Comics Will Break Your Heart

That title is a famous quote by Jacob Kurtzenburg aka Jack “The King” Kirby. He created and co-created heavy hitters like Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Thor, and the Silver Surfer, among others. Jack was talking about the way he was treated by the companies he worked for, but for fans in 2017, it’s applicable in a different way.
We saw it coming.  It happened in other hobbies, other circles of entertainment. And fans all across the political spectrum are sick of it.

Marvel had a noble stated goal: increase diversity both on and off the page. To this end, they went on a hiring spree for new talent and reinvented their character line up. Fans were excited, until the new books hit the shelves.

Previous steps toward diversity were treated as though they never happened,  regular rules of continuity were thrown out the window, art in many books dropped in quality, and ideologue writers took every opportunity to halt the story flow with a large and unnecessary sermon. Diversity of thought also disappeared. Instead of every character having their own worldview and beliefs, all heroes read as the same character repeated over and over. Same too with the villains. 

Gone now were the days when the writer trusted the reader to draw their own conclusions. At least Civil War stripped the politics down to core questions and put heroes on both sides. That kind of political storytelling disappeared to be replaced with slapping Trump’s face on a M.O.D.O.K. Characterization is boiled straight down to this character is good, that one is bad, end of story. News flash: there’s a reason that kind of storytelling got left behind during the Silver Age and it ain’t coming back.

This all would’ve died down if comics pros and journalists showed even a modicum of professionalism. Instead, the largely liberal crew at both Marvel and the news outlets were too caught up in their hysteria over Trump to do so. Because this all started during Marvel’s diversity push, it couldn’t actually have anything to do with quality,  right? Apparently that’s what the pros thought as they rained down accusations of bigotry upon the complainers. 

From the well-meaning lectures to the outright hateful insults, the theme was the same. We were sterotyped as 30-something, straight, white, cis, male virgins living in parent’s basements who were trying to kick women and minorities out of comics. 

One female comic pro went on a condescending history lesson about women in comics and how Vertigo’s best material was put out under a woman editor.  No shit Colleen. We are well aware and don’t care BECAUSE OUR COMPLAINTS HAVE JACK-ALL TO DO WITH GENDER!!! We loved Karen Berger because she was responsible for having put out the best work of our time!

A male writer, when encountering arguments about all the Mary Sues, tokens, and general shoddy work tends to ask, “Do you really think anyone intentionally makes bad characters and/or stories?” Kurt, dude, no one says that’s what they’re trying to do nor do we care. We only care about what they’ve succeeded in making.

Then there’s the utter erasure of women and minorities who oppose Marvel’s efforts. Pro after pro will dismiss female fans as men hiding behind female avatars or claim they’re only saying that to appease men to get some dick. One even claimed that they are “3 saddos with sock accounts and no hobbies”. Alex, they have a hobby, and you made your career in it.

Personally, I blame editorial. Some of the freelancers who worked with Marvel put out better work under other companies. 

Sales dropped and retailers couldn’t unload books.  Books they couldn’t return.  And due to tie-in sales and overshipping, the numbers looked higher to the pros. Comic shops have narrow sales margins to begin with and this threatened their ability to remain open. At New York Comic-Con, Marvel had a meeting behind closed doors with retailers. The retailers expressed their frustrations and listed reasons they noticed for the decline. While Marvel needed change, there are always complaints when major changes are done all at once.  Long-time fans were put off by the massive changes.  Newer readers came in because they loved what they saw on movie screens, only to find those characters were gone. Marvel’s response? Call the retailers and their customers bigots. To quote a sales VP, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. ” Bullshit, Mr. Gabriel. Maybe try cleaning out your ears?

There are a few comics pros who are being professional and unfortunately, they are taking flak for it. They understand Marvel could’ve had their diversity push if they had better developed the new characters, kept up the art quality, kept character-driven storytelling over politics,  and not shit on the fans. As it is, the new books sold poorly, retailers cut back their orders,  and the new editor-in-chief axed the poorest sellers.  Their was much rejoicing among many fans of the Image Comics version of America Chavez as the new Marvel incarnation was wiped away. 

Going forward, I would like to offer suggestions for improvement. I’ll start by linking Kukuryo’s post

– There’s a broad political spectrum out there and they aren’t the Nazis you claim they are. Learn to write a broad spectrum of characters. 

-Stop pointing to Captain America punching Hitler as an excuse to put politics before story.  That kind of political storytelling went out in the Silver Age and isn’t coming back. 

– If you use a public Twitter account to interact with fans, don’t go ranting about fans or give lectures. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. 

-Don’t conspire to confront anyone at a convention. 

-Give your characters internal conflicts,  and their own point of view.  If that point of view conflicts with your own, don’t make them a strawman of your own assumptions. Start talking to people with similar views to that character. 

-Don’t interrupt action scenes or romantic moments with a wall of text. Keep the text brief for those scenes. 

– Don’t hide their immutable traits, but don’t use them for your main advertising point either. For land’s sakes it’s 2018 NOT 1950. Female, minority, and LGBT characters are not groundbreaking nor a big deal. When that’s the aspect you’re focusing on, that tells the audience that’s all you have to offer. 

-Your priority order is NOT 1) message 2) maybe something resembling a story 3) characters? . It is ALWAYS 1) characters 2) story driven by said characters thrown into a problem/conflict to resolve 3) message, maybe. The latter is the priority order of entertainment, the former is propaganda. 

-When retailers say something isn’t selling,  LISTEN TO THEM! They don’t give a shit what message you’re trying to push, they want books that SELL! The more paying customers, the better. 

There’s probably more points I could make, but quality of representation matters more than the mere presence of representation. You’re gonna have ones that don’t work and the fans will tell you.  Listen to us. We aren’t your enemy.  Keep churning out new takes when complaints arise about the current attempt aaannd use them to refine your work. 

A parting tweet from one of my follows:

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