Marvel sales did an abrupt about-face over the weekend. On the same day that Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso was profiled in Fortune for championing diversity in comics, Marvel sales VP David Gabriel decided to blame diversity for Marvel’s flagging sales numbers. In regards to diversity, Gabriel had the following to say.
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 later walked back his comments on Marvel sales, clarifying that Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and Moon Girl are all popular characters. Still, this reeks to me. It feels very similar to DC You, where DC attempted to do diversity in comics and then pulled out less than a year later.
It seems to me that Marvel sales wants the pat on the back and to be able to tout their diversity to mainstream media without actually committing to pushing unknown characters and giving them time to grow. This already seems to have been confirmed, as Marvel just announced the Marvel Generations crossover that will bring back all the legacy characters that have been incapacitated recently, such as Hulk, Wolverine, and Iron Man.
As a comic writer (but not a big comic reader) I find this pretty amusing. Marvel sales needs to do what it needs to do, but it seems that a sales executive commenting on the viability of a PR initiative is a stupid move that makes Marvel look like its unwilling to put its money where its mouth is.
That being said, the demographics of comic book readers suggest that men and women are relatively equal in reading comics. Maybe instead of tokenizing diversity, Marvel needs to do a better job in telling complete stories and not running crossovers every sales quarter. If they were to focus on creating fully-realized characters who aren’t beholden to Marvel sales, then maybe they will see readership go up. This happened with previous series that told great stories like Hawkeye and Vision, and I don’t see why it can’t continue to happen.