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.”
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.
Photos courtesy of WENN.