There was some drama and soul searching last week when it was revealed that Isaac and Laura Perlmutter had donated a cool $1 million dollars to Donald Trump’s mysterious veterans fundraiser. This was problematic because Perlmutter is Marvel’s CEO and Donald Trump is a racist, sexist demagogue who thinks Muslim people shouldn’t be allowed into the United States. Some people wondered whether a boycott of Marvel was in order. G. Willow Wilson, a valued writer at Marvel, as well as a Muslim, pondered working for a company whose former owner supported such hateful values:
People understand that in today’s world, we vote as much with our dollars as we do with our ballots. We don’t want the things we buy and enjoy to support bigotry and injustice. The real possibility of a Trump presidency is terrifying to those who would prefer not to live in a dystopian autocracy, and for obvious reasons, the idea that the CEO of Marvel supports Trump makes a lot of readers seriously concerned. Yet–frustratingly–boycotting books you love will not take a single dime out of Perlmutter’s pocket, much less out of Trump’s. It will, however, kill the books. This is the great catch-22 of corporate art in any form. ( And it’s something I think about a lot.) It’s the flaw inherent in the system. There’s a lot I can’t say, so let me just say this: follow your conscience. I am going to continue to work on Ms Marvel, for the following reason: I have never, in my entire career, seen a character and a story light people up the way this has, and I need to see it through a little longer. (Unless of course I get fired for talking about this shit, in which case, it was nice meeting you all.)
I certainly question no one who questions their place in a complicated world that’s one big grey area, but a few things sprang to mind: Perlmutter doesn’t really own Marvel any more, Disney does, and Disney has its own horrible problematic history. I’m sure Perlmutter makes more money when Marvel makes more money but he probably makes more money when Star Wars makes more money, too.
Also, if you’ve been reading the Beat for any length of time, you know that Perlmutter is already widely known as, well, a tough guy to love. He’s easily the most feared person in comics, and people who don’t even work for him any more make some sign to ward off the evil eye when his name is mentioned. He’s been reported to express homophobic statements, and possibly racist ones as well. Kim Masters has the fullest report on the secretive and feared Perlmutter whose taking over Disney consumer products reportedly led three female African American execs to due for discrimination:
Perlmutter apparently has caused internal headaches for Disney. In 2012, the Financial Times reported that three female African-American executives in the licensing division were seeking settlements because they allegedly were offered lesser jobs following a reorganization. The British paper reported that Perlmutter berated the unit’s CFO, Anne Gates, because she balked at his insistence on using Marvel’s format for spreadsheets. Jessica Dunne, then-head of global product licensing, reportedly complained she felt threatened when Perlmutter, a registered gun owner, told her he had a bullet with her name on it. (A source familiar with the accusations claims the women were disgruntled after being passed over for promotion.)
And on and on and on…supporting the Donald is certainly a line being crossed, but there was plenty of grist for a boycott long before that. And that doesn’t even cover Marvel/Disney’s historical poor treatment of artists who worked there.
Be that as it may, while I was researching a piece on all this I saw a story pop up called Salon Slanders Marvel CEO Perlmutter For Charitable Donation To Veterans that was on a right wing website so I thought it was a typical partisan take on the matter. HOWEVER it turns out it was written by a fellow named Jeff Dunetz who actually worked at Marvel in their sales department from 2002-3…and he actually knows Ike Perlmutter! And his defense of Ike, as he’s known, actually only adds to the legend:
In the interests of full disclosure, my tenure at Marvel was short, the reason why I quit had nothing to do with Perlmutter who I respected, and everything to the person I direct reported to who was brutal.
Having worked for Perlmutter for a year, one can call him many things, but in no way did his vision of Marvel come close to “right or left wing.” It was all about the “dead presidents.” Ike didn’t care what one’s politics was, gender, race, religion, or even sexual preference all he cared about is whether or not someone could make the company money.
Remember Ike Perlmutter was the man who saved Marvel from being run into the ground by Ron Perelman. At the time he ran the toy company Toy Biz which had the license to make the toys based on Marvel characters, Ike snatched Marvel from Ron Perelman and and Carl Icahn, in order to protect his financial interests, and making Marvel money is what drove his management of the company.
The best part is where Dunetz tells a story that corroborates one of the most persistent legends about Ike, a stinginess so epic it even applies to paper clips:
Here’s a funny but true story about Ike Perlmutter. My second week at the new job (advertising director for Marvel comics) I received a letter of congratulations from an old colleague who also attached her new business card to the letter. I kept the card and tossed the letter and the still attached clip in the trashed.
A few hours later Ike came into my office and noticed the contents of my trash. He took the paper clip of the letter, put it on my desk and said, “If you throw that out, I have to buy you another one.” That would bother some people, but not me. You see with Ike Perlmutter you always knew what you had to do to make him happy, profit!
There you have it. Believe me, if there were any way to hurt Ike’s bottom line by boycotting Marvel Comics, he would feel the pain, but unfortunately, he’s quite insulated from that now.
In the meantime, here’s the Taiwan Animation version of Ike and Donald’s love affair:
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.