Publishers Weekly’s yearly retailer survey article is out. Compiled by Shannon O’Leary, it looks at sales trends at well known shops across the nation and a few bookstores. Frankly, it’s not an awesome picture. Fewer people seem to be coming into stores.
■ Dave Pifer, co-owner, the Secret Headquarters: There are fewer people venturing into the shop. We’ve talked to a bunch of different store owners, and it seems like it’s kind of across the board.
■ Julie Sharron, staff, the Secret Headquarters: I’ve talked to friends with different kinds of retail stores, not necessarily comics, and it’s the same thing for them this year: people just aren’t coming in; it’s a wider retail thing.
The whole article is full of bold declarative statements like this, so just go read it. But I would like to highlight the section on diversity, a topic you may have read about recently.
■ Wise: I’ve read a lot of complaints this year about the concept of diversity [encouraging the proliferation of characters, books, and creators that reflect a variety of ethnic backgrounds and social experiences] and how it’s hurting retailers. That just sounds ridiculous to me. Your store should be welcoming to anyone who wants to read comics. Whatever your politics, all of these categories are a growing demographic for our product, and if you don’t want to sell to them somebody else will. Send them to my store—I’ll take the business.
■ Jeff Ayers, general manager, Forbidden Planet: For me, [weak editorial content] is really where [the slump] is at. I have never agreed with [the antidiversity arguments] that retailers are making. We do quite well with titles like America [about a Hispanic superheroine] and Moon Girl [a black preteen superhero series created by Amy Reeder]; that is not what’s bringing down sales. Lady Thor comics sell better than when regular Thor was in Thor. Lady Thor brings in excitement and has a built-in audience anyway.
■ Sharron: [snip] There’s this African-American girl who shops here regularly, she’s probably like eight or nine now but has been shopping here for a while. I always remember the day she found out that Moon Girl was coming out and she was in here, literally jumping up and down. She said to her mom, “Mom, there’s a superhero who looks like me.” That’s important. That’s how you get a fan for life, right?
I’ve heard these sentiments echoed elsewhere, and if you actually SAT DOWN WITH A RETAILER you would probably hear that Marvel’s lenticular cover minimums (retailers were forced to overorder regular issues to get the lenticulars) are as much to blame for the industry’s downturn as anything else. Along with a lack of hit new books. And events. And and and.
And yet there is a small but vocal group of “comics readers” swimming around who are dead set on creating a “Comicsg*te” based on the idea that “forced diversity is killing comics.” They are so small and vocal that the best word to describe them is a cult. In fact, they remind me of the Sparrows on Game of Thrones, a fanatical offshoot of the Faith of the Seven that was mostly young guys in muu-muus who liked to cut themselves and spoil everyone else’s good times, like all religious zealots everywhere at any time.
The core belief of this group is that “SJWs” are bad and are forcing an agenda of comics by and about non white males to readers, thus destroying the very foundations of the comics industry. They are explicitly and continuously anti-diversity, a stance that’s hard to defend in a reasonable world.
The other reason they remind of the Sparrows is their fanatical devotion to their core beliefs. Twitter user Big Red Robot had an instructive thread about all this, click to read.
I had a big, long "conversation" with a Comiksgater last Friday and let me tell you: these people have literally zero idea how comics as an industry really work.
— Dylan (@bigredrobot) February 13, 2018
You can also see a lot of arguing in the comments on my last post about this, in which I analyzed the Top 20 graphic novels of 2017 and found only one contemporary best seller that didn’t have a diverse team. The Beat commenting group is a bit different than the twitter group, though. A lot of them are long time Beat posters (i.e. “veteran” readers) and they are more into commenting on message boards than watching YouTube. I’m not sure they are actually “Comicsg*ters”– just cranky old coots who have no hesitation amplifying racist/sexist attitudes.
The Anti-Diversity Sparrows (ADS) on Twitter have a different modus operandi involving YouTube videos, both watching and making them. I’m of a generation where the idea of listening to someone’s stream of consciousness ramblings for 20 minutes while looking at pictures of Tweets is a far less appealing activity than changing the kitty litter. But like the avid acolytes who gathered round the radio to listen to the preachings of Aimee Semple McPherson or Father Coughlin, these modern day true believers think they’ve found a leader they can follow who can show them the way– in this case, the way to read comics.
Unlike Father Coughlin’s listeners, the ADS are empowered to make their OWN video broadcasts. And thus a whirlpool of activity springs up, waiting to trap the unsuspecting traveler. I’m not going to get into all the details but here’s a pretty well written recap of the latest brouhaha. It is possible to live and good and content life without knowing this, but it’s also good to be able to defend innocent people who are being irrationally attacked.
The ADS are prone to harassing people on Twitter and on other platforms for transgressions that are entirely imaginary. Over last weekend (just as the retailing article came out), “lists” of comics creators and journalists who need to be boycotted were going around. I’m not going to link to them or reproduce them. The people on these lists have suffered enough and while many are proud to have pissed off Comicsg*te, many other people just wish this could be over.
Like Gamerg*te and early internet conspiracy theorists, the Comicsg*ters revel in creating their own mythology; a bizarre hodge podge of memes, patron saints, sock puppets and things that are just too convoluted to even get into. I tried to dig through this a little for a more in-depth article but soon found it more complicated than a Jason Shiga choose your own adventure, doubling back on itself in endless time-killing justifications and half baked theories and accusations. This isn’t a movement, it’s an activity.
Anyway, to bring this kind of back around to what I started out talking about, while the bullying, name calling, trolling and bigotry exhibited by the anti-diversity crowd is the most troubling part of all this, perhaps the most ludicrous part is what @bigredrobot said above: the ADS have no idea how the comics industry actually works and have no desire to find out, but will endlessly argue about their crazy conspiracy theories including: the idea that Marvel had PAID Scholastic to pretend that their books sell at school fairs; or the idea that Darryl Ayo got people fired at Marvel and DC; or that a cadre of like-minded assistant editors are taking over comics with their radical agenda. The group has moved on to revealing the “comics Deep State” which is, basically, what we’ve been calling BarCon for about 30 years: pros talking to other pros. These Onion-like ADS beliefs are funny in a way, but the real damage they are doing is utterly unfunny.
In this age of false facts and reason-free beliefs, the ADS are just another group that has made up its mind that the world works exactly as they want it to and no amount of throwing facts or sales charts or retailer interviews at them will make them budge an inch. The situation is so lame I’m reduced to quoting Bono: “The less you know, the more you believe.” Their greatest weapon is a simple one: wasting the time of people who have better things to do.
Now, why is this? Why this Comicsg*te crusade? Is it because these fierce defenders are totally devoted to the Faith of the Seven? Or maybe all of this is just a front for “anti-diversity,” which is another word for racism/sexism/transphobia/homophobia/ableism? Isn’t that what “anti-diversity” MEANS? In my own long comment on the previous thread, I pointed out that basing your movement on opposing a very good thing – diversity – is a sure way to look like a narrow minded jerk. I’m not talking diversity in comics, I’m talking diversity in genetics, business, politics, society. It’s a very benevolent concept that helps organisms, species and societies become stronger. It could even help sell more comics.
Diversity is good. Spock liked diversity.
I’m turning the comments off here because we already played that out. There are a lot of very real and very serious issues facing the comics industry right now and how we deal with them is going to affect a lot of people. It’s not the time to be stupid or waste time.
Making the comics that are being produced appeal to an ever more narrow group is the way to kill sales and stunt growth. Continuously playing to the base is what has led to the decline of comics sales. As more outlets carry comics– and more kinds of books that appeal to more kinds of readers are available to these outlets– we see actual growth. 2017 was a down year (after a string of up years) and 2018 is going to be rough, but OUTSIDE the direct market, graphic novel sales are generally stable and some publishers (mostly those who went big on the exploding kids market) are seeing sales increase.
But you knew all that. You knew it because you read the Beat. We like facts, figures that back up facts, and informed opinions, even when they contradict our own. It should go without saying (but sadly doesn’t) that we also support a comics industry that reflects the real world and we deplore and reject sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and ageism in any form.
If you want numbers, check out our Sales Chart hashtag. Only the freshest most accurate numbers here. Check out Brett Schenker’s groundbreaking demographic research. Hell just look at the world around you and listen to the voices that speak with compassion and respect and dignity.
If you want a counter to all this insanity, check out the #comicsforall hashtag currently circulating on Twitter. Started bu Jamal Igle. it’s a great reminder of why we love this medium in the first place.
So to sum up: If you would like to discuss in a rational and respectful way the issues that are impacting comics sales, please keep reading The Beat. If you want to talk about tin foil conspiracy theories and endorse bigotry, please sit down and shut your piehole.
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.