I tend to take the weekends off from the twitters, a self-care habit that improves my outlook on life and enables me to start the week with renewed enthusiasm. Thus I missed undoubtedly the dumbest non-story that I have written about in this decade.
It started when a writer whose name rhymes with “rude sharer” decided to flog a pet theory by using the announcement that Marvel is doing a panel at SXSW to run over all the reasons that Marvel’s business is shaky – further framing the panel as an attempt by Marvel COO Joe Quesada and Marvel EIC CB Cebulski to prove to Disney that Marvel Comics Matter.
Because a large faction of sexist, racist, transphobic reactionaries on the internet like to use any analysis of industry trends as fodder for their theory that making comics and movies starring anyone other than white men is destroying comics and movies, this ended up — and I can hardly bring myself to type this — being spread as the rumor on clickbait web sites that Disney is shutting down Marvel. And Twitter went nuts. I’m told it went nuts. I was away. Maybe it was 10 tweets. I don’t know, but for once we have to turn to Comicbook.com for more of the story, which you can read if you must.
The foofaw was enough to move Quesada to tweet a denial of the nonexistent rumor:
Must be a slow news day. Ladies and gents I give you the dumbest comics conspiracy of the week. https://t.co/ZGpx4EuWKK
Sometimes a panel is just a panel.
— JoeQuesada (@JoeQuesada) March 2, 2019
Now, The Beat yields to no site in its analysis of industry trends, sales figures and behind-the-scenes information. It’s kind of what we do. And of late, we’ve seen a rough retail environment for comics out there… BECAUSE IT’S ROUGH RETAIL ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL BRICK AND MORTAR STORES OUT THERE NOW, but who’s counting? As our recent ComicsPRO coverage suggests, retailers and publishers alike are reacting to industry concerns, and attempting to make changes that will lead to increased health.
Marvel’s recent publishing practices — excessive variant covers, expensive events — are open to criticism, and our columnists have definitely been criticizing them. But for a certain subset of internet trolls, it all leads back to the original sin of making comics — and movies based on those comics — starring women and people of color.
Not that I need to refute the entire premise of the article, but here’s a real shocker that may cause you all to lose control of your bowels, so better be sitting on a bodega toilet when you read it:
Marvel has been going to SXSW for years.
Since at least 2012. I know that because I’ve been covering it for years. When Marvel first attended SXSW — a sprawling music/tech/media conference that is aimed mostly at other music/tech/media people — it seemed like a savvy move at outreach to, oh, I don’t know, sell more comics to more kinds of people.
Let’s go to the internet archives!
In 2012, Marvel took to the SXSW Interactive event to announce their Infinite Comics:
This Spring, Marvel Entertainment takes Austin, Texas by storm in its inaugural appearance at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival with the Marvel: House of Ideas panel at SXSW ScreenBurn! In this historic event on Sunday, March 11 at 1pm on the IGN stage at the Palmer Events Center, Axel Alonso (Marvel Comics Editor in Chief), Jeph Loeb (Head of Marvel Television) and Peter Phillips (SVP & GM, Marvel Digital Media Group) unveil Marvel’s bold new multimedia plans that includes the premiere of Marvel’s revolutionary new ways to read comics.
Infinite Comics turned out to be an AR thing that has never really caught on. At the time, this seemed to be an initiative by Phillips, who was pretty active in building Marvel’s digital efforts. (Phillips was let go in 2017.)
In 2013, Marvel RETURNED to SXSW, with such a big presence that our own Todd Allen was moved to write a long analysis of why they went there:
Marvel made the media rounds at SXSW yesterday and most of the announcements were for things off in the future. SXSW is fast becoming Marvel’s mainstream outreach equivalent of SDCC. That’s right. SXSW isn’t really about the Direct Market comics fan. It’s about getting Marvel’s name and their *digital* offerings in the mind set of the world’s tech community.
Those aren’t comic sites and, for the most part, they have a larger readership. The “venture” in Venture Beat is venture capital. Marvel isn’t looking to get funding, they’re looking to market their digital comics to people in the tech industry. It should be a decent demographic match. Techies tend to have read comics at some point in their life and a pretty healthy portion of them have tablets, which are the consumption device of choice for digital comics.
As reported by Steve Morris, in 2013 Marvel announced a bunch of digital comics initiatives at SXSW, including free comics, an audio program where people could add sound effects to their comics and other things that…well, they didn’t really catch on. But at the time it was so successful that Marvel’s servers crashed.
Having failed in two tries to destroy Marvel within Disney, the House of Ideas RETURNED TO SXSW in 2014!!! This time with a panel featuring Axel Alonso:
Marvel Entertainment- home to The Avengers, Spider-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy, X-Men & more- returns to SXSW with the super powered panel no attendee can miss! Last year, Marvel broke the Internet with cutting-edge plans that revolutionized the world of comics & this year we’re going even bigger! An ALL-NEW era for your favorite Marvel Super Heroes starts NOW!
Marvel: House of Ideas is open to the public with free Guest Pass wristbands, available in advance or on-site at the event. Guestpass.sxsw.com for more information.
Here the link trail goes frustratingly cold….but in 2018, Disney’s Freeform and Marvel were back to debut their Cloak and Dagger TV series there:
Freeform, Disney’s young adult television network, today announced Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger will have its world premiere watch party during South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, on March 11, as partner programming. The premiere will mark Freeform and Marvel Television’s first presence at SXSW. You can check out a new promo for the series in the player below!
This cunning attempt at killing Cloak and Dagger was very effective, as most people have forgotten the show even exists.
SXSW’s brutal efficiency at killing comics has spread to DC, sadly. In 2018 DC lured people to an abattoir by announcing DC Will Have a Major Presence at SXSW (and Free Beer)
Heading out to SXSW in a week? DC & Warner’s TV unit are having a fairly elaborate pop-up experience for the duration of the show. Free coffee (Flash TV theme), free beer (Gotham theme). The cast of Black Lightning will be putting in an appearance and also Bendis. There’s actually quite a bit going on, so scroll down and have a look.
I believe ComiXology has also promoted their efforts at SXSW over the years.
All snark aside, far from being a desperate personal mission from Quesada and Cebulski to save their company, it’s just one big corporation using a big, expensive promotional platform to float some promotional blather.
Now if you want to read blather, let’s analyze one random paragraph from a later piece by Rude Sharer saying he didn’t mean to suggest Marvel was being shut down, but they should be!
Marvel is not a progressive ally. They are a corporation whose primary motivation is to produce profits for their shareholders. Their biggest shareholder, by the way? Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter, a person who literally eats Thanksgiving dinner with Donald Trump, whose involvement in the Veterans Affairs department as part of Trump’s administration is currently being investigated by Congress. Does that sound particularly progressive to you?
Okay first off…there is literally no such thing as Marvel stock. There is only Disney stock. Ike Perlmutter cannot be Marvel’s biggest shareholder because such a thing does not exist.
Is he DISNEY’S biggest shareholder? When Ike sold Marvel to Disney he pocketed nearly $700 million in Disney stock (in 2009 prices.) This made him ONE of Disney’s biggest shareholders, but behind Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Steve), who was listed in 2015 as Disney’s biggest shareholder with 130 million shares.
Perlmutter has also been eclipsed by…George Lucas, who owns 37.1 million Disney shares thanks to selling them Star Wars. (All figures taken from this Financial Times article.)
This article lists Disney’s top five individual shareholders, and none of them are Perlmutter. It doesn’t list Lucas or Jobs either, though, so their holdings may come under some other category.
So is Perlmutter a very large stockholder in DISNEY? Yes. But not the biggest one. As for the rest of the paragraph, Perlmutter’s close friendship with Donald Trump is well documented, and you may not want to support him or his projects because of that, or his documented racist comments.
The site where Rude Sharer works, let’s call it Speeding Drool, has not always been so anti-Perlmutter. As is also well documented, pro-Perlmutter forces attempted to use this site to promote the narrative that Kevin Feige taking over the MCU would be a disaster for the movies and might even mean that….Marvel Comics would be shut down. This from 2016.
Still, if you care about human decency, you don’t like the fact that Ike Perlmutter still runs Marvel’s comics and TV divisions. But his monetary stake goes far beyond that. If you don’t want to support his reported meddling in the VA, or eating turkey with POTUS, I suggest you not support ANY Disney product, whether it be Marvel, Star Wars, Frozen, ESPN or The View. Perlmutter profits anytime any of those are successful.
Is Marvel progressive? Well, the MOVIE side had to get rid of Perlmutter in 2015 so they could make Black Panther and Captain Marvel. But every time you buy a ticket or a DVD to those movies, you put money in Ike’s pocket.
As for the comics side, obviously, Marvel has a spotty to awful track record, and their treatment of LGBTQIA+ characters has tended towards erasure to a very troubling degree. The firing of Chuck Wendig from his Star Wars projects was petty and anti-progressive (although I’m told it came from upstairs at Disney, not from a line editor.)
But whatever Perlmutter’s personal beliefs, obviously some of the grunts in the Bullpen are still hiring creators who are not straight white men. In March, Marvel will have projects written by Vita Ayala, Saladin Ahmed, Eve Ewing, Leah Williams, Tini Howard, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Bryan Hill, Gail Simone, Jody Houser, Kelly Thompson, Nilah Macgruder, Nnedi Okorafor and Greg Pak. People who think that there is never enough diversity — and those who think any is too much — will both reject this list. At some point, does it even matter which side you are on?
Of course you’ll never hear any calm, reasoned discussion of this. It has to be all or nothing in our polarized, clickbait society. Thousands of people shared the clickbait. Only a few dozen will share this, based on previous metrics. After writing all of this — spending precious never to be seen again hours refuting something that no one said and a mob overheard — it’s incredibly demoralizing to be living in a world where truth and facts have no meaning. But I’ll keep trying and so will the rest of the staff at The Beat.
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.