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Brevoort on Selling Comics

September 3rd, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

From Tom Brevoort’sBlah Blah Blog:

Q: Why do booked with international lead characters seem to struggle in the US market, like Captain Britain & MI:13 and Alpha Flight? yes, i know that Wolverine’s Canadian, but APART from him.

A: 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.

He’s right.

I mean, I know what I want out of comics, but that’s often diametrically opposed to what Don DC or Maria Marvel wants. What I want? Young Liars, Unknown Soldier, all that stuff that’s great, that’s head and shoulders above the pablum? That doesn’t sell. It’ll move 20k out of the gate, then drop to below 10 and be cancelled within a year and a half. Young Liars is gone now, Unknown Soldier is probably on the way out, unless it’s trades do gangbusters.

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.

Case in point: Hawkeye vs Luke Cage. One has been put into a leadership role on the team, gained the respect of Captain America, and been in New Avengers from the beginning. The other has returned to life after a controversial death, and enjoyed a new lease on life and the return of his long-dead wife.

The last Luke Cage miniseries, barring the recent release of Luke Cage Noir, was the Azzarello/Corben miniseries at the top of the decade. Hawkeye’s latest was New Avengers: Reunion, telling the story of his reconnection with Mockingbird. That was this year.

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.

The only problem is that it’s also a self-defeating cycle. You aren’t going to bring in a larger audience by telling the same old stories about the same old people because, wait for it, they’ve been ignoring those stories forever. You’re gonna have to take risks, and telling stories about Barry Allen ain’t it. I applaud Marvel for being willing to stick with Black Panther long enough for it to find an audience for that very reason, and I recognize that companies have to make a profit. At the same time, though, I don’t have to read books starring boring characters.

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

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11 comments to “Brevoort on Selling Comics”

  1. It’s sort of in opposition to say ” What I want? Young Liars, Unknown Soldier, all that stuff that’s great, that’s head and shoulders above the pablum?” and “I’m not judging” in the same piece, you know.


  2. I’m not judging Brevoort’s statement on why comics starring Hal Jordans sell. I’m saying that what I like doesn’t sell, so creating comics geared directly to me is an exercise in making comics that will get cancelled. Two separate, though related, points.


  3. I’d be cool with a black or asian superman.


  4. Interesting thought, what would an Asian “flying brick” character be like? I’m sure some exist, but I can’t think of anything really. I’m sure there’s one in either the Super Young Heroes, or that Chinese team from 52 whom I can’t recall the name of (General-in-Iron, Mother-of-All-Heroes and such were team members)

    I can think of several black flying bricks offhand.


  5. I’m actually kind of surprised, given the popularity of Dragonball and it’s derivatives over the years, that some sort of Goku-inspired Asian “flying brick” hasn’t popped up in American comics at some point yet.


  6. indeed, I loved BB and I’m hispanic but I thought every single person who said cancelling BB was racist/anti-immigration needs a serious punch to the gut.


  7. Considering that the first attempt with Alpha Flight lasted about a decade before giving up the ghost, I do have to wonder about the logic of such a statement.

    The next two tries were a variant on X-Files-like conspiracy theory stuff and a humour riff, almost self-satirical in bent, trying to mine veins similar to Due South. Usually written by people who don’t know the neighbourhood and the history very well. So I don’t think it was the ethnicity of the characters turning people away from that series.

    At all.

    A Robert Sawyer or a Paul Gross or a Ty Templeton writing the next revival of Alpha Flight…just a thought.


  8. As for DC’s mainland Chinese government “super-functionary” team, the Great Ten? August General in Iron, Mother of Champions, and so on? They’re getting a mini-series soon, I believe.


  9. [...] not even racism. It’s mathematics”: David Brothers responds to Tom Brevoort’s “whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance [...]


  10. whitey strikes again!


  11. [...] what they do, and sometimes they do it well, but they are targeted at one very specific audience. Tom Brevoort has owned up to this in a refreshingly frank blog post. If it doesn’t make dollars, Marvel and DC will not do it. [...]