Too black, two strong.

Tim Hanley’s “Gendercrunching” articles are always of interest to me because while the perception of the impact women and people of color have upon the “mainstream” comics industry can be molded via marketing, numbers do not lie. This month, Hanley has added his yearly statistics regarding creators of color to his monthly presentation on gender. The results are far from surprising.

Race and Gender Statistics

Though for the most part they are not working at the “big two,” black people are working in comics and in related entertainment industries such as animation and prose publishing. It is important to reiterate because the reaction to the periodical release of the miniscule number of black creators working at DC and Marvel (1.4 percent) compared to the percentage of Americans who are black people (12.6 percent) is often anger followed by a rattling off of potential black creators to be hired and various methods DC and Marvel can use to find black talent.

DC and Marvel are well aware of methods such as hiring individuals from independent comic companies, inviting self-publishers to pitch, pairing established writers from other genres with comic writers in order to acquaint them with the comics industry, reconnecting with creators who have left the industry, and providing artists with back-up stories in order to gauge their ability. DC and Marvel routinely use these methods to bring creators who are not black into their companies. DC and Marvel are aware of the methods used to increase one’s talent pool. DC and Marvel are aware of black creators. The dearth of black pencillers, inkers, writers, colorists, and editors at DC and Marvel have nothing to do with a lack of available talent or an inability to communicate with said talent.

What is frustrating for black fans of Marvel and DC is the unfulfilled desire to read about their favorite black characters and hear black voices within the same work. And those fans will never be happy until they expunge that desire. DC and Marvel have little interest in hiring black talent. And until fans disturbed by that basic truth accept that fact, the lack of black voices will eventually poison the enjoyment of mainstream black characters. Trust me—I speak from experience.

Black readers can have it all—popular black characters and talented black voices—if only they are willing to commit to the simple task of buying two quality books instead of one. Of course, one can save money and forego mainstream books entirely, but I do realize that for some fans pastiches are just not enough. And for only a few bucks extra they can enjoy a great book featuring the “real thing” (though we should examine which characters are deemed “real” and why).

I will admit it is bizarre that mainstream heroes are not voiced by black people, that DC and Marvel routinely explore concepts such as government corruption and institutional inequality sans any input from African Americans, but we are not experiencing the silencing of the past where black people were denied means of distribution. Kickstarter, Patreon, and independent companies are available and black comic creators can be found there. Quality work can be found there. Instead of bemoaning the paths that are not available, let us celebrate (and widen) the paths that are.


Read, white, and blue.

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines that appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.