12.21.10JoeQuesadaByLuigiNovi.jpgAs we reach the end of 2017 we find that  Marvel is equally despised by progressive comics fans – who think Marvel is actively anti-diversity – and internet trolls who think any character who isn’t a white man is a “SJW tool.”

To have such opposite, yet passionate views on the very same thing takes some doing. It also takes, to be blunt, a complete lack of spin/messaging. When Nick Spencer is your loudest spokesman for an unpopular, misguided storyline that you insist on sticking with, things are not going to go well in general, but the lack of a spokesperson who could just acknowledge the outrage and flaming dumpster fires, bad tweets, awful statements, editorial missteps and the rest was painful to watch.

Indeed at one BarCon last year I had an off the record chat with a High Level Marvel Exec and I gently suggested, “You need to at least acknowledge to complaints.”  The response was an even more anxious expression and a genuinely baffled “Acknowledge HOW????”

Watching Marvel get locked into its own fear bunker has been a huge slide for a company that was founded on a clubhouse atmosphere. After all, Stan Lee was and is The Great Communicator who can make ice seem fashionable to people who live in Siberia. NüMarvel of the Ultimate Era had Bendis, Millar and other nimble hypers. Agent M, aka Ryan Penagos was one of the very first twitter accounts to hit a million followers and in the early days of Twitter was a friendly, accessible voice for Marvel.

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But in recent years, corporate message control has left things to Tom Brevoort – who love to talk about character stuff but isn’t the most nuanced spin doctor – and Axel Alonso, who had his own pitfalls. And it just went down a black hole. Even the fluff interviews with Marvel editors were ceased. And then a veil of secrecy seemed to descend. Retailer presentations were closed. Panels were members only. Marketing head honcho David Gabriel gave only one interview a year – to ICv2 – and turned down many requests to do more.

You see where this is going.

Given his ghastly gaffe in that epic ICv2 “behind the scenes”, you’d think maybe Gabriel shouldn’t do any interviews…and I doubt he will again. But nature and social media abhors a vacuum and hot takes become the narrative.

And of course, with the recent appointment of C.B. Cebulski to editor in chief, what looked like a nice clean slate turned into a bowl of rancid ramen with the Akira Yoshida revelations.

So what is Marvel to do? As a company they are obviously unaccustomed to public speaking, and seemingly unequipped to deal with how their comics have become a battleground for the alt-right “Comicsgate” movement. (Although giving more attention to this does fan the flames.)

There’s only one man who could ride to the rescue: chief creative officer, Joe Quesada.

The former editor-in-chief is no stranger to being the public face of the company, having established his own “Cup o’Joe” brand during the Ultimate Era. And in he rides to a ruined hellscape of dumpser fires and remaindered lenticular covers. And this week’s “Legacy cancellations” is his first battle.

Let’s start out with Tom Brevoort’s own attempt to point out business realities.

Nice try but let’s bring in Joe Q, with some time to kill while sitting on the tarmac in a plane. These may a little hard to follow since this embedding doesn’t show the tweets he’s answering, but you get the idea.

Were the waters quelled? Well Colin Spacetwinks (author of an essay called “Shut the Fuck Up, Marvel“)  was having none of it,  My hero, Cheryl Lynn Eaton, also responded with a very good take.  One tweet:

My response to this is a bit “We tried that and it didn’t work!” fatalism though, Marvel’s marketing is pretty rudimentary on all their books. They have given a big push to POC written books Mosaic and Black Panther; the former died quickly and the latter is still going strong. I’ll let you decide if that has to do with marketing or the relative quality of the books and general awareness of the characters.

An interesting (to me) exchange took place where a fan brought up Kelly Sue DeConnick’s  brilliant marketing strategy for the CarolCorps, a grassroots effort that built a passionate fanbase and has certainly kept the character so much in the forefront that she’s getting her own Oscar-winner starring movie. Quesada says he just didn’t know about the spiecifics; he was busy doing other things and didn’t have time to follow it.

 

It is well to remember that busy working people don’t necessarily have time to follow everything on twitter, tumblr and reddit. When they do (anday ottslay, icknay encerspay) the results are generally not what we hoped. It is perhaps a better move to HIRE someone whose job it is to do such monitor duty and respond accordingly with the company line. Something that is probably beyond Marvel’s current two person PR dept.

But be that as it may, it has been decided that such a person must be brought on board, and it’s a very highly paid one, the Chief Creative Officer who had moved on to do other things, not tweet at fans.

In fact just as I was writing this the fight everyone has been waiting for kicked off: Quesada vs. Spacetwinks!

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ON one thing Spacetwinks and I agree:

You can read more in the replies to that tweet but this isn’t ending any time soon.

Will Quesada’s charm offensive win hearts and minds? A few, I’m sure. The dumpster fire has raged out of control for a long time. It’s going to take a looong time to put it out. Marvel had better hope that Quesada has a lot of time on that tarmac.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. “The only thing creators ultimately can and should do is go with their creative instinct and the story they want to tell that they feel will be the most entertaining to their audience. This is what they were hired to do.”

    OK, for context, I’m a bit in the middle of this. I do want there to be lots of great inclusive characters, and the hard facts about a characters’ gender, race, sexuality, etc. don’t necessarily start or stop my interest. But I do sometimes wonder if the second part of that statement is really accurate, that the writer is really writing what they think will be most entertaining. Or if they do, I wonder if they really understand their audience. In other words, I do think the Marvel audience is a very conservative one, so really writing things that are outside their comfort zone is not an effort to entertain, but to educate. Which may or may not be a bad thing, but it is different from what Q says here.

    I remember reading an interaction between Dan Slott and a fan during the “Superior” era, where the fan asked something along the lines of “Why don’t you just write stories about Peter Parker as Spider-Man?” and Slott’s reply was “That’s not the kind of story I am interested in writing. Don’t you want to read stories where the writer is passionate about the story they are telling?” And I really wasn’t sure where I came down on that one. The obviously extreme example is that while you might be passionate around writing a Spider-Man story, if you are hired to write Captain America, you can’t just have Captain America temporarily become Spider-Man.

  2. One thing I always wondered about Mosaic: despite starring a tall black basketball player, is it really a POC book when the main character’s a disembodied spirit who possesses other people, is rarely seen as himself & spends a lot of his time passing for white guy after white guy?

  3. I think as a random white guy I can’t say for sure, but if I understand the patterns correctly, Mosaic would probably count based on the foundations of his culture that were established, and the fact that his father and some of the other supporting characters were POC. This is as opposed to the whole “Kyle Rayner is half-Mexican” thing where sure, he’s walking around in his half-Mexican body the whole time, but that heritage had little to nothing to do with his day-to-day life. Or, for that matter, saying that Vision is a Person of Color because he’s red. There’s no cultural foundation for “Artificial American” to base it on.

  4. Someone at Marvel needs to be appointed their public voice, and it should be someone who is personable, good with words, and able to convince comic readers that Marvel has a plan. All we’re hearing so far is double-talk, shade, and blame. That never works.

  5. They can say anything they want, their comics are still too expensive and I’ve read fanfic with more of a grasp on the characters. When they turned the heroes into the villains with bad stories they made me an enemy and I’ve seen no reason to change that.

  6. The diversity stuff always seemed half-assed at Marvel. They basically replaced all the old characters overnight with diverse new characters and were then shocked people were up in arms. They’ve played to old, white men for so long, it’s no wonder that group got furious when Marvel slowly changed the game. They needed to go slow on that and replace characters gradually.

    But yeah, their PR is abysmal.

  7. “The only thing creators ultimately can and should do is go with their creative instinct and the story they want to tell that they feel will be the most entertaining to their audience.”

    That right there is the problem. “they want to tell.” “they feel.” “their audience.” Marvel is caught in this weird paradox in that at they same time they’ve basically become an intellectual property management service, they also seem to hand over the reigns to creators with no overall editorial or publishing vision to guide them.

    Mike

  8. @MBunge – that’s because with Webcomics and other ways that it is so easy to make comics, particularly with creator-owned options, there’s no reason for comics writers to work (for long) under conditions they don’t care for, i.e. being told every little thing to do. There are some, like Scott Lobdell, who thrive under those conditions, but you’ll notice nobody it overly fond of his work either.

  9. “There are some, like Scott Lobdell, who thrive under those conditions, but you’ll notice nobody it overly fond of his work either.”

    I’d take Lobdell’s writing over the vast majority of Marvel’s current writers.

  10. Am I the only one who thinks that Marvel is actually making things worse by actually acknowledging the controversy?

    I think they would just be best to completely ignore the “Colin Spacetwinks” and Brian Hibbs of the world. Their social media output should just be to schill upcoming events and stories, and either block or ignore comments from people that don’t agree with their world view.

    Just do like Vince McMahon and the WWE and completely ignore negative stories unless you are absolutely forced to acknowledge them (i.e. an employee gets indicted or a lawsuit gets filed).

    Marvel’s big problem is their failure to “control the narrative.”

    Example: The NFL has turned the discussion about players kneeling for the national anthem from a discussion about how minorities are being discriminated against by the police, to a discussion on how said players are “disrespecting America” and “disrespecting the troops.”

    Marvel would do better to dig up controversial statements that Colin Spacetwinks has made in the past and parade them around to turn the negative attention onto him/her.

  11. “there’s no reason for comics writers to work (for long) under conditions they don’t care for”

    There is a reason. It’s called MONEY. How many people are making a living at comics outside Marvel or DC?

    Mike

  12. I am not familiar with Colin Spacetwinks, but he comes off as a complete douche in these tweets. And i feel bad for Joe who is obviously spending his free time doing those Q&A’s, people aren’t really looking for common sense, they just want someone to blame for the cancellation of titles.

  13. That “brilliant marketing campaign” turned Captain Marvel into a book that needs a new number one every 18 months or so before the sales figures get too embarrassing.

  14. And with each relaunch, sales fall below what they were before the cancellation and new No. 1 (as an article in The Atlantic pointed out). It’s not just Captain Marvel, it’s pretty much across the board. The perfect time for readers to jump off a book is when it’s cancelled, and Marvel is doing it a lot.

  15. @Ian Scofield “I think they would just be best to completely ignore the “Colin Spacetwinks” and Brian Hibbs of the world. ”

    I can assure you that Marvel ignores me roundly at each and every opportunity they have!

    Though, having said that, Stan did phone me out of the blue 20+ years ago specifically to apologize for a Marvel action (that all these years later I can’t recall specifically what it was… but it was pre-Jemas, which lets out a lot) and I thought Stan was pretty much pure damn Class for that, because it for sure 100% wasn’t anything that he directly did himself.

    -B

  16. I wish The Beat wouldn’t put all the controversy into two camps. I love Marvel’s diversity, but hate that they’ve don’t it at the original characters’ expense. I would much rather Mosaic succeed over Ms. Marvel, Miles or Lady Thor because it would be an original minority character. Unfortunately, I tried reading Mosaic and it sucked. Ms. Marvel, Lady Thor and Miles are better characters, written and drawn by better creators. I guess the main question should be is, why won’t Marvel put it’s A talent on new, diverse characters?

  17. ” … a battleground for the alt-right ‘Comicsgate’ movement.”

    This all reminds me of an article by Willie Osterweil called “What Was the Nerd?” You can google it. He argues that nerds are the fascists of the 21st century. If you spend much time on sites devoted to comics, video games or superhero movies, you know there’s some truth to this.

    Key point:

    “Today’s American fascist youth is neither the strapping Aryan jock-patriot nor the skinheaded, jackbooted punk: The fascist millennial is a pasty nerd watching shitty meme videos on YouTube, listening to EDM, and harassing black women on Twitter. Self-styled ‘nerds’ are the core youth vanguard of crypto-populist fascist movements. And they are the ones most likely to seize the opportunities presented by the Trump presidency.”

    And this:

    “In the 1980s and ’90s, an obsession with comics, games, and anime might have made this suburban ‘nerd’ a bit of a weirdo. But today, with comic-book franchises keeping Hollywood afloat and video games a $100 billion global industry whose major launches are cultural events, nerd culture is culture. But the nerd myth — outcast, bullied, oppressed and lonely — persists, nowhere more insistently than in the embittered hearts of the little Mussolinis defending nerd-dom.”

  18. “He argues that nerds are the fascists of the 21st century.”

    Thereby demonstrating that he doesn’t understand what “fascism” means.

    Mike

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