In recent years, Marvel Comics has made a considerable effort to diversify its characters. We just covered how America Chavez, a queer Latina woman, was getting her own solo-series a couple of weeks ago. Coincidentally, that’s around the same time that the publisher started to get hit hard in the sales department.
Readers who were against the changes from the status quo (read: straight, white male perspective) made a connection where one didn’t exist. Ever since, the narrative has been that diversity is killing comics.
It’s gotten so popular that David Gabriel, Marvel’s VP of Sales, endorsed that same line of thinking.
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” Gabriel told ICv2 at the Marvel Retailer summit. “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. We saw the sales of 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 against,” he added. “That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”
The Internet was not having it
After this quote got out, the Internet did as the Internet does. Those who supported the idea saw it as a confirmation while those who appreciate having a more representative comic book universe saw it as an unfair attack.
Gabriel later backtracked his statement, clarifying that many of Marvel’s current diverse titles, such as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, The Mighty Thor, Captain America: Sam Wilson, and Ms. Marvel, won’t be going away.
“And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere!,” he said, according to The Guardian. “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.”
However, that doesn’t mean he, and other members of Marvel’s upper brass, don’t think diversity was a gamble they lost out on. Fortunately, the nerd community has nothing if not passion and made sure to correct this false narrative.
What’s really affecting sales at Marvel?
Charles Paul Hoffman at Comic Book Resources, took a deep dive into the sales numbers of Marvel titles in recent months to determine what was truly happening.
Hoffman found that three of Marvels top ten titles actually qualify as diverse. The Mighty Thor focuses on a Jane Foster’s experiences as the hero of Asgard, Black Panther tells the story of the king of a highly advances African nation and Invincible Iron Man highlights a super genius Black teenage girl named Riri Williams from Chicago who takes the place of Tony Stark.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, diverse titles that underperform in sales only sell slightly fewer issues than Marvel’s other non-diverse titles. This means that the hit in sales is being felt across the board. It isn’t about readers not responding to new faces on the page.
If anything, Marvel’s sales are suffering from other issues, such as an increase in prices or having too many events too close together. For example, there have probably been nearly a dozen events in the past two years alone. Which means that readers are forced to buy as many as 10-12 books a month just to keep up. At $3.99 a pop, that adds up.
Grappling with “diversity”
I, for one, can say that some of Marvel’s diverse content has been some of its best over recent years. Captain America: Sam Wilson is highlighting police brutality. Black Panther has given way for a new group of Black writers to shine. And, Ms. Marvel is easily one of the publisher’s standout characters.
Chances are, the readers who claim they’re tired of diversity being “forced” on them don’t like change anyway. If Marvel decided to just switch things up with white male characters, they’d find a way to complain too.
Right now, Marvel’s got a stable of new characters with new stories worth exploring. These characters still need to be given a legitimate shot to grow before they get ripped out. Or, worse yet, slated to take part in an underwhelming and expensive event.
If this is just a case of Marvel being too afraid to embrace true representation, say that. But don’t try and hit readers with a smokescreen. And don’t use this as a reason to suddenly pull multiple titles before giving them a chance.