Are Comics Companies Really Learning the Importance of Diversity?

ms-marvel-9-coverIn recent years, diversity in representation of peoples has become a frequent topic of debate among fans of animation and comics. Whether it’s the rise of Steven Universe and its positive portrayals of strong female characters, or the increase in panels on women in comics, minorities in comics, and more at New York Comic Con, there has been a strong move both from fans and creators to make sure that tokenism is never a thing, and that the Rule of Three (see the video below) doesn’t stop any group from finding themselves in cartoons.

In 2014, at a Women in Comics panel at NYCC, one of the panelists mentioned the importance of learning how to communicate with the old, white men who run these companies if people want to make a difference up top. The following year at NYCC, a Diversity in Comics panel had multiple industry members talk about how management across multiple companies are realizing that other groups besides the white, male demographic are customers and are worth appealing to. Ultimately, people are communicating in the language that executives understand most of all: money.

However, while the net result seems to be in favor of a strengthening of cultural diversity, there’s a question that nags at the back of my mind as I see the talk of a changing tide. Are those executives, those old, white men, actually learning why cultural diversity in comics is important, or are they simply seeing it in terms of potential sales? Part of the reason why comics appealed to that white, male demographic for so long, aside from latent racism, was that it was seen as a reliable market, but catering too much to that aging audience has stymied its growth among the population at large. This means more attention is paid to women, LGBT, racial minorities, and more, but does it just all come down to the bottom line?

My fear is that, if diversity is simply seen as the latest ticket to profit, that if comics and animation start to be less successful, will the companies and their heads be just as quick to jettison the desire to bring different groups of people to comics? Are we ultimately beholden to entertainment media as a product of popular culture in a capitalist society?

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7 thoughts on “Are Comics Companies Really Learning the Importance of Diversity?

  1. There is not even a shred of doubt in my mind that they are simply seeing “cultural diversity” in terms of a marketing tag for potential sales, and here’s the very simple reason why: if they actually valued it as important, then there would be greater cultural diversity in creative and editorial as well. Right now it begins and ends with characters and maybe–MAYBE–lead writers/artists; in other words, elements that you can advertise and market.

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  2. Structural, systemic discriminatory practices are difficult to identify let alone to talk about. Ultimately this is just scratching the surface and I don’t really know what matters more to people–that the comic industry cleans up or comics clean up.

    But let’s just say that the easiest thing to do will always get done first.

    > will the companies and their heads be just as quick to jettison the desire to bring different groups of people to comics?

    Why would they do that? If they are rational it would only happen if the alternative is better. And from my outsider point of view I don’t even know if the comic industry in general is interested in this aspect. It all feels like because of the nature of all these mainstream movie adaptations, that is why the source material is getting any limelight at all.

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  3. Of course, manga already outsells American comics in the US and is far more inclusive – Jump and shoujo magazines aside, protagonists aren’t nearly as gendered nor do they spend their whole lives flying around punching each other.

    It seems like the visibility of this problem is really caused by US “geek culture” media’s insistence on pretending that Marvel and DC are the only people in the world making comic books.

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    • I think the biggest trouble about the modern Superhero movie renaissance is that it is buoying the companies from having to reform. The actual comics became a sideshow to delicious Hollywood dollars. If “Cape Comics” (as my friend calls them) continued to dwindle and the movie money wasn’t there, we’d simply see the market implode and lesser titles/publishers elbow their way in. Capes won’t reform until money is in it for them, which would require being diverse simply a matter of fact, rather than forced. Manga’s diversity comes from the fact that their creators can do whatever the heck they want and it has a chance to sell.

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  4. I think the Hollywood Bucks that Marvel and DC are busy chasing have propped up an ever diminishing Direct Comics Market. Comics are hard to market new IPs, so they keep recycling the same Famous names. Trying to fix diversity (in story type as well as race/gender) are now sadly secondary, maybe tertiary to Hollywood and Mass Appeal.

    I don’t follow TV much, but aren’t there a lot more female-lead superhero TV shows than there used to be? Maybe the dudes will have the Big Screen for awhile, but the diversity front will be pioneered on TV?

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  5. Pingback: 50 Shades of Skywalker: Or maybe MarySues aren’t that bad after all | ChrisMaverick dotcom

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