Op-ed: Dear Marvel, Please Don’t Blame Your Sales Slump on Diversity

Op-ed: Dear Marvel, Please Don’t Blame Your Sales Slump on Diversity

Published April 13, 2017

Marvel, please don’t blame your sale issues on diversity. It’s not a good look. Your inclusion of diverse characters is something to be applauded. You’ve created many amazing stories, including characters like Storm, Black Panther and Ms. Marvel. That’s why it’s baffling to see you blaming your push for diversity as the cause for a sales slump, especially since it’s untrue.  

I’ve been reading comic books for about ten years now. I still remember the first book I picked up, it was a copy of New Avengers written by Brian Michael Bendis. Now, I never really considered reading comics, or thought of it as something to spend most of my money on. But something about that cover made me stop. I grew up a Spider-Man fan, as a nerdy kid who didn’t fit in, he was so relatable. But in the back of my mind I always wanted a hero I could connect with more, someone who looked like me, someone who could represent me. The New Avengers cover featured a group of superheroes all in colorful costumes. I could only recognize Wolverine and Spider-Man from the bunch, but one character stood out to me. It was a black guy, standing in plain clothes next to all the costumed heroes. He wasn’t dressed like the rest of the characters, but he belonged. You could just tell. That character ended up being Luke Cage (who had a Netflix series last year) and he’s the reason for my obsession with comic books.

  1. (Photo: Marvel)

    Without seeing Luke Cage on that cover, I may have never started reading. I probably would have saved myself a lot of money too. Seeing characters of different races, representations, sexes, orientations and more brings people in. It brings readers in. That’s why diversity is so important; it lets the reader see themselves in the hero. That’s also why it is so troubling to read your vice president, David Gabriel, say, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.” In his defense, he later went on to clarify he only heard this from a few retailers and he didn’t have the evidence to back up the claim.

    The problem is that this was the message that stuck with Gabriel. This was his go-to response for why Marvel’s sales have lowered. And it’s dismissive to the characters and people who want to be included. Are you saying the push for diversity was purely for monetary value? Because isn’t it Marvel's thing to have relatable, human characters?

  2. (Photo: Marvel)

    But let's start at the basic point, diversity is the not the cause for Marvel’s low comic sales. Marvel, you’ve been struggling in recent months; falling behind in your sales and generally losing out to DC comics. According to Diamond Comics, in the month of March, Marvel only sold three out of the top ten comics. Unfortunately, Marvel you’ve been on a steep decline since your “Secret War” event in 2015. You took this opportunity and created a new push to sell comics. You called it “All-New All-Different,” a reference to some of your older, more famous books. You used this packaging as a way to bring in new readers, claiming you were pushing for fresh stories with new characters. And you didn’t really do it. It was mostly the same creators working on the same characters in the same storylines. Stories carried over, leaving new readers confused and not sure where to start. Especially since most of the new issues start at No. 1.

    Another issue is constant events; it’s giving readers fatigue, dragging stories away from their self-contained nature and putting them into events you won’t understand unless you buy five more books. Readers don’t want to be rushed or forced to buy another book. They want to experience the stories for what they are and, if sold correctly, they can be enjoyed.

    The readers need something familiar to come back to, and we can use this familiarity to introduce new characters. Marvel, you have the ability with your characters to make them relatable. That’s why they feel like people. And in the past, you were able to get away with your characters looking the same, but that’s simply not the environment we live in anymore. The readership has changed and the characters have to change too.

    These are some of the reasons you’re falling behind. It’s not diversity. The highest-selling comic of last year was Black Panther, written by Ta Nehisi Coates. This, along with Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor and the Miles Morales-led Spider-Man book have remained consistent sellers. People want these stories because they're different, they're all-new. We’ve gotten bored of the same stories with the same heroes. This doesn’t mean you have to completely step away, but given the option and attention, I think that it provides a wonderful path to new stories.

    Look at Ms. Marvel, she’s become a symbol for Muslim Americans. She’s one of my favorite characters, and I’m neither a woman nor Muslim. I enjoy her because her stories are interesting; she’s an amazing character who can help me understand an environment that I’m not familiar with. America, a new book starring a young Latino lesbian, and the new Iron Man showcasing a young woman from Chicago are each characters who feel like people, all of them important in their own right. Just because I don’t look like these characters doesn’t mean I can’t relate. But it lets someone who is just getting into the hobby find somebody that looks like them, and they can relate on an even deeper level, like I did with Luke Cage.

  3. (Photo: Marvel)

    What has made you so great in the past is your wonderful universe filled with rich characters. We were able to see good, character-focused series that told memorable stories. They stuck with you, made you think, forcing you to connect with those characters. Let's take a breath, calm down with the relaunches, the events, the crossovers...enough. You need to look at what made your recent books so popular (Hawkeye, The Vision, Ms. Marvel, etc.). They were stories told by creators who understood the characters. They were allowed to breathe and tell the stories they wanted to tell. And we need more of that. We want more of that.

    Marvel, we need you to not take away the diversity you include in your content. It’s great and I hope you continue this inclusion. But you cannot look at it as a cash grab or business opportunity. If you have diversity for diversity's sake it will come off as pandering and the message (if any) will be lost. Hire more diverse writers, look at the Ms. Marvel and Black Panther books. Both have creators of color and both are praised for their writing. Include more people, more writers, more artists, less events and cash grabs. Look at yourself and identify the problem. Don’t look outward and blame diversity as the cause (especially since it’s untrue).

    Also, make your comics cheaper. That’s not helping.

Written by Cory Bishop

(Photo: Netflix)

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