Marvel’s commitment to diversity has been under a microscope for months now ever since David Gabriel, SVP of sales and marketing for the publisher was quoted claiming that diverse books—those aimed at women, LGBTQ+ readers and POC—simply do not sell. Those comments nearly a year ago launched countless think pieces and counter-arguments as fans and critics, including us, rushed to point out that the real issue was in the marketing of those diverse books, not the audience.
Now, a year later, another series of events has compounded to force those questions once again.
The problems began more than a month ago when the publisher announced a series of titles that would be ending in early 2018. Among those cancellations: America, Iceman, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, Generation X, Hawkeye and She-Hulk. Every one of those series had either a woman, POC, or LGBTQ+ character in the lead (in America’s case, all three). This followed the cancellation of other female-led series earlier in the year, including Black Panther: World of Wakanda (nearly a full year before the very high profile film was to be released), Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat, and Mockingbird.
Marvel’s chief creative officer, Joe Quesada, was quick to allay concerns that the cancellation of those books was an indication that the company might be making a pointed attempt to cull their more diverse titles, tweeting, “If a comic finds an audience it will stick around regardless of the lead character or creator’s gender, ethnicity, sexual preference or identification. You can claim we were tone deaf but we PUBLISHED those books but you guys ultimately decide what survives.” (Emphasis his.)
Of course, there is a flaw in his argument, and it’s one we’ve discussed previously here on Fangrrls: you cannot market to diverse audiences the same way you market to your usual white, male audience. The comic book industry relies inordinately on direct sales (sales of individual issues through a comics retailer), which requires fans to do a great deal of the work themselves. These are audiences that have long been ostracized by the comics industry, as publishers have had a hard time depicting diverse characters, historically. New readers are less likely to read books individually (especially when they carry a hefty price tag), and much more likely to try something new once it has been released in trade paperback. These collected editions are easier to find, less expensive to purchase and allow readers to try out a full story before committing to something a bit more.
America Vol. 1 had only just been released when the publisher decided to pull the plug on the series starring a queer, Latinx superhero. Iceman Vol. 1 wasn’t released until a few weeks after its own cancellation was announced. Mockingbird and Black Panther: World of Wakanda met similar fates. These series barely had the chance to get off the ground before they were pulled.
While sales might not have been off the charts, they did fill a very important niche for the publisher, and one which was just about to get a massive boost in marketing. In January of 2018, GLAAD, the organization which monitors depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in media, announced the nominees for their 2018 awards. Three of Marvel’s books were nominated in the comics category—America, Iceman, and Black Panther: World of Wakanda—and every single one of them had been canceled.
This critical acclaim is likely to bring more readers to these books, especially given how LGBTQ+ audiences tend to flock to well-reviewed media featuring characters like them. And canceling quality series solely due to poor sales raises questions about how much the publisher might be struggling overall.
But the fallout from this latest string of cancellations doesn’t stop with some conspicuous award nominations. In early January 2018, the latest solicitations from the publisher revealed the unfortunate result of canceling diverse books. As part of his ongoing attempt to catalog the number of women and non-binary creators working at the major publishers, comics historian Tim Hanley pointed out that Marvel’s March books included a paltry 10 women/non-binary creators across their entire line up. We confirmed those numbers ourselves, just to be certain. Another frightening statistic: that’s down from 37 women/non-binary creators just one year ago, and that 10 is poised to shrink further as the final issues of She-Hulk and Hawkeye hit the stands.
Marvel may not be making these decisions as a pointed attempt to quell the number of diverse titles in their ranks, as their leadership has pointed out. These changes may be a result of replacements at the top of Marvel editorial — they recently hired a new editor-in-chief, who, it should be pointed out, had his own trouble regarding a pen name he had used previously. Whether these changes are intentional or not, the constant cancellation of diverse titles and a noticeable lack of diverse creators on any of the publisher’s main series certainly doesn’t point to a commitment to diversity on their part.
We reached out to Marvel for comment on these issues but did not hear back.