WonderCon 2017 & Marvel Comics’ Diversity Disaster & Damage Control

WonderCon 2017 & Marvel Comics’ Diversity Disaster & Damage Control

Fortune magazine did a profiled of Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Axel Alonso which in part praised his efforts to diversify his comics line.

      In an industry historically dominated by caucasian males, Alonso is breaking the laminated seal of stodgy tradition by adding people of every ilk to the brand’s roster of writers and dramatis personae. Under his watch, the Marvel universe has expanded to accommodate costumed crimefighters of myriad ethnicities: a biracial Spider-Man, a black Captain America, a Mexican-American Ghost Rider, to name a few. Last year he hired the company’s first ever black female writers.

At the same time ICv2 had an extensive interview with Marvel’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Gabriel where he candidly discussed a recent sales slump for Marvel’s comics side as follows.

      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.

This caused quite a social media stir after Bleeding Cool started running several pieces splicing Gabriel’s comments from the 3-part ICv2 interview into features focusing on David Gabriel’s lamenting the sales challenges of its recent diversity drive.

To cap the day off, David Gabriel started sending a statement across to several sites clarifying his interview remarks; more like a complete u-turn actually.

      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.

My view has always been that readers go to the Big Two, Marvel and DC Comics, for their recognizable icons and derivative properties, e.g. the Superman icon and the derivative Supergirl series, etc. Net new concepts have not had recent success; the last one I can think of is Deadpool for Marvel who debuted over 25 years ago, but only became a hot property over the last decade.

Sales bear this out as they are not good at Marvel and DC for net new concepts. It wasn’t solely due to creative execution, but also the creative idea or premise too.

Readers prefer to go to the indies for net new concepts if that is where their tastes lie.

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