Marvel VP Of Sales Blames Women And Diversity For Sales Slump

Marvel Comics aren't doing well. Sales have declined, even as Marvel has pushed out every major event and crossover it can over the past two years. In a recent interview during the Marvel Retailer Summit, Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel decided to ignore all the problems and criticism in order to place the blame on 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.

Gabriel later reached out to ICv2 and "clarified" his statement, adding that many of the individual characters like Miles Morales, Ms Marvel, Spider-Gwen and Moon Girl are popular, and won't be going away any time soon. It's also important to note that this was in response to retailer concerns presented at the first day of the summit, so some other issues may not have been discussed at that time. And it looks like, based on retailer discussions, those sales slumps had been increasing for a while, but were especially noticed as of spring 2016. Everything kind of came to a head, and Marvel's been focused on righting the sinking ship ever since.

That being said, Gabriel's point is bullshit, because it shelves blame onto the readers and blatantly ignores a lot of other reasons Marvel Comics are doing terribly. For example, the crazy over-abundance of events and crossovers. During the discussion, retailers pointed out during the summit that the number of Marvel events, and the fact that they overlap, make it hard for fans to focus. Right now, for instance, there's Secret Empire, which will bleed over with Generations, which starts this winter. In the past two years alone, there have been at least 12 events and crossovers. Events, in particular, have become more of a chore than a reward. There's little build-up or anticipation because you know another one's right around the corner. They also can completely screw over beloved characters for the sake of drama, like turning Captain America into a fascist as Sam Wilson has taken his mantle.

Marvel Is Resurrecting Wolverine And Bruce Banner In Marvel Generations

A month ago, Marvel sent its comics fans into a flurry of speculation when it dropped a teaser dubbed Generations, hinting that original legacy characters like Tony Stark, Jean Grey and Captain Mar-Vell could be coming back alongside the heroes that have taken on their mantles. Well, now they have just confirmed that indeed that's exactly what's happening.

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Then you have issue cost and audience retention. Nowadays, individual issues typically cost anywhere from $US3.99 ($5) to $US5.99 ($8) or more, making it harder for fans to want to buy -- especially if you're swapping out an established character for a version they aren't familiar with. While chatting with retailers, Gabriel actually boasted that their sales almost tripled when they upped the Spider-Man book from $US3.99 ($5) to $US9.99 ($13), even though it didn't bring in any new readers. It just made the current ones pay more money.

Finally, and this is a major one, there's the problem of talent management. There's been a steady decline in Marvel's talent pool, because of better offers and independent retailers. As one retailer points out, it's especially hard to keep talented writers and artists when they can make creator-owned books at publishers like Image. Not only does it give them more flexibility to tell the stories they want, but they also keep way more of the revenue. 

Shelving the blame onto diversity ignores all the aforementioned internal problems in favour of one they have no control over. In fact, one retailer pointed out that some of these diverse characters actually brought fresh faces into his store, including people who'd never thought about buying comic books before. "They do bring a different demographic, and I'm happy to see that money in my store," he said. Of course, he added that they're not bringing in the numbers that he'd like, but the fact that new characters enticed a new group of readers is not something to dismiss, just because they're not buying as much as the established fanbase yet. Cultivating a fanbase takes time.

However, I'm not going to thumb up my nose at some readers preferring their core characters over new ones. Some have grown up with certain versions of characters for years, and choose not to read books that don't follow that character's journey. This can be motivated by intolerance, wanting to keep the white male ideal intact, but other times it's not.

There's no doubt Marvel Comics have been on a steady decline for a while now. Their latest Generations event will put some of the classic (largely white and male) characters back into circulation, and they think this will solve the problem. While it may result in boosted sales, at least for a little while, it will come at a cost. It again bloats the market, which has been Marvel's biggest problem for a while, and it runs the risk of alienating newer fans who came in precisely because Marvel was taking risks. Bringing back older characters doesn't inspire confidence that Marvel cares about continuing the newer ones. Marvel Comics have a lot of problems. Diversity is just the easiest one to blame.



    What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity.

    Bullshit. What people don't want, is currently existing characters retrofitted to meet some sort of diversity checklist, which Marvels been doing the last few years to unbelievably limited success.

    Creating new characters however, new characters with a diverse range of cultures, sexualities, genders, traits and whatnot is fine and fans will endorse it. For example, what about recently, Ironheart? Awesome. Yes, female, black and an Ironman suit, but she's not merely 'a woman in a black woman in an Ironman suit', which originally was the intent, they keyed onto the idea that she had to be her own three dimensional character, renaming her Ironheart, making her an MIT genius who builds her own suit, by doing this, gives her three dimensionality and stops her being so limited.

    When they simply slap a different label on someone (X-23 as the new Wolverine), there's always the sense of 'the uncanny', where 'it's never quite right' and it never will be. Marvel can blame others all they want, but this is Marvels clusterfuck from the beginning. There's a correct way to do diversity and an incorrect way, the sad part is they've pretty much chosen the way so far that feels like diversity because it's fashionable, rather than diversity because it's *right*.

      Have all the upvotes. This mirrors most all complaints when it comes to diversity. Stop slapping a bandaid over it by taking existing iconic characters and turning them into women and start getting to work on new fiction.

      Last edited 03/04/17 10:33 am

      Exactly. Nobody really wins in this scenario.
      The char taking over is seen as a lesser version by some with an albatross around its neck, and a minority quota by others which makes them resentful cause the person they envision of that character has been taken away in some weird diversity play.
      But Marvel has ALWAYS been throwing shit (gimmicks) at the wall to see what sticks and learning wrong lessons by it.

        For me the reason why I can't get behind the changes is that a lot of it feels inorganic. There were a couple that feel good (Miles and Khan sp?), but over all Anad feels wrong. Worse yet there were story ends that were never explored that made people angry, like four years of waiting for how Odinson became unworthy.

        It isn't the community that is wrong, it is how Marvel has treated its community for pushing on ten years now and it has left us at a breaking point. You have to be fan boying pretty hard to give Marvel a free pass in the face of the growing indie scene and Rebirths really strong release schedule.

      Speaking of Ironheart, it's worth mentioning that unlike other recent female heroes like Gwenpool and Moon Girl she doesn't star in a series bearing her own name. She stars in a series titled Invincible Iron Man rather than Ironheart.

        A pretty big slap in the face to a great character right there.

      I don't think it is simply a case of having new characters take on the names of old characters though. That's been going on for almost as long as super hero comics have been a thing, and while there are often complaints at the time, it has resulted in a lot of successes. In some cases, the replacement character outshines the original.

      I think it is more a case of "too much, too fast". It's like they started with a good idea and took it to such an extreme that it turned off fans, similar to the glut of cross over events.

        Sometimes its worked because it's suited the character. Sam Wilson as Cap was a culturally poignant move and one to be commended on all levels. Others have just been on the nose, such as the afore mentioned x-23 or suddenly making Bobby Drake gay. Not exactly something that ever kept me up at night but it did reek of tokenism. It was just as bad at DC when they did the same with Alan Scott. Pure tokenism. Yet their Batwoman character presented a gay character and her lifestyle perfectly as she was designed wholly around it as a part of her not as a trait later retrofitted into her. It's a very fine line from what I can tell where respect becomes tokenism and both companies have done well and stumbled many times. However marvel pulling this rubbish is just ridiculous. They should own it.

        Last edited 04/04/17 5:07 pm

          I haven't read any of the X-23 as Wolverine comics so far (although with Marvel Unlimited, I'm sure I'll get around to it). My main point was that if some of these "diversity replacements" turn out good and some turn out bad, maybe the problem isn't with the concept of replacing a character, but with the execution. And with the sheer number of replacements/new characters Marvel pumped out, you're bound to get a dud.

          Now there are other problems that can happen with these sorts of replacements. In many cases, the character taking on the mantle of an established hero started out as a subordinate/sidekick character. In many cases they've spent years differentiating themselves from the original and growing into their own fully fleshed out character, so taking on the mantle of the original can be seen as erasing their own identity. In those cases, you might end up pissing off fans of both the original and new character.

      So spot on.

      Than can create all the black/hispanic/gay/trans characters they want.

      Just make new frikkin characters and stop shoehorning diversity into existing characters.

      What they did to fan favorites recently is an abomination. I mean.. If they had created brand new characters, in 10 years time we would look back at this era as a time defined by these characters. Much like the Xmen defined their era after the Avengers.

      Instead, it will just be a confusing mess.

      Last edited 04/04/17 1:40 am

      Well put. It's a very thin line to walk and I often find myself defending Marvel for decisions that I myself think are a bit weak just because the person criticising them clearly has an actual sexist or whatever chip on their shoulders, but this needed to be said.

    If you take a bunch of characters who are popular with comic book buyers, then replace the lot of them with new versions (diverse or not, I don't think that has much to do with it) then of course you're going to lose fans of the originals unless the new versions are so much better.

    Maybe people are just sick of their boring characters? I am a lifelong Marvel fan, but their characters are just so boring now.

    Maybe start by realising there doesn't always have to be an "event". Sometimes you should just focus on good stories.

      Exactly. Some of them won't even make any sense in a few years. Biggest offender is Magneto. His past is rooted in WW2 and the Holocaust. He will be a hundred years old in a decade. This is why legacy characters need to exist.

    People usually just want the characters they know and love. If you get something new AND it's awesome, then great, but diversity for diversity's sake is only ever going to appeal to certain minorities who identify with the character in question. Like @railx says above - focus on the good stories!

      The thing about diversity is that such characters are not meant to be enjoyed only by the minorities they represent but they are also meant to represent the minority in question to the majority/other minorities who know very little about the minority represented and need a positive role model to associate with them as opposed to the existing stereotypes and prejudice. For example, Riri is not meant to simply be some sort of avatar for female black women, she's also meant to make white males (or whatever other demographic) get used to the idea that a black female is a human being as deserving of respect and even admiration for anyone else.

    Neither woman or diversity pushed me away from Marvel Comics.

    The narratives and propaganda did a good enough job of that.

    If I wanted that I'd go read old golden age comics.

    BREAKING NEWS: Pandering to the 0.05% of your potential market will likely result in a net profit loss.

      BREAKING NEWS: Capitalism is based on selling the easiest thing to the masses.

    They should bring back the Ultimate universe, that was the best one.

      Ultimates was fun when Black Widow turned out to be a Russian spy (who knew?) but the ultimate u overseas wasn't doing so well. Only Miles Morales was popular enough to keep.

    I don't know that that's really true, but that's what we saw in sales.
    Doesn't this explicitly contradict the assertion made in the headline?

      No it doesn't, because it's how the VP chose to interpreted those loss in sales.

        It was a rhetorical question. He says that he does not believe that diversity is to blame - despite hearing that from other sources - and that what is to blame are the new ideas that Marvel tried that didn't resonate with their fans (presumably referring to the other issues mentioned in the article - crossovers/changes to characters' core motivations and ideologies like fascist Cpt. America, talent management etc). I don't know how it's possible to interpret that as him saying he thinks diversity is to blame.

          Yeah true, my bad. Turns out I may have skimmed this article a bit too quickly while at work...

          It's really easy to interpret that way if you've got a shitty agenda to push!

    I'd point at the fact that Marvel has done like 5 shitty events in a row that are confusing and poorly written as the real reason they're in trouble.

    The individual comics of the "diverse" characters (I hate that as a descriptor, makes it seem like a pejorative) have been really good. Ms Marvel, Thor, Falcon-as-Cap are all real good

    Also they made Steve Rogers a nazi.

      Worse yet on the event front, the major ones were all helmed or at least heavily assisted by one guy. I think maybe its time they bench Bhendis for a while.

        I think they just need to stop doing massive crossover events so frequently. Give a couple years breather with only mini crossovers or team books.

        Like, the Battleworld stuff had some good ideas and some dumb ones, but they really only rewarded people who were up-to-the-second current with the comics. Any casual fans or those looking to jump in were shit out of luck for a couple months, and probably either decided not to read comics or went and bought DC, where it's pretty easy to just go "OK Batman" or "OK I'll buy this one arc and won't worry about crossovers"

          Even if it were just one a year. Rather than one every couple of months.

    I did enjoy what they did with Thor though.

      I quite like what I've read of Mighty Thor and Ms Marvel. Same with Unstoppable Wasp.

      Both Mockingbird and Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat were great books that I was sad to see get cancelled.

      I also really like what they did with making X-23 the new Wolverine, but feel they kind of diluted that by bringing Old Man Logan into the main universe.

      Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is probably my #1 fave book from Marvel at the moment. I'm also really enjoying reading Unbelievable Gwenpool. It's such a fun and funny book with great art.

      Both current Thor publications are pretty neat. I just personally like Unworthy more because of how long it took to essentially complete the loose thread from Original Sin, thankfully its all over now.

    There are too many characters in general, including on the side of DC plus everyone else.

    "We want more women and black people!"
    "Ok, we replaced all our characters with women and black people, will you buy our comics now?"
    "New phone who dis?"

    It's all going to be ok, they will reboot the reboot of the reboot of the spin off of the reboot of spider man, but make it black lesbian spider gender identity crisis person and all will be ok.

    The reason I stopped reading Marvel recently is because all my favourite story lines were constantly getting derailed by crossover events. End of story. Had nothing to do with diversity.

    Fucking crossovers is what's killing Marvel, fuck off with 4 of those every year.

    I'm a white dude in my 30s who has been reading comics my whole life and I dig on the new Thor and the new Ms Marvel because they're well written. The totally awesome hulk or whatever it is called isn't, and I dropped Champions because it's about diverse teens fighting against buzzwords. Marvel trying to make the Inhumans the new Xmen because they still have the film rights hasn't worked either. But I mean when has Marvel or DC ever published more than like 2 good titles and a bunch of garbage with iconic characters on the cover? Nothing has changed in that regard.

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