On diversity and superheroes

Over the weekend, some comments made at a sales conference by Marvel Comics's Senior VP of Sales, David Gabriel, set the internet on fire. Gabriel was referring to a recent sales slump for Marvel books, and he seemed to place the entire blame for the slump on Marvel's attempts at diversity:

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.

This is dumb. While it's true that Marvel has been diversifying their line lately, it's important to note that at least half the new "diverse" characters were written by the same middle-aged white men who have been writing Marvel Comics for the last 15 years or so. It's also important to note that Marvel didn't actively try to create a larger, more diverse audience for their comics: they continued marketing and selling to the same crowd of middle-aged men who've been buying their comics the whole time.

But you don't need me to dissemble Gabriel's moronic statements. Seattle writer G. Willow Wilson, who writes Ms. Marvel for Marvel Comics, has published a blog post on the subject. Ms. Marvel is one of Marvel Comics' only breakout new characters of the past decade. Wilson has helped create a diversity success story in exactly the way you should: by bringing more people into the tent. Here's a piece of the post:

2. I will tell you exactly why Ms Marvel works: it didn’t set out to be Ms Marvel. We were originally going to pitch it as a 10 issue limited series. I had a 3 issue exit strategy because I assumed we were going to get canned. There was no “diversity initiative” anywhere–getting that thing made at all was a struggle. It was a given that any character without AT LEAST a 20-year history would tank. Everybody, myself included, assumed this series was going to work out the same way.

3. That freed us–by “us” I mean the whole creative team–to tell exactly the story we wanted to tell. We had nothing to lose, nothing to overcome but low expectations. That gave us room to break a lot of rules.

But you should read the whole thing. Wilson, by the way, will be interviewing cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks onstage at the Elliott Bay Book Company tomorrow night at 7 pm. (Hicks is the author of the excellent Nameless City trilogy, which I reviewed last week.) That reading is free.