Fortune released a profile of Marvel EIC Axel Alonso praising his diversity initiative on the same day that Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel said that people are "turning their noses up" at diversity. Fortune paints Alonso as a one man wrecking crew, completely retooling the Marvel brand.
In an industry historically dominated by caucasian males, Alonso is breaking the laminated seal of stodgy tradition by adding people of every ilk to the brand's roster of writers and dramatis personae. Under his watch, the Marvel universe has expanded to accommodate costumed crimefighters of myriad ethnicities: a biracial Spider-Man, a black Captain America, a Mexican-American Ghost Rider, to name a few. Last year he hired the company's first ever black female writers.
Released simultaneously, Gabriel gave an interview to ICv2, regarding Marvel's sales slump, in which he contradicts Marvel's need for diversity.
Part of it, but I think also it seemed like tastes changed, because stuff you had been doing in the past wasn’t working the same way. Did you perceive that or are we misreading that?
No, I think so. I don’t know if those customers with the tastes that had been around for three years really supporting nearly anything that we would try, anything that we would attempt, any of the new characters we brought up, either they weren’t shopping in that time period, or maybe like you said their tastes have changed.
There was definitely a sort of nose-turning at the things that we had been doing successfully for the past three years, no longer viable. We saw that, and that’s what we had to react to. Yes, it’s all of that.
Now the million-dollar question. Why did those tastes change?
I don’t know if that’s a question for me. I think that’s a better question for retailers who are seeing all publishers. What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.
We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.
It was the old things coming back in that time period, three books in particular, Spider-Man Renew Your Vows, that had Spider-Man and Mary Jane married, that worked. The Venom book worked and the Thanos book worked. You can take what you want out of who might be enjoying those three books, but it is definitely a specific type of comic book reader, comic book collector that really liked those three series.
Buried in the Fortune profile, Alonso mentions the true reason for his diversity push: business.
The rush to diversify characters has more to do with business than politics, in Alonso’s telling. "Our creators are itching to show you the world outside your window," he says, citing a directive he says dates back to the tenure of Stan Lee, longtime Marvel editor and geek-idol extraordinaire. The direction does not, Alonso stresses, reflect the influence of Marvel’s overlords at Disney. It’s organic—"it's in the air," he says.
So when the market shifts and readers see "diversity" as just another gimmick, alongside variant covers and character deaths, what's a publisher to do, but ditch it.