I've previously written about my frustration with how Marvel cannot seem to navigate the world of marketing to women, complete with suggestions on how they can start. (And let me be fair, lest you think I'm picking on Marvel: DC has its own problems in this regard.)
And now, I'm once again tearing my hair out because, according to co-writer Roxane Gay and Jamie Broadnax's excellent reporting over at Black Girl Nerds, Marvel has apparently canceled the series Black Panther: World of Wakanda (by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Alitha Martinez, Afua Richardson and Robert Poggi).
Sadly, the series was cancelled but I hope to revisit the characters. https://t.co/7kieeBWdQy— roxane gay (@rgay) June 12, 2017
Now, this is frustrating on many levels. But I also want to be frank about something: I'm part of the reason this series failed. People like me are the reason that superhero comics, as a whole, are dying. Because I'm a trade waiter, buying in collected paperbacks rather than purchasing (or even better, preordering) individual issues as they release on a monthly basis.
It gets even worse: I understand the implications of my decisions. Comics fans, especially the bros the culture is so famous for, will explain condescendingly to newer readers why they must buy in single print issues (20–25 page floppies) rather than waiting for the nice, shelf-friendly, bookstore-friendly paperback form until they're red in the face. "It's all about the direct market," they'll say. While I'm not going to go into the specifics of it (because really, who cares?), I'll tell you about the important implications: Basically, trade sales do not matter. The success or failure of a series is often determined by preorder numbers for its first and second issues (World of Wakanda's first issue released in November 2016). By the time a series is getting to trade, its fate has usually been sealed.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda is a queer love story featuring two women of color, co-written by celebrated prose novelist and memoirist Roxane Gay. This series was tailor-made for newer, more casual fans of comics who are looking for an entry point into the medium. These fans don't buy in issues. While I've been to many comics shops that are incredibly friendly to newer and marginalized readers (Fantom Comics, I'm looking at you), even more of them are forbidding to anyone but a straight white male reader. If you are a reader of comics who doesn't fit that traditional stereotype, then you're going to read in the formats that are easiest to access: the trade paperbacks you can buy at your local bookstore or digitally, whether in issues or in trade.
Let's add to this that trades, as a format, are just easier to read for newer readers. Now, I've been reading comics for a long time, and I still think that's the case. When I read something, I want a full story. I don't like reading in issues. I prefer reading in trades. Sometimes I even wait until a full run has come to an end before diving in. It's just the way I prefer to read — all at once.
That's why I haven't picked up World of Wakanda yet: Because I was waiting for it to release in trade (it still hasn't: The first volume releases in bookstores at the end of June).
Yes, that's right: A series that is primarily aimed at a newer readership was canceled before it arrived in the format that these people actually read in. Let that sink in for a second.
Comics as an industry is booming. Graphic novels, and even independent series comics, are doing incredibly well. But superhero comics are struggling, and this is the primary reason why: They don't serve readers. They expect readers to serve them.
Canceling a series that is primarily aimed at women, LGBTQIA+ people and people of color before it hits trade is incredibly short-sighted. Expecting these readers to pick up a comic in issues because that's how the publisher wants them to read is just ridiculous. This comic shouldn't have even been released in issues; the entire first arc should have been released at once, as a graphic novel (but of course, Marvel makes more money off of print issue sales).
Let's add to that the fact that the stunning trailer for Black Panther just dropped. Why would you cancel a book that has so much promise with that on the horizon? World of Wakanda could be a great way to draw newer readers into the larger Marvel universe, with its diverse romantic love story. Why wouldn't you give that story the chance to blossom, to truly find its audience in trade sales?
Marvel has historically demonstrated an inability to convert its booming box-office success into comic sales. Why is that? Because of poor marketing and a lack of understanding of their audience. If people want to read in issues, that's okay! You absolutely should. But to punish readers — and marginalized creators, because it's the women, the PoC creators, the queer creators that are getting hit extra hard by this — for not reading the way Marvel wants them to, for not understanding how comics works, or for (like me) getting it, but choosing to read a certain way because that's simply how I prefer to spend my hard-earned money is so frustrating.
There should be more experimentation in what format Marvel publishes. If a comic is aimed at a newer, more diverse audience, then either put it out directly as a graphic novel or be willing to wait until trade sales come in to decide on the future of the series. So many great comics are canceled prematurely because Marvel just doesn't seem to understand — or care — about new audiences. And as long as that behavior continues, Marvel's sales will, sadly, not improve.
I love Marvel. I love superhero comics. I just really wish they loved me back.