Why I’m Boycotting Marvel Comics
Marvel, you and I are taking a break.
It’s not me; it’s you — and you made the decision really easy.
In the past two to three weeks, I have watched you disrespect and disregard marginalized voices and I’ve had enough.
First, came your quiet decision to hand the new Blade book over to two white creators. To be clear, I have no reason to think either creator will do a bad job on this book, but I was disappointed that one of Marvel’s most prominent black heroes would be handed to white people yet again.
I feel like I have to say this five or six times. Whenever this comes up, I get a tsunami of white people wondering what my problem is and suggesting I’m racist for saying white people can’t write about people of color. It’s not that white people can’t; it’s not even that they shouldn’t (except in some circumstances that I have written about almost ad nauseam recently) — it’s that white people are the ones who, historically and systemically, are consistently offered the opportunity. And in 2015, perhaps the right thing to do is to let people of color have a turn.
But fine, you gave Blade to white guys — this isn’t new. It’s the same disappointment that is part and parcel of being a non-white fan.
It is my reality to expect this from Marvel, from DC, from everyone. Black people writing about black people becomes a ‘black thing’. White people talking about black issues is somehow viewed as more neutral or honorable because they are unbiased — okay, sure, just another day.
Even your announcement about the hip-hop variants wasn’t massively shocking. I’m used to your executive editors just not getting it. I am used to tone-deafness, and I am used to cultural appropriation. I am used to companies using black culture for profit while refusing to put actual black people on their payroll — and before you say you have, show me the receipts. Really, show me your current black writers. I am practically begging for someone to prove me wrong on this score. I’ve been loudly trotting out the fact that Marvel has never hired a black woman to write an ongoing in 75 years because I am waiting for the blessed day for when some fanboy can “well, actually” me with a single example. I won’t stop complaining, but at least there’ll have been one.
And don’t “well, we have black artists/colorists” me either in a climate where you have clearly (and wrongly) demonstrated that you value writers over artists. By your own standards and priorities, you’ve made it implicitly clear that black people can’t have the reins to their stories or anyone else’s.
But I digress.
The moment you and I really started having a problem, Marvel, was when your editor-in-chief all but laughed off the numerous critiques of the variants. Axel Alonso’s interview with CBR was unspeakably condescending and horrendously dismissive. From using scare quotes to frame the discussion to referring, to outcry from David Brothers and other readers/critics as a “small but very loud contingent,” to — and this is the part that I pretty much can’t forgive — indicating that we had suddenly learned the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ and were eager to use it in an essay.
I could actually write an entire piece on why it was beyond A Bad Idea to parade the assumption that black critics have just learned the word ‘cultural appropriation’ and have no idea what they were talking about. I could definitely write an entire piece on why it was Well Past The Point Of Bad Choices for Alonso to only directly address the critique that came from white writer Noah Berlatsky, and use it as an excuse to ignore all other critiques.
But I won’t, because there are only so many hours in the day and we’re still on the topic of why I’m boycotting you.
Oh, did I not say that? Yes, this is a boycott. I’m boycotting you, Marvel Comics.
Because here’s what happened in the week that followed:
Beyond the general hand-waving and promises with minimal substance about black writers, Alonso — editor-in-chief, let’s remember, the person who is running the show in your editorial department — made it clear that your upcoming Hercules book would depict him, categorically, as straight. This, at a time when you are putting out z-e-r-o books with a queer lead character. Not a single one. Hercules, a character who is canonically — and I mean going back to the Greeks, canonically — bisexual, and a character who has been depicted as/alluded to as bisexual throughout your comics, and your editor-in-chief says, “No.”
That is, in no uncertain terms, a slap in the face to every queer reader who picks up your comic books. You had an opportunity to represent them, an opportunity that already has precedent, an opportunity that would require next to no effort from you — and your top representative went out of his way to make sure queer people weren’t included.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, he took to Twitter — alongside Chris D’Lando, your #2 PR person — and retweeted a photoshop from a Gamergater effectively mocking anyone who viewed Hercules as queer — using images from an issue that some had already found questionable with regards to queer representation.
Yes, the tweets were deleted (with no apology). No, that does not matter in the slightest.
In the past two weeks, your editor-in-chief has not just denied criticism by, denied representation of, and ultimately denied opportunities to marginalized people; he then used social media to make fun of us right next to the person who is responsible for your public relations.
This goes right to the core of your company and I will not accept it.
So, we’re on a break until two things happen: (1) you hire three different black writers for your ongoing books and (2) you put forth three ongoing books with different queer leads.
Both of those conditions must be met to get me to buy any of the rest of your books for the foreseeable future.
I know what you’re thinking: Wow, JAM, isn’t that a lot to ask for? Why not just come back to them when they’ve done one of each, you know? Give them a chance?
Well, I’m thinking of black comics creator Dwayne McDuffie’s “Rule of Three.” McDuffie posits that, as soon as you have three members of a marginalized community represented, they stop being token members and start — strangely — being perceived as “taking over.” He relates that, when he began writing Justice League and included three black members on the team — as an editorial directive — fans, primarily white and male, suddenly felt that he was pushing some kind of agenda. In fact, what McDuffie had done was represent marginalized characters not as tokens, but instead as people who have their own community and are equally valued.
And that’s what I’m demanding of you, Marvel.
I’m sure you’ll say that I am only hurting my cause by not giving money to books that are representing the diverse ideal, or to other creators of color, or female creators, or what have you. But I would remind you that this is what happens whenever anyone boycotts anything. Any boycott will inevitably have collateral damage to people who don’t espouse the same views as their employers, but the fact of matter is, you — the corporation you — will only start listening when the money stops rolling in.
You’ve crossed the line and it’s time to take a stand.
Readers make this choice all the time. They elect not to buy certain comics for personal or political reasons. And it is their right and prerogative to do so. It just so happens that my boycott has gone company-wide because, among other things, Axel Alonso’s name is printed and credited on every single one of your books. And as far as I know, what he stands for is what you stand for.
But, I also want to say here: let’s not get it twisted. This is not just about Alonso’s recent conduct as an individual. This is about how his actions fit into the overall pattern of your publishing and hiring patterns. I’m not boycotting your editor-in-chief; I am boycotting you. This is about a constellation of choices made by your establishment, not a single data point.
I’m past the point of giving you the chance and have landed straight in the territory of demanding something more than one-and-done, something more than one writer and one queer character, something more than your excuses or your breadcrumbs.
I’m demanding that you start listening.
Put a black writer on a book, I’ll give it a try. Announce a book with a queer lead, I will gladly read that first issue. But until you can break that Rule of Three — and really, until you get your house in order — you will have no business from me.
Call me a small but very loud contingent if you want, but I promise you I’m not the only one.