About a month or so ago I stopped reading all the comic industry marketing.
I stopped reading the news sites, and the press releases, and the previews. I stopped clicking on links on Twitter. I stopped reading the marketing for a simple reason — it’s not for me.
In fact, comics marketing is almost, nearly, anti me. Luckily, this isn’t quite true of the comics themselves.
A few months back I was reading the previews of Marvel’s forthcoming Fear Itself summer event. And I was complaining quite a bit about how this looked like a storyline with nothing in it for me. How it looked like a bunch of straight white guys and their daddy issues running around fighting monsters I’d never heard of before. This is not why I read Marvel comics.
I read Marvel comics for the scope and breadth of real-world consequences. I love stories such as the year of Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, I love the No More Mutants consequences of the Avengers stealing Wanda’s children years ago. I love that all of these people, these characters, exist in networks of community and family. I love that they are heroes, dedicated to protecting those who cannot protect themselves from threats beyond imagining. I love consequences, and hard choices, and living with who you have become. This is my Marvel comics. I didn’t see any of this in the Marvel ads and previews and press surrounding Fear Itself. So I complained a bit, and then stopped talking about it altogether, because a number of the creators involved in this forthcoming project are people whose work I like and respect, and I didn’t want to say bad things about them — especially since I hadn’t seen the books yet.
I picked up the first issue of Fear Itself with a sense of resigned doom, figuring I’d take a look and then save a lot of money this summer not buying it.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but Matt Fraction, Christos Gage, Kieron Gillen, Nick Spencer, Jeff Parker, and Brian Bendis are delivering incredibly good stories. I have actually covered my mouth in horror at scenes in Invincible Iron Man and Fear Itself: The Home Front. My opinion of this summer event, based on the previews, press, and ads, was entirely wrong.
Gentlemen. I am so sorry I doubted you. I am loving this entire Fear Itself event to pieces, loving all the tie-ins, loving the scope and grandeur of the event. Not to mention the writing and art are, overall, superb.
I blame my doubts on the marketing of superhero comic books. The more I saw about Fear Itself in the previews, the more I felt that I – a late-30s queer woman, a parent, a life-long geek – was not the object of the press. The press covering Fear Itself talked about Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and other Avengers-related characters. But I saw little-to-no mention of the Avengers who matter to me — Carol Danvers, Jessica Drew, Jessica Jones, Bobbi Morse, and Luke Cage. I saw little-to-no mention of the Avengers Academy kids and their teachers. I didn’t see a lot of ads in the comics leading up to Fear Itself talking about Sue Storm-Richards, or reporter Norah Winters. I saw little-to-no mention of the fact that this story encompasses the entire world of Marvel, not just the heroes, but the innocent bystanders as well. None of the things I read Marvel for — great women, great family and team dynamics, and a strong sense of consequences — were emphasized in the press. Whoever Marvel was trying to woo with their previews, it simply wasn’t me.
I thought about this when DC began announcing their universe reboot planned for this fall. And the week of the first announcements I stopped reading all comics-related news. I don’t have a ton of faith in DC’s attention to the kinds of things I like to read. But there are a handful of creators working there whose work I value and respect. I’m going to give them a chance to win me over to the new universe of DC. I want to give them their shot, not in interviews or previews, but in the actual work itself. I want to read the comics and judge the story as it happens.
Neither Marvel nor DC is marketing to me. The way they describe their own product — product I happen to love — makes me feel semi-revolted. The emphasis on NEW and DIFFERENT invalidates my love of the continuity. The nigh-exclusive representation of straight white male legacy characters makes me and the characters I love invisible and irrelevant. The emphasis on action-based stories ignores the family- and character-based stories I love. The removal of female characters from covers, from ads, from books, the removal of the heads, clothes, and faces of female characters from those that do make it into the previews, this all rejects the female characters I love from the stories themselves. Now, experience has shown me that the elements I love are indeed still present in superhero comics. But I never know it, looking at the previews. Marvel and DC don’t market to me.
It’s … It’s hard, sometimes, to see all that effort and energy expended on marketing, and to see that it cares absolutely nothing for me and my demographic. My demographic in this case being “women.” It’s hard, and hurtful, to see fifty percent of the planet represented in ten percent of the covers and ads. There is a corollary message, intended or inadvertent, that I am irrelevant to Marvel and DC. That I can take what they provide or not, and screw me if I don’t like it, because they don’t want me or need me or even see me standing over here, patiently reading their comics for twenty-five years. No, of course Marvel and DC don’t owe me anything. That’s not the nature of the producer-consumer relationship we have. They make it and I buy it or not. But there is a second relationship here, one that gets trampled in the realities of marketing. And that is the relationship I have with these characters who have been a part of two-thirds of my life. I find it hard to walk away.
I have a few choices. I can read all the press and marketing, pre-judge what’s possibly coming, feel hurt and angry at a system that consistently dismisses me as not worth a second of its time, and then feel like a chump when I buy the comics anyway. I can stop reading comics based on what I think is coming. I can pirate the comics in order to read the stories I like while refusing to give my money to a company that disdains me. Or I can buy the comics and ignore the press, and enjoy the work these writers and artists are giving me. I’m not going to stop reading. I’m tired of feeling taken for granted by a comics industry that sometimes seems to be actively trying to repulse readers like me. And I truly like and respect the creators I like, and I want them to keep paying their rent and affording their expensive out-of-pocket health insurance. So buying the comics and ignoring the press it is.
It’s made my comics-life — for now — a bit happier. But the morning that I wrote this another piece of comics-news was brought to my attention, namely that Marvel has made a deal with LEGO, and LEGO announced the first licensed mini-figs this morning. Five straight white guys. Five. Straight. White. Guys. This is only the first announcement, of course — I’m certain that LEGO and Marvel have more mini-figs on the way, more diversity, more plans for games and sets and tie-in products that cover more of the Marvel Universe. But the initial roll-out, the initial marketing and press and coverage and excitement, it’s five straight white guys. It’s not for me.
At this point I would take tokenism in comics marketing and be grateful for it.
Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org