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Marvel Exec Blames Low Comic Sales on Diversity and Female Characters

Sigh. Over the weekend, an interview with Marvel’s VP of Sales, David Gabriel, was released. In the interview, Gabriel discusses the decline of comic sales and the reasons he thinks those sales are down. Originally posted by ICv2, it only takes three questions for Gabriel to land himself in hot water. The direct quote from the article is as follows (bold emphasis mine):

“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.”

Gabriel had to issue a clarifying statement (I’ll let you read it over at ICv2), although he didn’t really apologize or retract his statements regarding diversity and female characters, nor did he offer hard figures to support his claims. io9 posted a reaction article that rightly asserts that Gabriel is dumping the blame on readers instead of on the glut of cross-overs, wars, and other crazy nonsense like Captain America turning fascist for Hydra. I think it is important to see what our fellow geek news sites are saying about this statement, because it honestly is a Big Deal in terms of comics, the initiative to include anything other than straight white male characters in comics, and the vocal minority that is MRA comic fans. Even if the loudmouths who requested that Marvel stop with the diversity already that don’t identify as MRAs are basically championing that line of thinking by whining about diversity. Gabriel did not offer a source for his statements, so we can’t be sure where that ‘data’ came from, anyway. He could have entirely made it up based on a few conversations! The point is, we don’t know.

Nerdist’s Kelly Kanayama also decries Gabriel’s assertion as nonsense in her article about his statements, and basically every other comic-focused site out there is calling bullshit as well. I admire the power of fans and the Internet here to immediately take a prominent executive to task, especially an exec that doesn’t really have his facts straight. Call it real-time verification of alternative facts. Comic Book Resources hit back hard with a listing of the top comics of 2016 – Black Panther leads the pack, followed immediately by The Mighty Thor, which features Jane Foster as the Goddess of Thunder.

I can’t help but wonder what immensely talented feminist author Roxane Gay thinks of all this – she was tapped by Marvel to write World of Wakanda last year. She made history as the first black woman to write for Marvel, and no lie, it really did take until the year of our lord 2016 for Marvel to hire a black female writer. Completely unacceptable, of course, but I doubt that black women everywhere were surprised. However, I can’t presume to speak for black women, unlike David Gabriel, because he just spoke for every women and minority out there buying comics – and therein lies the problem. Once again, a white male executive sees fit to blame lack of sales on a demographic, specifically a female or minority demographic. It reminds me of when film execs were shocked that 2011’s Bridesmaids, a film written by and starring women, did so well in theaters. Women go to the movies? Women enjoy funny films? You don’t say!

As pointed out elsewhere, Marvel’s talent pool has also been shrinking as writers and artists take their skills elsewhere for more creative freedom and better pay. It is not shocking – Marvel probably thinks it can get away with lower salaries across the board because of the prestigious name, but after a while that tactic is going to backfire. Who wouldn’t want more creative freedom and more money to do so? Just a guess, but if you are a woman working at Marvel right now or someone who falls into a diversity category, you aren’t going to be real pleased at Gabriel’s statements.

Judging by the attendance at diversity-in-comics panels at conventions the world over, readership of comics considered ‘diverse’ doesn’t seem to be the problem here. Killing the same superhero over and over and bringing him back from the dead over and over might just fatigue readers and lose fans. This doesn’t just apply to comic books, but also comic movies. We all collectively groaned when we heard in 2012 that we had to sit through yet another Spiderman origin story where Uncle Ben dies and Peter Parker gets all emo about it. I can’t say that I’m excited to watch Peter Parker be all emo again in 2017, despite the presence of Robert Downey Jr., because I legit Do. Not. Care.

Jane Foster as Thor, goddess of thunder? Sign me up for that! Marvel needs to give readers and viewers something to look forward to that isn’t the same-old status quo filled with interminable punching as city blocks are torn up by CGI monsters, and it has proved itself perfectly capable of doing so with smaller-budget, made-for Netflix outings Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Why did these heroes get the small screen treatment instead of a feature film? I’ll let you ponder that one over.

If you wish to tweet your thoughts on this subject at Marvel, two of their twitter accounts are @Marvel and @MarvelStudios. If you want to tell me I’m an overdramatic SJW fem-nazi, my twitter is @lightstar1013.

Sources: ICv2, Nerdist, Entertainment Weekly, io9

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Amy Imhoff

Amy Imhoff is a writer and editor who blogs at Shoes and Starships, a geek lifestyle blog that specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, travel, fashion, and feminism. She is a featured convention panelist, podcast contributor, and interviewer. Amy has her masters in literature, enjoys a slightly unhealthy obsession with all things British, and likes to sniff old books. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her freaking out about X-Files and Star Trek @lightstar1013

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