Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 3, 2015

Go, Read: Why I’m Boycotting Marvel Comics

There's an intriguing article here by a J.A. Micheline about the writer's personal boycott of Marvel Comics based on a combination of creative line-ups, character directions and social response to criticism of those first two things. I'm never quite sure if these kinds of actions are actually boycotts: the problem seems to be at the Marvel Comics level, so boycotting Marvel's comics doesn't seem like the kind of broader action that a boycott usually entails. The protest part of it is wholly real, though, and that's where our attention should be. Some of the elements of such a dispute may eventally get worked out. For instance, whether someone is in a group representing a small number of readers or a large number of readers no one really knows until sales figures start hitting, and maybe not even then. It's a time-honored tradition to disrespect any protest made in just that way, and also part of what we've come to expect to respond with umbrage and an argument that the disrespect is part of the problem.

Mostly, disputes raised like this continue to get worked on. I think most people I know that read these kinds of comics on a regular basis are surprised that there hasn't been greater diversity in some of these newer Marvel books in one way or the other or that Marvel's pushback against criticism has seemed unsympathetic to the point of being foolhardy. I get that's what comics people do, but still: everyone saw it coming. Comics are counted in such small numbers that one has a hard time imagining a boycott becoming a viral thing without a big triggering incident. In fact, this is the kind of protest that can be all over one person's social media consumption and not at all in another's. Still, you never know what's going to build momentum and how. It's also because of those relatively small numbers that any group of unhappy fans would seem worth a conciliatory gesture or several steps in their direction. Why would Marvel want DC to win any battle, even one of perception, if you want to define it that way? The wider point is I'm not sure there's a numbers threshold for doing good, and it's hard to find Marvel's positive formulation here. I'm not sure why some of these moves aren't made solely because many of these characters seem like they could use a new approach, and there's a readership for such approaches. There's immense cultural good that can be done here, and some narrative good, too. As I wrote earlier today about Hercules, making him sweep-of-dictator's-hand hetero just seems like stamping one's foot down for the most boring option on a character, a character that is in no way a guaranteed sales success in a way you wouldn't want to leaving one's options open. I'd be upset if I were Hercules' agent.

To take a couple of steps back, I continue to be amazed by folks treating these characters with such ownership, right down to professional assignments. I think it comes from a different place than just wanting a company one supports to act ethically. Remember, though, it's this kind of participation right down to character details that companies like Marvel have always wanted. They should want 400,000 more boycotting fans like this one. Me, it's hard for me to get my mind wrapped around anything being done by a giant corporation to a bunch of properties with legacies that are often very spotty creatively when they exist at all. That's my biggest break; I wasn't even one of those kids that ever thought characters acted "wrong." It's hard for me to boycott something I lost interest in in 1979 that's still not interesting to me for the same reasons. It's a lot more fun run to writer letters about anger than it is ennui, though. I wish them luck in shaping the companies after their more generous, inclusive spirit.
posted 5:37 pm PST | Permalink

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