Marvel Comics, Diversity & Comic Book Shops: Who’s to Blame?

New York Comic Con is a great time for everyone to show their love of comics, merchandise and other things considered geeky. At Marvel comics’ retailer-only panel, writers and marketing employees gave a Q&A to the crowd, but things soon got out of hand. Why? Because Marvel comics don’t sell well.

A comic book shop owner described Marvel’s distribution issues with other retailers, and how the use of diversity in a majority of the Marvel comics have resulted in huge losses in their own stores. Videos and articles on the situation had surfaced previously, but this argument has been going on for a few years now.

This incident, in particular, had gotten so bad, that the iconic Stan Lee has appeared on Marvel’s YouTube page in response, with a message of positivity and equality to all, and to quell the arguments.

Although this has long been a debate that continues to spur up for Marvel, let’s take a look at opinions, business reports and other information on both sides of the battle.

Diversity is Not the Comics Kryptonite

One thing that has been a trend in the past few decades are crossover event comics. Marvel comics like “Secret Wars” or “Civil War” are huge expanded storylines that change the status quo of all characters affected and tend to stick in the overall continuity.

Many of these Marvel comics can prove massively entertaining for fans, while also creating tons of buzz, but have also proven to be excessive. It’s like someone having chocolate cake every day for the next few months; they would eventually get sick of it. Well, that’s exactly what Marvel and DC comics have been doing.

Event comics after event comics have made them less exciting, and perhaps, less engaging. Writers are put under pressure by juggling all of the world-building and expansions through multiple characters that may not end up working.

This is just one of the handful of problems that have correlated with these declining sales. A few others worth mentioning: less effort on Marvel’s part in the comic industry, the overall market for comic books is at its lowest, and boycotts on their comics.

One thing to also keep in mind is that several DC and Marvel comics with these “diverse characters” are selling fairly well for Marvel, so it’s not to say that they are all collecting dust somewhere.

Marvel’s Direction May Be Damaging

The idea that diversity is damaging Marvel’s sales is something that is not without evidence. For instance, Marvel’s vice president of sales, David Gabriel, does find the rhetoric to hold some correlation.

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” said Gabriel. “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.”

Of course, the company and Gabriel changed their tune when they realized what they had said, and made sure to let people know that some of the more popular, new characters are not going away, but there’s a distinct demand for established characters like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.

Diversity Puts Readers Off

But going back to the owner’s side of the story, several Reddit posts and articles on the subject always provide this example of how new readers are put off by Marvel’s comics: Person who has seen Marvel movies goes to store. They look at the comics books with Thor, who is a woman, or Spiderman, who is now a bi-racial kid. They leave, confused by the inconsistency of the two mediums.

And it wouldn’t be too bad if Marvel had not made it complex in selling comics to retailers, which include meeting requirements to get comics that retailers know people will buy. Tim Morris, the owner of one of the first comic book stores in Canada that have now closed down, blames Marvel for the failing sales in his comic book shop.

Here’s one reason given by Morris in an article by Dan Brown of The London Free Press:

“He’ll have customers come in the store fresh from the multiplex who are confused because they don’t understand why the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, is dead.”

Marvel Comics Endgame?

There might be a lot wrong with how Marvel comics are selling, but they are attempting to cater to all readers through new solutions. They are trying to bring back characters from their original legacy while establishing a diverse readership that can relate to some of their newer heroes.

What they are inherently shifting towards is not a bad thing, but they should be doing a lot more to make it better. Critics and fans alike tend to cite these purposely “diverse” characters as having terrible dialogue or an uninteresting development in their own comics.

Diversity is not bad, but when done wrong, it can look like a bunch of corporate suits pandering to specific target markets.

To recap, the internet arguments on the issue will continue as long as people have a reason to argue about the lackluster sales, but words like S9JW, bigotry, and racism should not be labels used in the argument. It only makes outsiders see the comic culture as another group of obsessive people who only want to “win” what appears to be a never-ending debate.

About Jarek Martinez

Born in Chicago, Illinois, a journalism major with plenty of hope for his future and career. Reporting and photography are improving every day, but writing is the passion. The drive. Avid movie watcher and media guy. Also minoring in legal studies and applying for paralegal certification. A big dog person as well.

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