On August 4, an editorial called “Why I’m Boycotting Marvel Comics” by columnist J.A. Micheline was released on Comics Alliance, and the comic book industry was hit right between the eyes by its detailed accounts of deficiencies from Marvel Comics on subjects including diversity of character sexuality, lack of diversity in the writers’ pool, and a dismissal of harsh criticism in the wake of a company initiative involving the perceived exploitation of the hip-hop music industry.
Above and beyond the astute observations made in the editorial, the move was a personal act of protest.
It made me think about a question I’ve asked myself a number of times:
“Can mass protests work in the comic book industry?”
DC Comics did, as far as I could tell and I’ve received no information to the contrary, nothing to commemorate this seminal event in comics, which would later make impact in the animation industry and global pop culture as a whole.
In the wake of that, I could not let that pass. I could not rationalize spending money on a company that disrespected the Milestone founders, its employees, creators, and fans in such a profound way, in a decade where diversity was, as it continues to be, a subject of much heated debate.
So I stopped buying DC Comics, with only one exception so I could be informed when I wrote a column on Brian Azzarello’s mischaracterization of DC Comics’ Mister Terrific character in their “Futures End” weekly series.
Otherwise, the company did not receive my money, and I rerouted it to companies such as Valiant Entertainment and Image Comics.
I was proud of myself for taking that stand, and I shared the knowledge of my acts with friends, allies, and business associates.
However, for various business reasons, I did not go public with the decision.
In that way, I did not show the public courage and conviction that Micheline did by her declaration.
The first revealed a lineup of creators that included more than a handful of friends of mine, and I was conflicted. By standing my ground, I fail to support them with money/sales, thus helping to further solidify their positioning in the industry.
So after publicly soliciting advice by way of social media, I chose to buy the books my friends worked on.
The second revealed the hiring of three writers of color, one of whom was Black, two of whom were friends. This was something I could not ignore.
It was after I ended the boycott that I spoke about it publicly.
I look at the comic book industry, and while I have talked in private and on at least one podcast about how a mass public boycott would get Marvel and DC Comics to sit up and take notice, while I have spoken with people on social media about the idea of a mass public boycott, I don’t think it could happen.
Because the consumers do not consider the comic book industry landscape to be one of considerable impact, the way they see the real world. They see the comic book industry as a source of entertainment, and nothing more.
They will consider the lack of diversity a damn shame, and buy “Iron Man” the next week, and “Batman” the following week.
They have no idea how each industry is inextricably connected to the future of wealth distribution and disparity in this nation.
Their apathy is their shield against the burden of knowledge.
Marvel and DC Comics know this.
They also know that revolutions take time, the significant amount of sales shifting to significantly affect their market share takes time, and they come up with strategies to offset mass sales attrition.
The fans fall for those strategies, every time.
So Marvel and DC Comics are operating with the luxury of hubris.
Because of that hubris, they have incorrectly categorized their titles in this industry. They fashion themselves as leaders, and neither company is that.
Marvel and DC Comics are the managers of this industry, the ones with the biggest muscles and nicest clothes and largest war chests.
Leaders bring about great change with an ethos that serves the common good, sometimes with sacrifice.
They earn the belief of the intelligent masses, the ones with the capacity to analyze their actions and true intent.
Leaders “change the course of mighty rivers” and engage their “great responsibility.”
Marvel and DC Comics have a charge: the sustention and growth of a collection fiction that inspires us toward better ideals.
This is their charge, because comic books have been the refuge from a deteriorating society for decades.
Soldiers at war, their children, the oppressed, the marginalized, young, old, and in-between, all have read and read comic books because this world is sometimes quite horrifying.
I see Black people getting killed with a frequency and commonality of means in America, to the point where I fear the term “genocide” will soon not be hyperbole, to the point where I feel guilty for not being able to keep up with all of the victims and the developments involving the victims.
The way this nation in its various business sectors treats people of color, women, LGBT persons, the disabled, while supposed leaders trying to get into the Oval Office spout their rhetoric and bile on their podiums, is disgusting.
So our fiction, the stories and mythologies we consume and create, are the landscapes of higher ideals, and messages both subtle and direct.
It is on those fertile grounds where we plant and nurture our hope for a better world.
It is on that ground where great writers, editors and artists, planted their flags, weaved great stories and passed away beyond the veil. Too many names to remember, but Mike Wieringo, Archie Goodwin, Dick Giordano and Robert Washington III immediately come to mind, as does Dwayne McDuffie, whom I cared for deeply but hesitate to mention because I feel his shoulders have carried so much of a burden in the afterlife as a reference point for the accomplishments and inequities of this industry of comic books.
So when Marvel and DC Comics fail to adequately design and nurture the better world, they fail to lead.
I will no longer consider either company to be a leader in this industry.
I see their strategies, and although some are good and successfully speak to the narrative of a better, more diverse and accepting world, there is still much work to be done.
I recognize that both companies have parent companies, neither of which may care about the responsibility to create the better world, and that makes things complicated sometimes.
We mistakenly give ownership of this industry to its managers.
I choose to no longer do so.
This is my comic book industry.
That statement applies to every decent person who contributes to the financial ebb and flow of the business.
The hierarchies of today are directly connected, and indebted, to my actions and purchases, and the same of everyone who spent money on the books and characters through the decades.
My comic book industry is better than the excuses of the publishers, better than their lip service, better than their half-measures.
Decide what your comic book industry looks like, envision its architecture and moral guidelines, and hold the publishers accountable.
There are a number of ways to do this.
J.A. Micheline chose one.
Choose yours, and stick with it.
You can Black Bolt this industry, with a wide loud blast, or you can Karnak it, and strike at its pressure points.
You can Superman this industry, and hit it with heat vision and a hard punch, or you can Batman it, and find out how it works, and how to affect its superstructure.
I can assure you that Marvel and DC Comics are already upping their games because of the actions of various parties and groups, some of which include you.
Respond appropriately, to their present and upcoming successes and their failings.
Force them to lead.
Force them to give you a better, inspiring world.
Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.
Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.
His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.
Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.
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