Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tom's New Cabin: Tradition Or Institution?

When the differential access, better known as institutional racism, becomes integral to institutions, it becomes common practice, making it difficult to rectify. Eventually, this racism dominates public bodies, private corporations, and public and private universities, and is reinforced by the actions of conformists and newcomers. Another difficulty in reducing institutionalized racism is that there is no sole, true identifiable perpetrator. When racism is built into the institution, it appears as the collective action of the population.

"I don't know that it's any one thing, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that it's all part of the same phenomenon that makes it more difficult to sell series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent. Because we're an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males. So while within that demographic you'll find people who are interested in a wide assortment of characters of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, whenever your leads are white American males, you've got a better chance of reaching more people overall. That's something that continues to change as the audience for what we do gets larger and more diverse-but even within that diversity, it's probably going to be easier to make a success of a book with a female or African-American lead before it is a British or Canadian-centric character."

- Tom Brevoort, Executive Editor, Marvel

"Tom's syntax following that is a little blunt...man, I wish it were wrong, but it's not. Every comics publisher ever, including BOOM!, can tell you maddening tales of retailers who, even now, in the 21st century, are hesitant to order books with non-white, non-American leads because their community won't support them. It's absurd, it's crazy-making, I don't know what it's going to take to change that other than time...but like it or not, it is an unfortunate truth of the time in which we live."

-Mark Waid, Editor-In-Chief, BOOM! Studios

"He’s right.

In short, we, as in the comics reading community, get the comics industry that we deserve. Our buying habits decide the output of the companies. And if people only want stories starring classic characters, stories that “matter” and pay homage to the knotted and twisted chains of continuity… you’re only gonna get stories starring white dudes, with the occasional green chick or redhead playing the background.

I’m not judging here, this is value-neutral. But, if you’re going to go, “Our best-selling comics tend to be about our universe and continuity. We should do more of those so we can stay afloat,” you’re going to get comics starring people with several dozen years of Marvel history. All but two of those people are white, and the two are Black Panther and Falcon, who no one cares about anyway.

So if the audience wants stories that matter, you’re gonna get stories starring white dudes. It’s not even racism. It’s mathematics.

Good on Brevoort, though. He’s a stand-up guy, and it’s nice to see a dose of realism in comics."

- David Brothers, The 4th Letter

"Comics are no more or less racist than any other business in this country. The problems in comics are exacerbated by how small the biz is, so whatever problems may exist are magnified. Comics are run by liberals who stupidly think they are beyond racism. That is the institutionalized nature of racism in this country. The most racist people are typically those intellectuals who believe they have risen above it. It is also difficult for a Black man to discuss racism, because there is no common reference point. The moment I discuss race or racial components of the political structure in comics, there is moaning and aggravated sighs and hands thrown up because the liberals who run the joint feel wrongly accused, much along the lines of, 'So, when did you stop eating your wife?'"

-Christopher Priest, Writer - Black Panther

"Interestingly, Brevoort seems to view "American" as a far more key component for a book's success than "white" or "male": He goes on to speculate that books whose leads are black or female and American will have an easier go of it than books whose leads are white and male but foreign.

There's an awful lot to chew on in there, from the assessment of Marvel's audience to the characterization of their interests to the comparison of international characters with women or minority characters to the whole chicken-egg question of which came first, the demographic or the subject matter. Is Brevoort's analysis a common-sense observation, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely?"

-Sean T. Collins, columnist - Comic Book Resources

"... They say they want you successful/But then they make it stressful/You start keeping pace/They start changin' up the tempo..."

- Mos Def - Poet, 'Mr. Nigga'

Running roughshod through the mainstream consensus like Jet Li from Unleashed with his dog collar on hold, this is PLANET GRIFFIN! By now, everyone has heard of the controversial comments of Marvel's Executive Editor, TOM BREVOORT, over at the Marvel Blogs, as well as the flooding of various industry vets and reporters eager to speak on the recent turn of events. As a voice from the underground, PLANET GRIFFIN speaks.

For openers, I DO find Tom's comments disheartening, for he's selling what some people in the business refer to as 'a hard truth'--- meaning that the chances of success of your product (in this case, your comic) is dependent on how universal said product is. Tom merely stated his position in that hard truth, weakly disguising it as 'a guess'. Is this state of affairs he and others speak of a sad truth, or a happy lie? Here is where the institution takes it's dangerous shape.

Black characters/female characters/international characters as leads are only as difficult to make successful as the team behind its design. Institution and tradition seems to go hand in hand in this business.

In regards to the 'white, American males' dictating sales within the industry... It's comments like this that can actually DISCOURAGE new readership, not bolster it... Ducking the question (sadly, as Priest did during his interview) doesn't help the situation, but then again, BLACK PANTHER is considered a 'sleeper' hit for Marvel, so I can understand the need to 'protect the check'... Moreover, even though Tom's statements doesn't necessarily reflect the attitudes of the rest of the Marvel Bullpen, it can be pretty damning to those who now work under his 'realistic dogma'. It DOES sow a bitter seed for those 'non-white' readers who may feel put off by the question that Tom has now raised: Do I matter as a minority within the majority?

By the way, in concerning how black and female American characters will fare better than foreign will, Tom forgot something... Foreign OUTSELLS domestic by a wide margin; so much so that it's already deeply ingrained in the American consciousness--- It's called MANGA.

Kind in mind, folks, this is only the beginning. The 4th letter says it's not racism, but mathematics... Well, it is... By about 4 billion. Whether right or wrong, it kinda makes everything seem all white, don't it?


Jay Potts said...


First, the Mos Def quote definitely reminded me of our beleaguered President Obama.

Second, the fanboy's response to Black or minority comic book characters reminded me of the general reaction to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." I thought it was the best iteration of "Star Trek" since the original series, but most of fandom thought otherwise, or would kick the proverbial dirt and mumble grudging acceptance of its quality. Personally, I thought it had a lot to do with the mostly minority cast, and having a Black man in charge. The majority of fanboys just found it hard to identify with Capt. Sisko. Also, I found it interesting that the low man on the totem pole was a White guy...and even he had an Irish accent.


RodBuddah said...

Hard truth I can handle--- but a cop out/excuse I can't. Besides, I liked Capt. Sisko...

John Aston said...

I dunno if it's a race thing, but more of a niche market with a small readership reluctant to branch too out from Lee/Kirby era properties, which utilize the white male template.

Blake Faucette said...

Hey Rodney,
Not sure that it's racism so much (not that it doesn't exist in the comic industry). It's the same thing that we run into in the movie industry. As you certainly see, most films that come out have white leads. Most of that comes from lazy executives who really only go with what has been proven to work. Which is why you see Diehard 2,3 & 4. Until someone proves that a film with say an African-American lead can be profitable then executives will be hesitant. Of course there's Denzel and Will Smith. They became bankable and you'll see the industry ride them into the ground. The same goes for Jet Li & Jackie Chan. It's up to creators to come up with stories featuring cultural diversity that can be accessible to a mainstream audience. I think a lot fail because they make stories for a specific audience. We tend to choose stories that are universal. Whether it's and action movie or a comedy, we include a representation of all of our friends which are very ethnically diverse. Some filmmakers make black films for a black audience but I think the ones that will be hugely successful are going to be universal stories that happen to feature a black male lead (or female lead). Of course filmmakers and comic creators certainly have the right to make their product for a very specific audience. We like everyone's money so when we make films, we tend to think how do we make this accessible for an Asian market, or a Latin market or an Urban market. Probably our weakest audience is the female market but we are working on characters that they can identify with as well. For those interested in comics with Black, Asian or other ethnic leads then they will have to prove that there is a fanbase out there which means the fans need to quit whining about this and actually show up on Wednesday's and buy these books when they are available. Creators also have to be willing to tap into a bigger audience especially when you are talking about a major company like Marvel who obviously is going to be looking for a certain amount of sales from a book to keep it in print. Until then executives in charge of comic companies are going to continue with what they know.
Love the blog,

RodBuddah said...

New man to the PLANET!! Thanks for chiming in, Blake, cuz' I think you've nailed it here! Cash cows come in all shapes and sizes... Squeeze a buck out of a teat, and the rest becomes history(lmao)

Thanks again for tuning in!