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Comics: You’ve Got Your Diversity, So Why Don’t You Buy Them?

“Diversity” has been the watchword in comics for quite some time now. It’s a known fact that the marketplace has been shifting from “white males” to “everybody” over the last twenty years and, unsurprisingly, audiences have been demanding characters and concepts that look more like 21st century America and less like a Norman Rockwell painting. This has been a loud outcry, and a search on various comics blogs and websites will turn up any number of articles calling for more diversity in what’s published. (In fairness, those three links are to this website, but you know you’ve seen diversity calls elsewhere.)

Well, guess what comicdom: you’ve got your diversity. We’re about to do some number-crunching here, but a survey of the comics released last month shows an incredible demographic shift in lead characters. It’s by no means perfect, but Diamond’s Top 200 titles sold show a plethora of non-white male leads. Here’s a breakdown of titles by rank, sales numbers, and demographics of the lead characters:

Rank Title # Pub Sold Demographic
15 Black Widow 1 Marvel 62,375 White female
16 Spider-Man 2 Marvel 60,627 Black/hispanic male
19 Captain America Sam Wilson 7 Marvel 54,881 Black male
20 Mighty Thor 5 Marvel 54,568 White female
27 Harley Quinn 26 DC 51,420 White female
32 Spider-Gwen 6 Marvel 46,060 White female
36 All New Wolverine 6 Marvel 44,668 White female
39 Mockingbird 1 Marvel 42,335 White female
41 Power Man and Iron Fist 2 Marvel 41,104 Black male
46 Wonder Woman 50 DC 36,328 White female
53 A-Force 3 Marvel 34,133 All-female team
58 Totally Awesome Hulk 4 Marvel 32,585 Korean Male
60 Ms Marvel 5 Marvel 31,871 Muslim female
68 Spider-Man 2099 8 Marvel 28,580 Half-Mexican Male
69 Captain Marvel 3 Marvel 28,469 White female
79 Silk 6 Marvel 24,847 Chinese female
81 Batgirl 49 DC 24,730 White female
85 Poison Ivy Cycle of Life and Death 3 DC 22,812 White female
86 Monstress 4 Image 22,406 Asian female
92 Scarlet Witch 4 Marvel 21,094 White female
93 Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 6 Marvel 20,739 White female
94 Spider-Woman 5 Marvel 20,594 White female
101 Dc Comics Bombshells 10 DC 19,820 Female team
113 Starfire 10 DC 18,044 Alien female
120 Constantine The Hellblazer 10 DC 16,755 Bisexual male
121 Legend of Wonder Woman 3 DC 16,497 White female
124 Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat 4 Marvel 15,971 White female
129 Angela Queen of Hel 6 Marvel 14,946 Lesbian female
130 Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur 5 Marvel 14,771 Black female
134 Catwoman 50 DC 14,260 White female
141 Cyborg 9 DC 13,578 Black male
142 Black Canary 9 DC 13,566 White female
159 Faith 3 Valiant 12,114 White female
175 Red Wolf 4 Marvel 9,932 Native American Male
176 Midnighter 10 DC 9,803 Gay male
177 Doctor Fate 10 DC 9,780 Egyptian Male
181 Jem & The Holograms 13 IDW 9,032 Female team

So…doing a lot better, right?  Out of the top 200 books, that’s 38 titles where the lead is not a white heterosexual male. It’s not perfect, but it’s a much more diverse spread of characters than we had five years ago. (Also worth noting: this list excludes books like Justice League or We Are Robin which include a mixed cast.) Certainly, this is not demographic perfection: “white female” seems to be the dominant category, there’s still a ways to go in getting more Asian- and Hispanic-led books on the market, and religion is seldom seriously represented in comics. But like I said, this is a lot better than five years ago.

Except. For. One. Thing.

It’s the sales. A substantial quantity of diverse titles means nothing if they’re plummeting towards cancellation, and many of these books are headed in that direction. Comic books are a remarkably competitive marketplace, and Marvel and DC are businesses first and social justice pioneers second. If a title isn’t selling past a certain point, it will inevitably go and be replaced with the next hot property.

If you don’t believe me, you need to look at the rankings and sales numbers of the books above and compare them to how the did when they initially launched. For example, Silk got a huge push last year as Marvel’s first book with an Asian female lead. (Which was not correct, but never mind.)  Silk Vol 1, #1 in 2015 was Diamond’s #9 book with 74,501 units sold. Now a year later, Silk Vol 2 has dropped to 79th place with only a third of those numbers. A-Force got a big boost in the press on launch as an all-female superhero book, led by a female writer. A-Force Vol 1, #1 was the 6th-highest selling book with 114,528 copies sold. Last month, it was ranked #53 with 34,133 sold. That’s barely a quarter of its original numbers.

And those are just books that are lucky enough to get a big push in the press. Moon-Girl and Devil Dinosaur is the only book with a black female lead right now, and while it’s gotten some fan-favorite attention, it mostly seems to have missed the spotlight. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t do great on launch, with the first issue ranked at #63 and only 38,133 copies sold. Today it’s slated for cancellation with its latest issue fallen to #130 and under 15,000 sold. [Edit: Actually, I’m mistaken–I haven’t yet seen a cancellation for Moon Girl yet, so if it’s still going, then good. I hope the numbers pick up, though.] Red Wolf did much worse, dropping from #64 to #175 on the charts in only four months.

Of course, some dropoff is understandable. It’s impossible for a book to sustain its first issue numbers, because a launch issue is always ordered in excess for speculators and people looking to try a new book. Speculators inevitably don’t come back for later issues, and some people try a book and just don’t like it.

These charts also don’t account for digital sales, which the big publishers have been notoriously coy about releasing. We simply don’t know if, for example, All-New Wolverine‘s readers have jumped from the print to the digital version, although that book has also lost upwards of 60,000 print readers since its launch. The fan-favorite Squirrel Girl is apparently doing well in the digital and trade markets, so it’s presumably a safe book despite its anemic 20,000+ sales. On the other hand, we can guess that black-led Moon Girl [Edit: see above] or lesbian-led Angela: Queen of Hel aren’t doing so well since they’re both slated for cancellation.

Over at Marvel, it’s probably fair to speculate that SilkSpider-WomanScarlet Witch, and Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat are probably headed for the chopping block. Silk and Spider-Woman are at least safe through their 14th and 12th issues respectively, as their trade paperbacks for those issues have already been solicited, and they’re both involved in the “Spider-Women” crossover which will boost their numbers. But it’s not looking good for them with them both having lost a lot of sales since their launch.

It’s harder to predict DC’s future since certain titles will probably always be published even with weak numbers (Wonder WomanCatwoman, Harley Quinn). With others, it’s already a given that their current iterations are doomed (MidnighterBlack CanaryStarfire). That leaves the question of whether books like Constantine and Bombshells will hang in there with dropping numbers, but history suggests that they won’t.

At the end of the day, what is selling isn’t surprising. It’s the “hot” titles: popular characters, licensed properties, and crossovers. March 2016’s top-selling titles were BatmanMighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Star Wars, and other titles in the top 20 or so books tend to follow that trend. If Harley Quinn sells well, it’s probably less because she’s a female character and more because she’s just massively popular at the moment, succeeding in spite of her popularity and not because of it. And we’ve got a whole summer of Civil War II and DC Comics Rebirth ahead of us, and that’s focused on sales and not on diversifying the marketplace.

Yes, the publishers have a responsibility to promote their diverse titles. Marvel seems to have learned their lesson on that front. The “Marvel Now” era had three woman-focused titles that all failed: Red She-HulkJourney Into Mystery (with Sif), and Fearless Defenders, but two of those titles just took over existing books and didn’t get much of a push. But today? Marvel’s giving their female-led books a heck of a push, even doing a “True Believers” month in September 2015 with ten $1.00 reprints of female books (which all sold pretty well for reprint titles). But even that doesn’t seem to have been enough.

In other words, part of the blame for the failure of diversity-led titles has to lie with you, the readers. No, no one is obligated to buy a book they’re not interested in just because it hits a diversity checkbox. And yes, Marvel and DC have to make these titles interesting enough to bring in readers. Still, it’s baffling that we have a comics community that regularly demands diversity and yet doesn’t support the books which have risen to meet that demand. If this keeps up, then the books will be cancelled and when they return, they’ll revert back to their non-minority led counterparts.

This may be the lesson that DC took going into this summer’s “Rebirth” launch. A year ago, DC pushed the “DCYou” label which was intended to reflect a more diverse marketplace. We got Starfire, Midnighter, and Prez out of it, and we can see how that worked out. A year later, we’re getting “Rebirth,” which for all intents and purposes looks to be a return to the DC of old. It’s a return to what’s safe, not what’s diverse.

If the market really wants diversity, it needs to start putting its money where its mouth is. Put down Civil War II and pick up Silk. Put down Harley Quinn and try Mockingbird. These books don’t have to fail if readers actually support them and send the publishers a clear message that it’s what they want to read. The publishers are giving you a clear opportunity to prove that this is what you want.

Your diverse books are waiting, and more can come if it’s what you really want. You, the readers, need to show the companies that the call for diversity is real, and not just a vocal minority.

(By popular demand–credit to Alan Davis for the above image.)

About Adam Frey (251 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.

39 Comments on Comics: You’ve Got Your Diversity, So Why Don’t You Buy Them?

  1. ‘These charts also don’t account for digital sales’ – You need this if you’re going to write this kind of article, sorry.

    Liked by 5 people

    • pretendernx01 // April 18, 2016 at 7:34 pm //

      No they don’t, it’s time we all accept that digital sales don’t account for enough to matter. If digital sales were any great amount the companies would release those numbers to brag about them. They don’t because they don’t change anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The publishers don’t release ANY sales numbers. The only thing we have is estimates of Diamond shipping to US comic shops. You can’t say that digital numbers are small when WE DON’T KNOW. In fact, we have had Marvel state that Ms. Marvel sells almost as well digitally as it does physically, so we know that at least one title gets great digital numbers. And it’s a pretty safe bet that a lot of other comics get pretty good digital sales.

        Digital comics have become a big deal. And it’s likely that digital sales are a big deal for diverse titles. People who might feel uncomfortable going into a comic shop, or who simply don’t have a comic shop available, would be a lot more willing to buy a comic digitally.

        In addition to digital sales, there’s also TPBs to consider. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl had pretty poor Diamond distribution estimates, on a per-issue basis. The first trade was a NY Times Best-Selling Graphic Novel. Because TPBs are available outside comic shops, so people picked Squirrel Girl up at their local book stores.

        Another thing to consider: This effort for diversity is pretty new. It wasn’t that long ago that Marvel actually had no female-led solo titles. Now they’ve got a bunch. They’ve got PoC leads. They still need to do better at LGBT leads, but Angela lasted over a year, at least. So they have this stuff. But it’s all very recent. So what they’re doing is laying groundwork. This is a long game they’re playing. So let’s say that Moon Girl’s digital and TPB sales end up being as weak as its Diamond shipping estimates. Well, it’s an amazing book, so that’s a shame, but it happens. But some little black girl may be reading that comic right now, and discovering a love of the very medium of comics. So maybe she goes looking for other comics to read. And the next time Marvel puts out a comic with a black woman in the lead role, she picks it up. And maybe she shared Moon Girl with friends, so they pick up the next book, too.

        And the longer these diversity efforts go on, the more they become the status quo. So having a dozen female-led solos at once isn’t a big deal, it’s just how Marvel operates.

        Looking at the Diamond numbers can be dispiriting, but they only tell a third of the current story, and they say nothing about how the story goes forward.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sales will be initially low, keep flooding the market until the diversity is normalized and you’ll see sales go up. It might take a bit, but we need this.

      Like

  2. It seems like you’ve only took into account Diamond Sales which isn’t bad but what are the numbers for Comixology and other digital platforms? As someone who started off buying trades only and then moving towards digital comics exclusively. My digital sales aren’t a factor for Diamond which I feel as though they should be. Given I’m an African-American male who reads mostly POC superhero titles. I put my money where my mouth is.

    I don’t understand blaming the audience when they’re multiple factors to consider. While I can afford to purchase the comics I want. Not everybody can afford too and with the way some series come out twice a month. I don’t blame a reader for dropping a series for another one they truly. Some of my friends read comics through their local library. Other friends have tried to get into Marvel/DC titles but are off put when they have to navigate through renumbering, jumping on points, and continuity. This is a bigger issue then “POC not buying comics they want” when the reality is about comics and their accessibility.

    Then again going by Diamond I would say is basing TV Ratings on those with a nielsen box. With so many other ways to watch television series. I feel like Diamond needs to upgrade its system to reflect that its 2016.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s worth noting just how late Marvel/DC are to this party. Alt/Online comics have been filling the need for female and POC driven comics for decades, and a lot of readers simply don’t need to be reading cape-and-cowl books to see themselves in comics anymore. I’d also be interested in seeing these falling sales numbers next to the sales progress of male-led books to see if the fall is proportionate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Also as a follow up, how many of these books are written by women/POC, as opposed to just starring them?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You were almost there. until you got to “If the market really wants diversity, it needs to start putting its money where its mouth is. Put down Civil War II and pick up Silk. Put down Harley Quinn and try Mockingbird.”
    The Civil Wars and Harley Quinns of the world are the base and foundation of the comic industry. Fans don’t need to STOP reading Batman, Spider-Man, etc, the industry needs to keep those fans happy as well as bringing in new readers. When the diversity changes hit titles like Thor, Captain America, Avengers, you run the risk of losing the long time fans of those specific characters.
    A regular fan of those books is likely to look at the changes as temporary, which they probably are, and invasive, so they’ll pass until Thor, Steve Rogers, etc. returns to the book. This is the problematic way of straight up replacing characters that have a fanbase, with a “fill in the blank” representation. Overall sales plummet.
    The answer should be that the publishers see these diverse books as loss leaders and draft off the goodwill generated by them to outreach to people who previously hadn’t been reading comics. And in turn, those new readers should start trying other books that they previously weren’t aware of.
    If you tell everyone to stop buying the bestsellers, the industry will shrivel and die.

    Like

  6. diversity is great. Create compelling characters and have good art work and storylines and your good to go. However taking existing characters and changing genders or race largely doesnt work and it shows.

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    • What characters can you say other than nick fury and wally west has changed races? Also sexual orientation change shouldn’t be a problem because it sometimes take people a while to figure out their sexual orientations. For example i didn’t figure out i was bi till i was 20

      Liked by 1 person

    • pretendernx01 // April 18, 2016 at 7:32 pm //

      Well, Midnighter was already gay (so no change there) he had good artwork and critics thought the story was well done but not that many people bought him.

      Like

    • Well, I mean, Mighty Thor with Jane in the title role sells better than Thor: God of Thunder did. All-New Wolverine, with X-23 as Wolverine, gets great numbers, as well. Totally Awesome Hulk, with Amadeus Cho, is getting respectable numbers. Miles Morales sells well.

      Beyond that, I would point out that characters being replaced has been going on for decades. Jim Rhodes becoming Iron Man? Bucky becoming Captain America? Eric Masterson becoming Thor? Monica Rambeau, a black woman, taking the Captain Marvel name? This isn’t a new thing. It’s been going on for a while. The difference is that the Internet makes it easier for people to whine about it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Besides buying digitally, are there other demographic trends that we might not be seeing when looking at single issue print sales? Does the women reader demographic buy singles issues vs collected trades in the same proportion as men reader demographic? Is there a way to look at sales of trades?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your article barely touches on quality.

    These “diversity” books die because of their pandering nature and low-rent creative teams.

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    • What titles are we talking about here? MS marvel? Squirrel Girl? Spider gwen? The ultimates? thor? Moon girl and devil dinosaur.

      Bout the only title we can talk about getting cancelled is angela queen of hel. But i mean look at the other marvel books geting cancelled: hercules and howling commandos of shield not a lick of diversity there.

      The real problem is that companies dont note digital or trade sales. –

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    • Except most of them are actually really high-quality books. Silk is a better book than Amazing Spider-Man right now. Moon Girl is wonderful. Squirrel Girl is a delight every month. Really, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a diverse title coming from Marvel right now that isn’t high-quality. Some of them may not be to your personal tastes, that does not make them bad books.

      Also, “pandering.” Uh-huh. Funny how it’s only ever “pandering” when it’s not about straight white guys. That’s just treated as the default. The more a book tries to move away from that default, the more it gets accused of pandering.

      Bucky as Captain America was just fine. Sam Wilson as Captain America is pandering.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Simple, it is cost.

    Like

  10. Small nitpick. If you are under the impression that Norman Rockwell is synonymous with whiteness, you should take a look at Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. As harsh an indictment of white racism as was ever created.

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  11. It would be lovely if the said books were actually available in my local stores. They aren’t. I can’t buy something I don’t have access to!

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    • Yeah, that’s when you have to turn to digital. Which doesn’t get included in any estimates we get to see, which is why it’s so impossible to actually know how any book is doing. Though if you have an LCS, it’s also important to pre-order. Let the people know what you want to read. Solicits come out three months ahead of time, so you can take a look at those, then tell your LCS, “Hey, I’m interested in this upcoming book, pre-order it for me.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s very possible to see how many book performs because if a book hits around 14-20k physical Diamond numbers from the top 2, it’s canceled, so digital isn’t a factor in sales to the extent of physical.

        Like

      • I saw TMS is trying to claim it’s not non buyers’ fault for not buying books, but the article is by someone who says they only buy a few times a year.

        So I think it does fall to buyers lol

        Like

    • You sound like a racist A-Hole

      Like

  12. Alan Davis deserves some credit for the image at the top.

    Like

  13. iggyosorio // April 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm //

    I wanna commend everyone here for all your diverse comments. Heh. As well as not insulting or trolling ..this is a pretty good discussion.

    The biggest thing is.. when the readership that wanted diversity leave marvel and dc already..that could be a reason.

    I was a marvel hound.
    Now I strictly buy all image books because of the diverse story..creators..and characters.

    Diversity is great when you treat the diverse characters just like you would do with any other story. Put good creators on the helm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You got it in one. Guess what creators? Men, women, poc, lgbqt people are all still people. They have to eat, pay rent, go to school. Write the story like you would for anyone else and add in the things that make their perspective unique. That’s it. That’s all. Simple.

      Like

  14. I thought it was well-known that trade sales, while good for many reasons, don’t actually help books that are currently being written much because the thing that matters most is floppy sales? I keep seeing over and over that trade waiting kills books.

    Anyway, I do think there’s a point when it comes to this – you DO have to vote with your money. The vast number of people I see talking about comics today do not acquire them…legally. That goes for ALL comics. I’m sure comics like Star Wars and Batman have thousands of readers who have never spent a cent on those books. But when you have lower-selling titles, that impacts those books harder, because there IS a cancellation threshold and falling below that is bad. A bunch of people pirating Batman doesn’t put Batman in danger of cancellation; a bunch of people pirating Silk definitely does. Books on the margin of cancellation need more monetary support than the big guns.

    We may not know digital sales because we don’t have those actual numbers, but the thing is…we know that cancellation level at one of the big two is around 20k. Books tend to get cancelled when they drop below that point. So while 20k obviously isn’t the “whole” number because it’s missing digital sales numbers, we can assume that whatever a book that’s selling 20k through Diamond is selling through digital avenues, it’s not enough to save it. And if a book drops below the assumed cancellation level and still goes on, we can assume that it’s either killing it in trade sales or digital sales. The end result is the same regardless. Just because we don’t have hard numbers doesn’t mean we can’t know if a thing is selling well or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. some of them just dont work sam captain america no i didn’t like bucky either so dont say that. hulk works, wolverine works they both have good writing
    red wolf no
    angala no

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  16. I love all the SJW’s crying about digital sales. “Sure our Gay Puerto Rican Handicapped Transvestite Superhero might be tanking in print, but you haven’t proven that it’s failing in a medium where we have no sales data at all, therefore you lose!!”

    Like

  17. I followed this link from a forum that is spewing every excuse on the planet rather than face the real one, the one critics have been pointing out from day one: the folks making noise on Twitter and Tumblr don’t buy comics, they are not representative of any customer niche other than sad internet whackjobs who have nothing to do but rage on Twitter and Tumblr. Use them as a measure of what actual people want to buy, you lose.

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  18. Would a book like Starbrand & Nightmask count? It has two leads and one is a straight white male, but the other is a black bisexual man. Plus it has a lot of representation of PoC, female, and disabled representation in general. It was also one of the lowest selling ANAD Marvel titles.

    Like

  19. Its not the readers that are droning on about diversity, thats why they arent buying the books. The noise comes from people outside the fandom, and then the “diverse” books we are given are are pandering garbage.

    Would a book with a gay main character sell? possibly, if he was a good character and not just “this is gay replacement for popular character”, or “we took popular character and remade them to pander to a group”. “gay hero” is good. “black hero” is good. “muslim hero” is good. but “gay black muslim preexisting already established as another race hero” is garbage. I’d read “original Black Gotham vigilante”, but i have no interest in “black batman”.

    Like

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