owe her a lot of my funky style. I liked Kristy’s determination and drive, I was always puzzled by Stacy – I’m such a city girl, I could never understand leaving somewhere like NYC for a small town. Mary Anne I always felt bad for – her dad was a piece of work. I found Mallory’s family fascinating – I was an only child until I was nearly 10. I was also a ballet dancer like Jessi, so that was cool.

      I also read the Little Sister series, and the Kid’s in Mrs. Coleman’s class.

      Not gonna lie, I still have my copy of BSC in the USA.

    • Tanya says:

      Stacey, Claudia, and Dawn were pretty cool.

  22. Elaine says:

    The marketplace is ruthless. Stories and characters will sink or swim on their own merits. Trying to dictate to your audience about what they “should” like, rarely works.

    Comic books are for pleasure. They are meant to be an a joyful escape. Its not the SATs.

    You can’t make people like what they don’t like. Its like love. You feel it or you don’t.

    Something “not being good for business” is a very sad euphemism for “people losing their livelihoods”.

    I would hate to see Jane Q Public put out of business because she was forced to stock money losing comic books in her store.

  23. Ashley Nate says:

    Backlash and dragging, followed by backtracking in 3,2,1..

  24. Fatninja says:

    Yes marvel is pushing diversity because they care deeply about minorities

    Not because RDJ’s contract is due to expire and they don’t want to pay him a zillion dollers to keep playing iron man

    Recasting is too risky, better to kill the character and have a younger and cheaper character take over his legacy

    If that sounds dumb to you….. Welcome to comic books!

  25. Ana says:

    I think he’s right and wrong at the same time. I don’t think the problem is that they are making more diverse characters. The problem is that instead of creating NEW (diverse) characters, they are just diversifying existing ones, which a lot of die hard fans would have a problem with. So I don’t think readers have an issue with diversity, they have an issue with writers changing their traditional characters into someone else just for the sake of saying “we are diverse!”. True diversity would be if they dared to come up with new cool superheroes from all races and genders, but they are trying to keep one hand on the safety stick and that’s what’s hurting them.

    • Fatninja says:

      Absolutely Ana, the issue isn’t diversity itself, it’s the cynical and lazy way they have gone about it

  26. Amelie says:

    So I work in the comic book world so I know a lot about this industry since it’s partly my job to keep up with a lot of it even if I am not really a comic book lover. The problem is flooding the market with all these new characters, people of color, women, etc. and expecting all comic book readers to embrace them and love them and immediately gravitate towards them. Diversity is good, but if all of a sudden all creators are changing storylines to accommodate the trend, loyal readers are going to be left in the lurch with all these sudden changes. And yeah, a lot of them are white males.

    However I don’t think people realize the breadth of the graphic novel world. There are WAY more publishers than just Marvel and DC Comics that cater to people from all walks of life. Image Comics (Walking Dead publisher), Dark Horse, Archaia, First Second, Kodansha, Zenescope etc., not to mention all the French publishers I work with (graphic novels are HUGE in France which is the country of Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke and way more, even bigger than in the US). The movie Blue is the warmest color was based on the French graphic novel of the same name (Le bleu est une couleur chaude). Whenever I mentioned this, people were REALLY surprised. The movie Snowpiercer (with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton)? Also based on a French graphic novel. There has been a lot of diversity in comics to begin with, just Marvel and DC are kind of finally catching up and now claiming it’s not profitable because they went about it the wrong way.

  27. Jess says:

    Ugh. This sort of baseless offensiveness is so obnoxious because it then puts the burden on us to prove these morons wrong. F*** this dude.

  28. Guest says:

    Cheeky, Kaiser….. Using a Thor and Loki picture, to get clicks, hm? 😂 it worked I guess. You know, I am a woman and I honestly do not care about Captain Marvel or Black Widow or Wonder Woman. My hero has been Superman, always. And I am bored of Marvel and DC…. I need a cinema year without any superhero movie.

  29. adastraperaspera says:

    “[White people] didn’t want any more diversity,” said probably white studio head.

  30. cd3 says:

    Huh. Odd then that Star Wars, pretty much the biggest movie franchise ever, can cast a black man and a woman as its two main leads and not suffer for sales. Maybe it’s cause the last few Marvel movies have been… not great?

    • Ana says:

      They are talking about the comics, not the movies. Movies are still doing pretty well, and will keep doing well for a long time. Star Wars in any case is not the best example because it’s a franchise that works beyond its characters (proof being that the prequels did great despite being terrible movies).

      Though you are correct in that the main reason for this is that the new stories are not good enough to attract a new diverse audience and keep their current one engaged.

    • North of Boston says:

      @cd3, the focus of the article/VP’s comments wasn’t the films. The Marvel VP was talking about diversity in the Marvel Comic Books, and feedback he had gotten from CB retailers.

      ‘ Marvel’s vice president of sales has blamed declining comic-book sales on the studio’s efforts to increase diversity and female characters, saying that readers were “were turning their noses up” at diversity and “didn’t want female characters out there” ‘

      The Marvel movies have been doing just fine, with two in the top 20 last year.

  31. ash says:

    i for one dont really care if captain america remain a white man for 2 thousand years more….

    i am more interested in black panther luke cage storm and more and more….. when we people who are marginalize stop begging for a seat at THEIR table and create our own or foster our own stories it sucks the wind out of these losers’ (people who would blame diversity for more sales) sails.Let’s create our own table one that is inclusive and open….

    one problem tho is when WE (marginalize) try, we often time dont get capital, financing, sponsors, advert., etc. etc. to make this baby bright and successful. so it’s like a vicious cycle of ok well let me try to be included then being blamed for poor sales then trying to venture out and then not getting support…

    i admit i dont have the answers sway lol and this issue frustrates me a lot as a black woman in creative