It seems like the topic of diversity in comics has reared its ugly head again. For the past month there have been many speculators whom have been tearing apart what Marvel has been saying about how diversity in comics have related to the sales of books. Let’s start with a statement that vice president of sales, David Gabriel gave to Entertainment Weekly:
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. 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.”
Also when it came to race he said:
“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. 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.”
It seems like we have had this discussion before on why race and diversity is not always to blame (or an easy fix) when it comes to problems with comics. With all of the hoopla over this issue again, it seems like while everyone is trying to translate the sales numbers, many are overlooking what’s going on at the top, so let’s work through this again, shall we?
Let’s start with creative talent
While it’s great that Jane Foster is one of Marvel’s highest selling books, that Sam Wilson as Captain America was a welcome progression that’s rarely seen in comicdom, that there is an Asian Superman, and even a Muslim woman in comics as well, nearly all of the above are written by white males. Before anyone in the Big Two comes out of their mouths complaining about diversity, maybe they should look at their staff of creative talent – especially their writers – for the problem in comics diversity. Marvel especially can’t complain that having diverse creators won’t create sales, as Ta-Nahesi Coates and G. Willow Wilson have shown that their talent can sell books. However, Marvel has still shown tone deafness in how they handled the death of War Machine and introducing RiRi Williams. Of course, there is also the issue over at DC Comics with how they are handling Milestone Comics characters. Two years ago, there was an announcement that Milestone was making a return and so far, nothing. Then there was a blip on the radar that part of that holdup was due to DC Comics dragging their feet on the issue. What makes this more complicated, is the fact that Milestone has a lot of built-in talent of diverse creators who could potentially do well re-establishing Milestone comics, if DC Comics would get out of their own way.
The bottom line is this: The Big Two can’t write diverse stories of diverse characters if their staff is still primarily made up of white men who have no handle on Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ cultures. We are living in a world today where comics and its derivatives (should be “and their derivatives”) – such as movies, TV shows and games – are as big in popular culture as they ever could be. The properties are being bought up by people are different walks of life but Marvel (and DC Comics) can’t blame failures of sales if the creators can’t relate to the audience to whom they are selling. So, if a fix is needed, it needs to start there.
Where are they being sold?
This is another topic that must be revisited when it comes to arguing that diversity does not help sales. This is a much harder fix than hiring practices, because one can’t force comic shop owners to open their stores in certain areas. But, let’s be real. How comic books are being sold today is vastly different that how (should be “vastly different than how”) they were sold twenty to thirty years ago. In the 80’s it wasn’t much to run out to the nearest newsstand, 7-11, or pharmacy to get a book off of the spinner racks. Of course, the comics were almost always limited in number and it was not guaranteed that you could always find the issues in those spots. Nowadays, of course, you want comics, you go to your nearest comic book store. It’s all fine and good until one realizes that for many people, comic stores can be anywhere from a 15 to 30 minute drive away, some shops are not located on a metro accessible route, and some shops have an atmosphere that is not conducive to a diverse crowd.
Again, this is not an easy fix, but credit must be given where shop owners like Ariell Johnson take that chance to open a shop that is welcoming to everyone. Current and new owners who want to try and open shops must do more where they see that there is a need and want for comics. That’s one of the ways to get diverse comics in customer hands.
Of course, it all comes down what customers are willing to pay for comics and what they are getting out of them. If Marvel stopped and listened to fans for a moment, they would realize that it’s not the diversity that is killing the comic sales, it’s the lack of compelling stories. Bigger than that, even, many readers are sick of yearly events that promise to ‘shake up the status quo’. Many readers have become fed up with events that affect multiple titles and spending cash to find out what’s going on, only to have that status quo being reset a few months later. Another problem is the piss-poor writing, and when comics are approaching 4 and 5 dollars an issue, many are more willing to sit out and wait for the trade as opposed to try and buy each book in the event and then having to wait when they inevitably get delayed. Then again, making Captain America and Magneto Hydra agents doesn’t square too well with fans either. Part of why DC’s Rebirth has done so well is that DC has realized that they needed to right the ship with their storytelling and get back to basics as opposed to slavishly shoving an event book out yearly. But still, DC Comics needs to do more to get Milestone back out in front of people than what they are doing if they ever hope to push the needle forward with diversity.
As much as people want to lay blame on sales for diversity-driven titles not selling, that’s not the place where people should be looking. Marvel and DC are both culpable for not having enough diverse creators at the helm of books where characters of diverse backgrounds could be served. For the record, let me say that this doesn’t mean and grab the first diverse person off the street. Readers still want them to get the best qualified creators because there is a lot of talent out there. The question is, when will Marvel and DC Comics actually make a concerted effort to bring in this talent?