Comic-book fans aren’t to be messed with. Marvel learned this the hard way each time sales dropped as superheroes were made more diverse. The legendary comic company introduced a queer Latina Miss America, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a biracial Spider-Man, the Occupy Avengers, a female Thor, and a black teen female Iron Man. It didn’t go over well.
“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,” Marvel’s David Gabriel said.
At October’s Comic Con in New York, Marvel was confronted by comic book retailers who blamed the diversity push for killing sales. According to Market Watch, “The meeting quickly got ugly and Marvel shut it down.”
But the numbers don’t lie, as Market Watch’s report points out:
Last year, sales growth of comic books, graphic novels and digital offerings cooled off to 5.3% as revenue hit $1.08 billion, says ICv2. That was significantly lower than the 9.9% annual average growth during 2010-2015…
This year could be even worse. ICv2 President Milton Griepp says comic-book store sales fell 10.5% in the first nine months of this year compared with the same time in 2016.
True comic fans say they aren’t necessarily opposed to a diverse Marvel or DC universe. What bugs them most is that the classic characters that they grew up with are now suddenly female, homosexual, or a minority.
“We just want our old characters back,” a comic book vlogger said. “Give us all of them back. Your sales are pathetic.”
The author of the Encyclopedia of Black Comics, Sheena Howard, said, “People have an attachment to these characters. They don’t like to see their superheroes change colors. They feel like it is gimmicky, and it is.”
Marvel has said in the past that it’s sticking to its guns and that their diverse range of characters aren’t going anywhere. However, the company just announced what one comic blogger called a “cancelation bloodbath:”
Books receiving their notice included Generation X, Gwenpool, Luke Cage, Iceman, Hawkeye, and America. For me, as I began to see the scale of books affected, one thing grew disturbingly clear: all the titles involved diversity and representation, either in the characters featured within (nearly all including leads that were female, people of colour, or LGBTQ+) or in the form of the creator voices involved (again, largely women, people of colour, and/or LGBTQ+).
One comic fan, George Gamble, commented on Market Watch’s story: “The problem is not with diversity. Readers have no problem forming attachments to new characters. Just look at the popularity of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones or Michone on the Walking Dead. What readers have a problem with is changing the characters they have come to cherish. Are publishers so bereft of new ideas that they have to turn Thor into a woman and Spiderman into an Afro-Latino? Can't they actually create new stories and concepts? It’s ok to keep the white characters while bringing in new diverse characters with interesting story lines.”
This fallout over too much diversity goes well beyond Marvel and will affect its parent company Disney, which has released three new Star Wars films with a very different looking galaxy far, far away than we’re used to. But investors will be watching these down trends closely and decide if they really want Marvel, DC, or even Netflix to have access to their money.