Marvel’s Women and Diversity in Comics Problem: FemmeGeek of the Week

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This week’s femmegeek post was not intended to be about diversity in comics. Well, the idea of femmegeek is about diversity but not in the generalized sense. Then Marvel’s VP of Sales decided to blame women and diversity for the problems with the brand’s sales.

Lemme drop some knowledge about diversity in comics.

Femmegeeks of the binary women variety are not the unicorns people make them out to be. In 2014, The Atlantic ran a whole article on the female comic book reader. That same year, Comics Beat noted that 46.67% of comic fans are female, in a headline nonetheless. In 2015, Comixology ran a buy-one-get-one-free sale, and female superheroes dominated. According to the February numbers from Comichron, the only Marvel books in the top 20 were Star Wars Darth Maul 1, Star Wars 28, Amazing Spider-Man, and IVX 4 & 5. (For the records? Batwoman Rebirth 1 cam in at 21 and Wonder Woman at 22 and 26.)

Let’s chat, y’all.

Last year, at the same time, Marvel was dominating with Star Wars, Spider-Man, Deadpool Mercs for Money, Deadpool, Darth Vader, Power Man and Iron First, Amazing-Spider-Man, Spider-Man Deadpool, Old Man Logan, Invincible Iron Man, Obi-Wan and Anakin, Avengers Standoff Welcome, Might Thors, All New All Different Avengers. How many of these books had women (or people of color) as main characters?

Two.

Just two of those books had “diversity” as their gimmick.

How many of those books are still in the top 20?

Two.

This means that more than “diversity” is bringing sales down. So, let’s chat about what those numbers mean and why Marvel’s blaming women and diversity in comics not only acts as a cop out, but it’s the kind of thing any parent would remonstrate a child for doing. Marvel refuses to take responsibility for the writing and marketing problems plaguing their brand. They decided to blame it on the hegemonic, patriarchal, institutionally racist theory that their attempt at diversity failed because no one wanted it.

Let’s all say this together: BULLSHIT.

The numbers prove several things butnot about diversity in comics bringing down sales. They prove that women are out in force buying books. They also prove that in the last year, DC has done a phenomenal job of gaining market share to move up from a 20ish percent share to a 30something percent share in a year. Meanwhile, Marvel has lost about ten percent share in a year.

Things that make you go hmmmm.

The number of women buying comics remains approximately 45-50% of the population, if we’re looking at people who identify as binary. Fair enough. I’d be curious to know what the numbers would say if they looked outside that male-female gender distribution. However, that can be saved for another day.

Women didn’t stop buying comics. Women didn’t decide to ignore representation. Some of those stories just… they went bad. Giving me a female character just to “appease” me is like handing me McDonald’s and telling me it’s the same as a filet mignon because it’s beef. That isn’t true. We all know it.

Want to know the numbers that prove the theory of poor writing and derailed stories?

Old Man Logan. In February 2016, Old Man Logan, a much beloved white male character, ranked 15. In 2017, it ranked 44 and 45 respectively. That would be a drop of 30 spaces in the span of a year. That would be a lot of sales right there. None of them related to the idea of diversity in comics but all of them related to story and marketing.

Chatting numbers means chatting like Old Man Logan and giving actual demographics.

Want to look at the diverse stories? Guess what, they didn’t drop in sales exponentially because for the most part, Marvel didn’t write them in ways that would get them to the top twenty. However, sure, let’s take a look at the demographics for them anyway.

The 2016 Eisner awards were as follows:

Diversity in comics

Best New Series: Paper Girls. The word “girls” is in the title.

Best Reality-Based Work: March: Book Two This is about the civil rights march. This is the definition of racial diversity.

Best Digital/Webcomic: Bandette It’s about a female thief.

Best Academic/Scholarly Work: The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art.

Let’s take a long thing about what this says.

Marvel’s problem is not that it failed at diversity in comics. It’s that it failed at promoting good storytelling.

I’ve bought every female led Marvel book in the last year. I’ve watched as they’ve gone from some of my favorites to some of the ones I put to the side and wait to read until, well, meh.

Spider-Woman started out amazingly strong. The writing is still good, but the current love plot? Turned a bit trite to me. The “he loves her from a distance and then OMG she finds out and realizes she loves him too” trope was a bit much for me.

Spider-Gwen has been a bit repetitive in the last few issues. Although, I totally admit, I ship her and Miles for whoacakes.

Thor, I can’t talk to that one mainly because, while I buy it to support it, Thor ain’t my jam.

The best of the books out there from Marvel right now? World of Wakanda. You want diversity in comics? This is a book about a lesbian same-sex relationship that handles all of the guilt some people feel when trying to own a non-hegemonic sexuality. However, there’s been little to no promotion of this book. I only knew about it because I follow Twitter.

Ms. Marvel is a favorite, but the whole Kamala nearly getting her best friend killed and losing a main character led to a lot of weirdness in the story since he was so integral to the relationships. The issue isn’t the diversity in comics problem. It’s the plot not being linear because of the Civil War II tie in stuff that derailed the plot and character.

That brings us to the biggest problem Marvel faces. You want to know what killed Marvel’s sales? Civil War II. The convoluted plots and tie ins lost readers. In fact, by making Carol Danvers the de facto villain throughout that plotline, Marvel undermined one of its more powerful female characters. Marvel argues that it was diversity in comics that killed its sales? It was precisely the lack of diversity. Fans screamed in anger over the fridging of War  Machine, followed by the inconsistency of Captain Marvel’s response to his death. Marvel took one of the strongest female characters in its toolbox and turned her into a trite shrieking harpie over helicopter parenting. Marvel willfully continued down its path of plot-oriented sales demise.

Marvel’s marketing VP used the words “women” and “diversity” as an easy excuse. Marvel, in this case, decided to use those words to evoke a response of agreement from precisely the demographic that continues to harass women and people of color in the geek world. Marvel limited its shallow investment in the majority of these books to characters. Hoping for an easy payoff, they underestimated the diverse populations. They assumed that all we wanted were high level represenations. They ignored the fact that to keep a readership, the books much be, by definition, readable.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

Karen Walsh
Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. When Karen isn't teaching, she is a freelance writer who works for a variety of marketing clients focusing on a variety of topics, including InfoSec and parenting. Her geeky and parenting writing can be found at GeekMom. She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT. She can be reached on Twitter: @kvonhard and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeekyKaren/

4 COMMENTS

  1. “Then Marvel’s VP of Sales decided to blame women and diversity for the problems with the brand’s sales.”

    Actually, he didn’t. if you don’t know what you are talking about, don’t write about it, but of course, you wouldn’t get to throw out your opinions and agendas. Next time, read what he actually said.

  2. As far as Civil War II goes people need to stop pretending Bendis is a good writer and stop buying his crap.

  3. Browbeating their customers also didn’t help.

    “You don’t like the direction of the comic, that is because we put a female or PoC in place so you are sexist/racist/homophobic”

    No, it is because the storytelling is lacking and Marvel did a piss poor job in execution

    “Bigot”

    OK fine, excuse me while I drop Marvel titles and continue to enjoy the characters in Walking Dead, both comic and TV.

    “You dropped our comics because you don’t want diversity”

    What the? Have you looked at the characters in Walking Dea…ah forget it, I’m out of here.

    • Totally. Take out the analysis of the issues concerning the incredible drop of Old Man Logan, and you have even more issues with the writing and plots. I went into a further detailed discussion on some of that over here. http://bit.ly/2o24IRx

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