Marvel responds to their “diversity initiative” and current comic book sales slump

6 min read
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Marvel Comics 2017 (1)

For decades Marvel was known as the House of Ideas. Lately though? Those ideas seem to have run out, with the Disney-owned publisher pushing every single event it could think of out of the gate in at attempt to claw back some of the market share it lost to other rivals. So who’s to blame for the current slump then? You’d think with a multimedia juggernaut behind them that Marvel would be selling multiple runs of any comics with ease, but that’s not the case.

And it’s all the fault of diversity. At least that’s what Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel thought during an ICV2 interview at a Marvel Retailer Summit:

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.

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.

Yeah…no. Quick to do some damage control, Gabriel’s Marvel interview was updated with the following bit of fluff:

Marvel Comics 2017 (1)

Discussed candidly by some of the retailers at the summit, we heard that some were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes and, contrary to what some said about characters “not working,” the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes.

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! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. 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 of our core heroes.

You want to know what’s wrong with Marvel right now? It’s not new heroes hogging the spotlight, but a complete lack of direction right now. Marvel’s chucking everything at a wall and seeing what sticks, a move that has left fans broke, confused and angry. I like the new generation of heroes that Marvel has. Miss Marvel, Moon Girl and Miles Morales? Great characters among a class of the latest generation of heroes.

What I don’t like is a ham-fisted and inorganic reason for them to be in the spotlight while Marvel tries to sell you on how this month’s massive event will be the mini-series of the decade. Comic books are pricy these days, but when crossover events are forced in while a shrinking talent pool tries its best to make sense of it all? Sales are going to tank. There’s nothing wrong with what critics call the “Diversity Initiative”, if it’s handled correctly.

But it’s a message that is currently being lost between back to back events, stories being recycled yet again and the fact that the likes of DC, Image and Valiant are busy cranking out some of the best damn comic books right now. Even Ms. Marvel co-creator and writer G. Willow Wilson had a few ideas of how Marvel could actually produce some quality comic books again, as she detailed on her tumblr via io9:

Marvel Comics 2017 (2)

1. This is a personal opinion, but IMO launching a legacy character by killing off or humiliating the original character sets the legacy character up for failure. Who wants a legacy if the legacy is shitty?

2. Diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work. Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is *the world.*

3. Never try to be the next whoever. Be the first and only you. People smell BS a mile away.

4. The direct market and the book market have diverged. Never the twain shall meet. We need to accept this and move on, and market accordingly.

5. Not for nothing, but there is a direct correlation between the quote unquote “diverse” Big 2 properties that have done well (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Ms Marvel, Batgirl) and properties that have A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE. It’s not “diversity” that draws those elusive untapped audiences, it’s particularity. This is a vital distinction nobody seems to make. This goes back to authenticity and realism.

Marvel, are you listening to Wilson? She didn’t just raise one good point, she raised several. Hell, have a few more while we’re at it:

  • One first issue is enough. Stick with a number and roll on from there.
  • You want to do events? That’s cool. I want to breathe between them, because quality always trumps quantity.
  • If you’re replacing a character with someone else, at least build them up for a few years. Give your readers the chance to form an emotional attachment to new blood.
  • You’re Marvel Comics. You’re the house of ideas that gave me a Spider-Man to relate to and a Thunder God who was a better Superman than the Man of Steel himself. Find that magic again.
  • It’s time to find some new talent. There’s an entire online space full of artists and writers who are hungry to make their mark. Look at the love that DC got for re-energising Batgirl with the youthful talent of Babs Tarr for example.
  • Stop bloating the market. Focus on the best and build upwards from there.

While Marvel Comics will still continue to publish for the foreseeable future thanks to Disney owning more money than the Rockefellers right now, they’re going to need to do some serious work to rebottle the lightning that made them so formidable over the last couple of decades. The wolves are at the door and they’re hungry. Blaming diversity over far more evident problems isn’t the way to go about regaining lost ground.

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Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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