The Marvel Lament – by The Phantom
I used to be a comic book nerd. Back in the mists of time, in the 1980’s, I would take myself down to Unknown Worlds on Danforth Avenue in Toronto’s Greek Town, and buy everything that was new that week. Mostly Marvel Comics, but also DC if it was a comic or a series I was following.
I was a comic freak. I knew all the characters, all the plot lines, everything. It was why I went to work. So I could have money to buy comics.I loved them. I used to buy comics when it was a choice of comics or food, and eat oatmeal for a few days.
When I moved to New York State, I was very happy, because that meant the cover price was a lot less, and I could buy MORE COMICS!!! Woo hoo! One of the first things I did was locate a proper comic book store, and catch up on the new stuff I missed when I was moving.
But then, around 1993-94, something happened. It started being a lot less fun. The stories were preachier. The characters meaner, more destructive. At first it was only one or two, so I stopped buying those titles. But then more titles followed suit, and before long I wasn’t buying anything.
That situation did not change for me. Occasionally if I am in the USA at a Barnes & Noble, I will look at whatever they have on the shelves, but I never buy them. They’re mean, and they’re boring. Both at once.
A couple of weeks ago there was an uproar over this article quoting Marvel Comic’s Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel:
Now the million-dollar question. Why did those tastes change?
I don’t know if that’s a question for me. I think that’s a better question for retailers who are seeing all publishers. 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.
That sounded a lot to me like David Gabriel blaming the customer base for a sudden loss of interest in Diversity, as if nerd racism was taking over after Donald Trump won the election.
SJWs were very quick to raise all kinds of Hell over that pronouncement. I found this one the funniest, wherein Charles Pulliam-Moore explains that because Black Panther and Ms. Marvel got nominated for Hugo Awards, David Gabriel is super duper el-wrongo.
These nominations come just days after Marvel’s Vice President of Sales, David Gabriel, went out of his way to blame Marvel’s lagging sales on comics—like Black Panther and Ms. Marvel—starring people of color and women. Suffice it to say that the optics of this whole thing don’t reflect well on the publisher, but the Hugo nominations send a telling message to Marvel about just how the public actually feels about its “diverse books.”
‘Nuff said about that, right?
It would be easy to declare victory at this point and move on, but I’ve found over the years that nothing is ever simple. That brings us to this Brian Hibbs article here, which looks at things from a comic shop perspective.
So, right now Marvel comics is in a little spot of trouble. In February 2017 Marvel’s best-selling ongoing superhero title barely passed 60k on the Diamond chart estimates. They ran three “event” style crossovers – “IvX”, which sold fewer copies than that, and “Clone Conspiracy” and “Monsters Unleashed”, neither of which cracked 50k. In fact, in what probably has to be a first for Marvel comics, other than “Amazing Spider-Man”, they don’t have any ongoing superhero titles selling over 50k in February.
He’s got a different logic to explain what’s going on from a customer perspective, which makes a lot more sense than “nerd racism.”
I’ve been selling comics long enough to remember the “Marvel Zombie” – the guys who were buying Marvel’s entire output (and loving it). Even at the height of the “Sandman” salad days for my main store, when we were a significant prototype of “the Vertigo store”, we had always had scores of “Zombies” shopping here (and we loved them for it!), but the tribe has been hunted to extinction by Marvel’s own sales practices. First the “Marvel Zombie” started to fracture into families – becoming “Avengers Zombies” or “X-Men Zombies” – then it descended further down into character-driven purchasing as they expanded your line, not just by title count, but also by frequency-of-release as well as by overall-cost-to-collect. It isn’t merely that there are never fewer than six “Avengers”-titled books going on at a single time (February 2017 brought “Avengers”, “Avengers point one”, “Great Lake Avengers”, “Occupy Avengers”, “Uncanny Avengers” and “US Avengers”, sheesh – the best-seller was about 40k copies, yuck!) – but that Marvel prices each of them at $4 (minimum), and tries to publish as many titles as it possibly can at 16-18 times a year.
Here’s what that looks like for a store owner:
One personal stat that I always try to get across is that at my main store, most mainstream superhero style books, because of mismanagement of the brands by the publishers, have dropped down to “preorders plus 1-2 rack copies”.Generally speaking, this yields sell-ins that are sub-20 copies for most titles, and a truly depressing number of books are sub-5.
It should be lost on no one that Brian Hibbs is describing ME, the Marvel Zombie. The guy that buys all the titles. I used to buy ten comics a week, forty comics a month. At today’s prices that’s $40 a week, $160 a month. But ten comics a week was the whole Marvel Universe, and some of DC too. Now you’d be lucky if that was all of X-Men.
This is what that looks like for sales in February. There’s over 100 titles. A Marvel Zombie is paying out over $400 a month to collect the Marvel Universe. No wonder they’re all gone, right?
None of which addresses the thing that made me quit in 1994: the stories. They’re -boring-. The principal comment about Hugo-nominated comic Black Panther in the comments sections of these blog posts is that it is boring. I wouldn’t know, I’ve been extremely disinclined to read it and find out. Furthermore, as a Sad Puppy Adjacent guy, I can’t help but notice that Marvel has spent the last ten to fifteen years heaping disrespect and ruination on their own characters. SJWs are trying to pretend the “diversity” titles are selling, but according to people who read the numbers, that is not the case. Never the less, the destruction of characters continues.
That trend culminated in this year’s “Captain America, agent of Hydra”. i09 had a roundup of the title. That’s what happens when you off-shore art, when you pay peanuts to writers and artists, when your management never leaves the island of Manhattan, and politics is more important than entertainment value.
They haven’t changed course since the early 1990’s, when they lost me and a whole bunch more. The comments by the VP of Sales David Gabriel indicate they have no intention of changing anything fundamental under the present management. They’re going to keep beating up the customers until they get in line and buy what they are served.
That’ll work, right?