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Marvel Heroes, Image Creators and the Measures of Diversity

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Marvel Heroes, Image Creators and the Measures of Diversity

When I was a kid, my dad was all about the New York Mets, “The Benny Hill Show,” and loving my mother with all of his heart, but he was not always around.

During the times he was around, not much of that was spent talking about comic books, because he was more into The New York Mets and “The Benny Hill Show.”

He only liked one superhero, to my knowledge.

Deathlok.

A Marvel super hero.

I was into Marvel and DC Comics equally, but my dad was only interested in soldiers, Native Americans, cowboys, and Deathlok.

The X-Men became my favorite superhero team around the same time my dad died.

I was 11 years-old.

No siblings.

I grew up looking for a big brother, and reading comic books.

Mostly Marvel.

They were better, after all.

Marvel Comics were an indelible part of my adolescence, in the days when being a nerd was not cool and (as a handful of friends told me more than once) adversely affected chances of attracting girls with whom I wanted to have intimate relations, so I would hide comic books in my schoolbooks while riding the train from Brooklyn, NY to Manhattan, and back.

Marvel Comics were with me through the formative years and a Marvel hero captured my dad’s attention.

So when I tell you Marvel Comics holds a special place in my heart, it’s the truth.

Every Wednesday, barring a holiday or disaster, is new comic book day in America.

On Wednesday, July 1, various online outlets reported the next big piece of news from Marvel Comics.

OFFICIAL: Marvel Releases “All-New, All-Different” Artwork, Creative Teams

After the sales-shattering “Secret Wars” event, Marvel will release 45 new titles in October, each launching with a first issue, refreshed characters and teams, and new creative teams.

Similar in scope to the 2011 “New 52” initiative of their competitor DC Comics, Marvel is inviting everyone to engage their fictional universe with open minds and open wallets.

In addition to the online announcements, Marvel Comics had a printed preview book in comic book stores on the same day, the day fans go to get their new comics, thus guaranteeing themselves a real-world audience of both die-hard fans and new store visitors.

Marvel Comics is exemplary in their execution of strategies for audience location and engagement. It’s one of the reasons the company is the number one American superhero comic book publisher.

But I was disappointed.

45 new titles.

15 of them, at the very least, have characters of color, which is cool. That’s a 33% presence of color in their new initiative.

To be fair, Marvel Comics has been good with character diversity for decades, so I expected no less.

However, I only recognized one name as a writer of color.

That’s 1 out of 45 new titles written by a person of color, which is almost a 2% presence.

Two.

Percent.

One day after the Marvel relaunch news, The Hollywood Reporter posted a feature on their website about this year’s Image Expo, run by “The Walking Dead” publisher Image Comics.

Image Comics announced 21 new titles, all of which are creator-owned.

GALLERY: Preview Every New Series Announced at Image Expo 2015

At least two of those titles are written by creators of color.

That’s practically a 10% presence.

It’s something else, as well.

Image Comics is the #3 publisher in the American comic book business, and even though the company is 23 years old and, in May of this year, commanded a market share that was close to 25% of Marvel Comics’ market share, they have the desire and wherewithal to being more writers of color to the playing field.

One could say that the determining factor is that Image publishes creator-owned books, so writers of color, who have been (and continue to be) marginalized in the mainstream circles of the comic book business would rather do their own concepts instead of Marvel intellectual properties.

But would that be entirely true?

Marvel Comics has made an indelible mark in the lives of writers of color for decades and through generations.

It’s entirely possible that a good number of them would love to use their skills to tell stories of their favorite heroes.

Additionally, considering the global profile of Marvel Comics because of licensing and the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films produced by Marvel Studios, it serves to reason that various writers of color would be interested in such an association with Marvel Comics. An earned association, to be sure.

With the growing presence of writers of color in television, indeed within Marvel’s own parent company, Disney, as of now, Marvel continues to hold back on this front.

While the company proudly promotes a Black Captain America, a Muslim-American Ms. Marvel, a Spider-Man universe full of Spider-heroes of color, a high-diversity lineup in their upcoming volume of “The Avengers” and “The Ultimates,” they cannot, by their own actions, do the same concerning writers of color on ongoing monthly titles.

It makes me think of that episode of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” You know the one.

Hired gun and enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks, sits in the living room of main character Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston,” and tells him a story.

A terrible story, with a bad ending, and the reason the ending was a bad one was because Mike, in his former life as a police officer, did not make a tough decision that would have saved a life.

He took what he called a “half-measure.”

What Marvel Comics is doing, as of this writing, for reasons unknown to most of us, is taking a half-measure when it comes to diversity.

Promoting a universe of diversity, but not empowering an equally-diverse writing pool to realize it.

We could speculate as to the why, and I have done so a number of times, but that does not change things with Marvel Comics.

But if Image Comics can and will bring more writers of color to the forefront, then what may change is the destination of monies of the newer generation of comic book consumers.

Yes, sure, they’ll see all of the upcoming Marvel films and lose their minds with excitement, but it doesn’t mean that will affect the sales of any related title to a degree that sales attrition will not mandate another large event in an attempt to hold onto that market share.

Maybe, the same way Image Comics’ “Saga” reportedly helped to galvanize the female consumer base of comic books, the “Slave Punk: White Coal” by Ronald Wimberly will do the same.

During this time in which America is showing both of its cheeks in its feelings about race and rights, the more relevant narratives may attract the buyers and dollars of tomorrow.

A half-measure is a half-commitment.

A full measure is something extraordinary.

Funny thing about the full measure… I can think of another character who didn’t take one, who underestimated a situation, and it changed the course of his life, and the lives of others.

Peter Parker.

If there is any character that should exemplify the soul of Marvel Comics, it is Peter Parker.

Because he learned what we all learn, at one point in our lives or another.

Those six words.

They lie at the nucleus of our fandom, our fiction.

They relay the ethos of leaders.

They give us a charge because of their idealism and hope.

I know the words well, because Marvel Comics (and Spider-Man) holds a special place in my heart.

With.

Great.

Power.

Comes.

Great.

Responsibility.

When the publisher adopts those six words in full measure, that’s when we’ll have an all-new, all-different industry.


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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