Comicsgate

Last week I received an email from a writer at one of the comic book news websites asking me on my thoughts on Comicsgate and its impact on local comic book shops. I had no clue what Comicsgate was so I looked into it. I read that Comicsgate started a few years ago as a campaign in opposition to perceived forced diversity, there seems to be renewed interest. Its scope includes not only the characters depicted but also the creators hired. Some prominent comic writers and artists have been leading this “consumer protest”.

As a shopkeep, I realized that I have a lot of skin in this game. New comics and graphic novels are the biggest buckets at our shop and any weakening demand on this front is not good for the shop. Our new comic and graphic novel customers come into the shop to buy the stories they want to read, this is entertainment and escapism for them. Obviously I want the publishers to publish things people want to buy, this is good for their business and ours.

Publishers should be pushing into and creating new markets and they should be trying to expand their consumer base. Publishers should also satisfy their existing consumer base. Publishers need to do both. Change is one of the true constants, its relentless and inevitable and usually positive and when it comes to change in comic books any true and lasting change can only be driven from the consumer side.

Forward thinkers are often early, way ahead of the curve and way ahead of the marketplace so it would be wrong to say that if a new idea didn’t work it was a bad idea. Often the change comes much later, slower, more organic as consumers are convinced overt time.

There is one thing that worries me as a shopkeep though. I’ve always assumed that publishers want to make money, decision making was logically based on “will it work”. We’re now in a climate where the decision making at the Board Room level might be influenced by “this is the right thing to do”. These are not easy decisions when the viability of your company depends on profits and not positions.

As noble as the causes that on the one hand defend the heritage and on the other hand break new barriers are it will still come down to what the consumer finds interesting and engaging. I’m a big believer in the marketplace and have all the confidence in the world in the consumer.

The diversity push in comic publishing started a few years ago, we now have at least some data to process. It’s obvious that some new ideas have worked while others didn’t. Exactly what one would expect when the final arbitrators are the consumers.

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1589

12 Comments

  1. I have little to no interest in modern books and creators, that said – this is one of the most disappointing things I have read. The people involved in this “campaign”, this “consumer protest”, have been absolutely toxic, there is no “noble cause” here. They intimidate, harass, and threaten creators with whom they disagree. You have really missed the mark here.

  2. Some examples might be useful. I have not hear of it either, and without googling it, I am not much clearer. You mean opposition to changing old heroes? Or comics for ages and interest groups?

    Ok, I take it back. I just read some of the Wikipedia entry, then gave up. Its very sad this “one way” of thinking has penetrated our hobby. And the harrassment sounds sickening to me. My first reaction is, this is a bunch of right wing, white supremist types, but I am sure that is over simplified.

    But regardless, kinda sorry to know that stuff is going on, I am with Walter, I think the market and demand will sort most of this out. But i am still sad to think comics could be politicized like our world (at least, here in the U.S.) has beome. When people stop wearing masks as a political statement, ignoring the health warnings, it is just idiocy. Sorry, guys. It sounds to me like the online, virtual version of driving a car into a grouo of protesters. We don’t need this in comics.

    If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

    I purposely make no political statements in my own business, because I am sure I sell to a diverse bunch of folks. I also have a few friends whose political leaning surprise me. But when we do a show together, we pretty much agree to avoid the topic, stick to our love of the hobby. Keep politics out of it.

  3. This is a continuation of something that wasn’t a problem because most everything was caterered to them but the world has always been diverse in every way but still a select few with stubborn mindsets has bullied to keep things from evolving from few into a whole civilization that can enjoy images and reading that can open up the imagination.

  4. My favorite Marvel heroes were always, Red Wolf from Avengers 80, or the Prowler from Spiderman 86 and most obviously the Falcon from Capt America. I just always dug the diverse heroes.
    I think some traditionalists just cannot stand to see their particular fantasy hero’s, idenity change , to that of a different culture or gender. They have to hold onto the past. That’s their right, but it also speaks to the childishness of the comic culture. Comic collecting began as a child’s hobby. And sometimes children, cannot let go of their childish memories, and begin adult experiences. Its a compiliment when others want their own favorite version or gender of Spiderman, thor and such.
    Im just glad that Stan Jack and other marvel creators created the Black Panther, Black Goliath, The Cat, Red Wolf and the Prowler and created new diverse Icons for us to enjoy. As for today’s Comicgate stuff, they to will one day learn to grow and adapt…its just comic silliness for goshs sake

  5. I too was not familiar with Comicsgate until I read about it today. Its not surprising the industry has not wanted to focus on it, as its bad for the industry and bad for sales. We don’t need toxic culture spilling over into our escapist hobby!
    I think most of us on this site feel change is inevitable and in the long run good for the industry! It opens doors for new possibilities and new stories! We don’t have to eliminate characters to create new ones and new characters could interact with older characters as they did in the 60’s. While Batman seems the most sacrosanct of all characters, I could see the Dark Knight eventually rising to the Dark King ( for example) and being leader and mentor to a variety if Batman inspired characters who could work individually or with the other characters in a global Dark Knight network! Many have bemoaned the death of characters, even tho comic fans realize only a few characters are ever really killed. This has led to story lines progressing without the characters, plus stories of their returns, and stories if what happened when they were absent, all opening more doors to new stories! Diversity does this as well and has the plus of bringing in more readers who may not have been as interested in the older characters… but MAY thru the inclusion of a character they relate to! So I say bring on the change… we will all benefit from new stories and new twists on old characters!

  6. Hey Walt, I’ve searched high and low for the TRUTH and “this is the right thing to do” is almost never part equation. I’m not trying to be a skeptic or a pessimist, but objectively speaking, the corporation by nature is programmed to put profits first. There is no sway here because that is the purpose of their existence in the same way that cats “meow” and that dogs “bark”. This is not what the liberals or globalist or leftists have asked for, but it is what the market dictates. Many conservatives still don’t seem to understand this. Traditional folks claim that it’s been contrived, and I supposed if you’re an older white male who have no association with any body outside of your own kind, it may seem this way. But the stats clearly show that the world is changing. Companies like Nike have done their research, and the research has shown where the money is.

    Even when I first started working in design & advertising 30 years ago, representing diversity was a mandate for me from day one. It’s only now that the comic market is realizing that they must change. You can criticize their strategy, solutions or ideas… but the fact is, they want the money and “comicsgate” is all about achieving this goal in the smoothest way possible.

    I find it hilarious when older folks claim that they’ll stop reading newer material due to “forced” diversity. Folks like me, in my age group are not the future. Yes, I still buy new books to spec on… but I’ve stop reading decades ago, so these threats ring hollow to me. The real question that people should be debating is whether the publishers are too late to the party? But considering how small the market is, I think it’s all moot since comics will get swept along by the larger current.

  7. Lots to take away from these comments, I especially like Charlie’s take on corporate motives as it challenged and made me confront my perceptions.

  8. Hello Walter,

    Torontonian here, but was born on another continent and came over to Canada as a wee toddler. Have lived in the 6ix for 30-odd years now. I say this so you and readers can get into my perspective, a bit.

    I hope your shop is going to survive this pandemic and the Comicsgate… from what I gather, regardless of the controversy, shops have not been doing well across the board. Could be wrong, as it is case-by-case. Really hope Marvel’s bad PR (like what happened with them lashing out at fans in April, re: New Warriors) and other similar incidents don’t adversely affect you.

    I think that this controversy is best examined with minimal application of “what-about-isms”, where people bring up a bunch of cases and incidents to try and clump them into a cohesive argument in their favour. So it’s important to consider characters separately, on their own merits, in a vacuum that’s devoid of others who’ve failed or succeeded. I think you may have done that in your post.

    I think some traditionalists have their hearts in the right place; that they want to make sure quality is upheld, characters appeal to everyone and that core identity is retained. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to keep brands on track — but also to modernize them and grow to diversified markets.

    But too many fail to realize that most of “diverse content” isn’t “pandering” to a crowd. Pandering could never actually happen, in case anyone is wondering, because that term implies perversion or a contemptible nature on the part of the patron. I doubt any of us are child molesters, for example.

    People need to understand that fans like myself have existed alongside them all of our lives, and consider myself part of a singular community. That being said, I would still like to see more diverse characters, or storylines acknowledging different lifestyles now and then, if only to prove the point that it DOESN’T matter what we look like, who we love, etc. — heroes are heroes because of what they do, and why. They come from anywhere. And North Americans (and others) do come from everywhere. (And bc it doesn’t matter, so too should we be OK with some changes).

    We all contribute to the modern new world. There are POC in politics, law, medicine, STEM, pop culture and sports; similarly with LGBTQ professionals. These are people who do the same work, but live different lives. People might not care about others’ proclivities because of professionalism, but I guarantee that over the course of time, for any type of association, people come to know personal things about each other. If not, those personal things directly affect how we behave, and if readers want to feel invested and connected to a character, we’re going to have to know who those characters try to be in their private lives. This is the most common essence of what makes them relatable to the audience.

    So why can’t superheros and their nemeses also have different fundamentals to their personalities? Why not have heroes of diverse backgrounds fight alongside the originals? Why not have one-shots and what-ifs where someone like Captain America was born a woman, or rather a different person other than Steve Rogers took up that role to begin with? Why not have SOME characters pass the torch? SOME can’t do this forever.

    At the very least, variety is the spice of life. I think that as long as core ideals remain and that change is gradual, with some concessions here and different concessions there, we should be able to find a happy middle ground. That’s where the truth lies. We can have both Peter Parker and Miles Morales.

    But we don’t need to push it so hard, with so much vitriol. I see as much ad hominem attacks from the “left” as I do from anyone else. Though it should be noted that Marvel has always been “pro-liberal”, at least in my mind, so it’s not as if “pro-diversity” proponents are invading a space.

    As you say, it’s definitely a matter of gradual change, and a balancing act. The best way to balance is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The fan ownership, name-calling and deliberate obstinacy are the real dangers to the market here, and TBH it’s hard to say which side does what more than the other. So it has to stop all around.

    Peace out.

  9. We just want escapism. we just want people in garish costumes punching other people with superpowers and costumes based on animals. We don’t want woke. but when we suggest this, we are called all kinds of names that liberals are fond of using. When you hire a black radical reparations advocate to write Captain America as a 40 year long hidden white, blond haired, blue eyed nazi as his first pro comic work, its unnecessarily insulting. I go to the Marvel universe to escape the real world. When you invent new young diverse minority duplicates of marvel characters, that’s cool, but then they are announced to be “smarter than Reed Richards”, “more talented than Tony Stark”, It’s virtue signalling and its weak.

  10. I think Steven Centonzo strips it down to the most basic issue. As individuals, you have the option to not accept change. You can stay right where you are and live out the rest of your life in your own personal bliss. But as for businesses, if they can’t or won’t adapt… they’ll be swept aside by the tide. Oil, coal, Sony, CRT TVs, Nokia, film cameras, records… Look how fast Blackberry got wiped out. Art and stories will never disappear, but the industry of comics is in a precarious position. There’s been rumours of Warner wanting to sell or shut down print all together, ie; DC Comics… but the value of individual brands like Superman and Batman need to be maintained so I doubt they’ll quit print any time soon. Even if they are losing money.

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