The Great Comicsgate Debate.
So recently in the comics world we have seen a shift in the thinking between creators and readers. This has lead to a large disconnect between the industry and it’s fans/readers/employers (delete as appropriate). This disconnect seems to stem from the die hard fans pushing back against what they see as a liberal political agenda of the industry as a whole, but, let’s be honest, most of their irritation is with Marvel. This has lead to the hashtag ComicsGate being a mouthpiece for this movement. Like Gamergate before it (my utter distaste for anything with the suffix ‘gate’ tacked onto it not withstanding) #ComicsGate has opened up a world whereby people are feeling justified for being personally abusive and accusing comic companies of pushing a liberal political agenda. It is with Marvel that these battle lines are most noticeable. The feeling is that Marvel have watered down their catalogue of strong characters to include a more socially diverse roster. Now, obviously we need a more reflective cross-section of society in our popular culture, that goes without saying but I think the argument goes a little deeper than what it initially appears.
Marvel, to their credit have always been extremely progressive with their storylines, Gay marriages, LGBTQ characters and ethnic diversity have been traits in Marvel books and brought into the mainstream long before many other media would have touched them. However, some would now argue that they have gone too far with their seemingly liberal agenda. I don’t know if I agree that you can ever go too far in representing sections of society that may otherwise be marginalised, especially in a current political climate where these people are already facing struggles to be who they are. But some would argue that this is what is damaging sales and the comic industry as a whole. But let’s call it what it is and say that these people are idiots. It is the right no, the responsibility of popular culture to break down boundaries and anyone who doesn’t think so should read into the history of popular culture as a whole. But if we scratch the surface #ComicsGate isn’t the re reason the comic industry is in trouble, because if you refuse to buy a book because it has a LGBTQ character or black character or because the lead is a woman then you are an idiot. No ifs, not buts, just an idiot.
For me I think the basis of why the industry is falling on its arse is far simpler. Basically it’s an industry that hasn’t learnt from past mistakes. Marvel went bust in the 90’s when it took its fans for granted, countless covers and variants meant that people simply couldn’t afford to buy the books they wanted and new readers were frightened away by an seemingly inaccessible or clique driven medium. Now Marvel is treading an all too familiar line, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was released in cinemas they had (roughly) eight books based on the Guardians universe running at the same time. This has two knock-on effects, one, Marvel has eight sets of print costs and, two, readers are asked to invest in eight different books. It seems ludicrous to me as to why they didn’t do one, possibly two absolutely killer books based on the Guardians universe. Readers don’t necessarily want more choice, they want exciting and engaging stories about the characters they have seen on the screen or are already familiar with in comic form.
As far as the diversity argument goes, it again is a little more basic than perhaps people realise. When a character has been around for many years, for more than a lot of the readership has been alive, they are treated like old friends. Familiar goto guys and girls that we know and we trust. Messing around with these characters is like your best friend suddenly becoming someone you barely recognise. Of course we need comics to change and evolve to reflect our society and the introduction of LGBTQ characters and storylines is as much of a must as is the further introduction of strong female and ethnic characters. However, no matter what the industry says, just altering pre-existing and much loved characters smacks of poor imagination and cheap writing. Writers should faith in their skills to create new and dynamic characters that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the established heroes and equally publishers should have the courage to back such creations. A new, well written character can and should create a new IP that will take the genre forward not split it in two. What we have seen with Deadpool and Harley Quinn is, if you create a character that leaps off the page then the readership will take them to heart. Stop playing safe by riding on the coattails of existing, well-established characters and write new ones that people will want to read and engage with.
It is for these reasons are why we are seeing owner-created titles from publishers such as Image begin to outsell the big two in Marvel and DC, the stories and characters are new and exciting and instantly take a place in you heart and mind. But there is a place for both, we still want our old friends to be going on adventures but taking their new allies along with them.
These, in my opinion as a retailer, are fundamental reasons why we are seeing a slow down in the industry itself. Watering down of strong IP’s with two many books focusing on the same characters released at the same time and the lack of trust in the readership that if you create a new and interesting character that they will take root. Don’t patronise your readers and definitely don’t take them for granted.