April 6, 2017

With sales down, Marvel blames diversity


Hello, Marvel. I am not a white man but I have been enjoying your characters and storylines… until now.

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” David Gabriel, Marvel’s vice president of sales, told Milton Griepp at the online trade magazine ICv2, while speaking at the Marvel Retailer Summit last week.

“They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”

This comes on the back of the news that Marvel’s sales have slumped since October 2016.

He went on to say, “I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales… 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.”

Thank you for clarifying female Marvel fans looking for a bit of representation are not very important, Marvel. Should I just sshhhhh now and just watch the billionth reincarnation of Spiderman? Which is what I really wanted, isn’t it?

Marvel has made efforts to include racially diverse characters and more female heroes in its comics over the past few years — Jane Foster became the new, female Thor, black teenager Riri Williams picked up the Iron Man storyline, and a teenage Muslim girl was named Ms. Marvel.

Gabriel’s backtracking on Marvel’s diversification did not sit well with some fans, as the Guardian’s Sian Cain and the BBC have reported. Twitter has been full of comments the slam not the new characters Marvel has been launching, but their constant recycling of old storylines, insistence on messing with favourite characters, and high prices.

There has, however, been some criticism by fans that many of the new characters are not truly “diverse” — just new rehashes of old characters.

Sam Thielman at the Guardian has been quick to point out that creating alternative versions of characters in comics is in fact an old trick, not a new one: “But anybody complaining that a favorite character suddenly has a new race or gender must have started reading comics yesterday, because for as long as there have been comic books and black people, white superheroes from Spider-Man to Green Lantern have existed as women or people of color in alternative timelines, as the result of a magic spell, or in the far future.”

The day after his interview, Gabriel reached out to Griepp to further explain his comments:

“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.”

But the damage has been done. To blame a sales slump on diversity in Marvel’s output seems naïve when there are so many other possible explanations. Following Gabriel’s statement, blogger Charles Paul Hoffman did some research into Marvel’s publishing and sales figures over the last couple of years, and made some suggestions at Comic Book Resources:

Having dug into the data, it’s become clear that diversity is not hurting Marvel. The truth is, Marvel’s “diverse” titles actually sell decently. The problem, instead, appears to be a hollowing-out of Marvel’s traditional A-List, titles whose sales have dropped by tens of thousands of copies in the past few years.

There are many potential explanations for why Marvel’s sales have declined since [2015’s] “Secret Wars”—the decision to relaunch titles that were already selling well, a weak slate of new series, reader fatigue with the seemingly unending string of events and crossovers, a desire for more escapist stories at a time when Marvel was prepping for an event about fascism, steep competition from DC’s Rebirth relaunch, poor marketing outside of the direct market, etc.—-but the publisher’s current focus with “diversity” is not among them.

Be careful not to isolate your slumping readership, Marvel. This fan over here is getting wary.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.