On Tuesday morning, the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards (the Oscars of sci-fi and fantasy writing) were announced by the World Science Fiction. Unsurprisingly, collected volumes of Marvel’s critically acclaimed Black Panther and Ms. Marvel series were both nominated for Best Graphic Story.
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.”
In his presentation to the Marvel Retailer Summit, Gabriel said that he and other executives heard from retailers that readers weren’t interested in change, despite the company’s many “fresh, new, exciting ideas.”
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” Gabriel said. “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,”
While it’s true that Marvel’s sales have been steadily declining for some time now, the drop has been seen across its entire portfolio, not just with titles starring leads who aren’t straight, white men. Both Black Panther and Ms. Marvel have regularly charted as New York Times best sellers over the past few years and that isn’t by accident. It’s because of interest from communities of fans (like the body that makes up the Hugo Awards voting committee) who make the effort to critically analyze the titles despite the fact that Marvel doesn’t do the best of jobs when it comes to promoting them effectively.
Writing for The Guardian, JA Micheline correctly notes that while Marvel may have a handful of progressive characters, it doesn’t go out of its way to let new potential readers know about them in a meaningful way.
“Marvel seems to outright misunderstand capitalism when it largely limits its marketing efforts to comic-book shops – spaces that have historically been unwelcoming to marginalised people,” Micheline argues. “[I]t largely presents white male heroes to the public via its cinematic universe, then makes public comments that outright concede that its main interest is selling comics to white men.”
While intermittent splashy write-ups of the creative teams behind Marvel’s more inclusive series are an all right start to introducing the public to its fresh heroes, it’s going to take a lot more than that to court new readers (who aren’t middle-aged white guys) to buy their books.