Sunday, September 6, 2015

Correcting Time's Praise of Marvel Comics

In the September 7th/14th double issue of Time magazine (with Stephen Colbert on the cover), Eliana Dockterman had a feature article praising the moves toward diversity that Marvel Comics is making. While I share in the positive sentiments toward inclusiveness in the comic book industry, especially with regard to gender and sexuality (these are great moves all around and are long overdue), there were several inaccuracies in the article with regard to Marvel being the leader in this regard. Below are a few quick clarifications:

  • On page 77, Dockterman states that "Marvel is winning new fans by bringing diversity to comic books." This is probably true in a technical sense, but it leads the reader to think that Marvel is bringing in more diverse readers with its new approach. In fact, according to social media analysis, Marvel's readership is regressing slightly toward the white male majority. It is DC Comics that is currently making substantial gains in female readership, African American readership, and Hispanic readership. And relatedly...
  • On page 78, Dockterman cites Marvel's recent uptick in sales, "up 8% from the previous year," as a big indicator of the success and benefits of their increase in diversity in the pages of their comic books. But this is a correlation, though it invites the reader to think that the diversity is causing the increase. The problem here is that most, if not all, of the 8% increase at Marvel Comics is entirely due to their launch of Star Wars comics (Marvel is owned by Disney who also now own the Star Wars universe) and those SW books have been strong sellers all around.
  • On page 80, Dockterman gives a slight nod toward DC Comics by saying that "DC is, in fact, increasingly mirroring the strategy of its big rival Marvel." This clearly positions DC as the follower and Marvel as the leader in this positive social justice trajectory. Actually, there is more evidence that it's the other way around. In Dockterman's own article, she writes about how a few years ago Marvel had zero (0!) ongoing series that starred a female hero. At that same time, DC already had six (6!) series starring female heroes. Gender and ethnic diversity was an explicit part of the New 52 initiative, which preceded Axel Alonso's initiative at Marvel that is described in the Time article.
So overall, it is good that Time is recognizing the positive steps the big comic book companies are making to be more inclusive, but it is very misleading for them to act like Marvel is leading in this regard rather than DC Comics... and the article misses the fact that independent publishers have been pushing this envelope even earlier, putting pressure on the "big two" to be more diverse. And another big step is to not only have diversity on the pages of the comics but to also get more diversity, especially with females, in the creative offices and the executive suites.

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