Something you probably know about me: I love comics.
Something you probably didn’t know: I hate going to comic book stores.
The first time I went to an actual comic book shop, I was in high school and I wanted my dad to go with me. The closest store to me was seedy-looking, poorly lit, poorly stocked and manned by dudes that gave me ‘the Look’ I would come to dread any time I walked into a shop– the Look that questioned every aspect of my existence. The Look that asked, “Why is this girl in here? Why is this Black person in here? She probably doesn’t know anything about comics.”
I got this look during so many of my first forays into the comic world that I mentally prepare myself to answer trick questions about Dick Grayson when I check out a Bat-fam comic or be able to chat casually about whoever’s writing the latest Flash run when I get an urge to check out what’s happening with my beloved Barry Allen. Instead of eagerly attempting to help a novice reader, I was often dismissed. I was forced to learn about comics on my own–I checked out volumes from the library, listened to my guy friends drone on and on about the Joker, I got an account on Comixology, watched every animated and live action show I could, purchased histories of my favorite characters and got updates on stories I couldn’t follow because of money constraints on Tumblr.
I did everything except go to my local comic book store.
I eventually got over my distaste for shops and this afternoon found me browsing the shelves of my local store. They were out of back issues of Super Sons and Raven, both of which I’d been told were good, so I collected my World of Wakanda, Black Panther and the Crew and Spider-Men II (because Miles Morales, duh) and went to the counter.
I passed an unusually pleasant conversation with the guy behind the counter until I mentioned that I work in diversity in comics as my Masters Thesis, specifically Black Panther. Some way or another, that led us into a conversation about the drop in Marvel’s book sales– the shop keeper informs me it was down 40% in 2016. Surprised, I ask why.
He says, “I hate to say it the way it’s going to sound, but it’s the diversity books.”
I didn’t look up or say anything, I just continued to scan through the buttons on the counter while he said what he had clearly been wanting to say for a while. He said that the diversity books were messing up Marvel’s sales, that the majority of the fan base has been reading for over ten years and people like their heroes the way they like their heroes. To the readers, he made sure to add, seem to be put off by the fact that Marvel’s changing or adding heroes, “with the only reason behind it being diversity.”
I said nothing. I paid for my Black ass comics and left.
But what I should’ve said is:
So the “majority of the fanbase” that has been “reading for ten years or more,” by which you mean to say adult white men, don’t like colored people in their books, so they’ve plum just stopped buying them?
There might be some truth in that. That shopkeeper can’t control sales, nor can he control what may or may not be behind it, but that didn’t stop me from leaving that store seething, and not from the 100 degree weather.
Like it or not, but the demographic for comic readership is changing, has been changing. More and more diverse readers are grabbing books, particularly the ones that have heroes in them that look like them. And more importantly, younger readers, like me, and discovering that they love comics, too, and the fact is, it’s time for white men to realize they’ve got to share. While “the comic medium has been around forever” so have diverse readers, it just so happens that comic companies now care (even if they’re made to care) if we have something to read. My dad read comics, but he barely had a Black character to follow. Now I have a ton that I love: Black Panther, Static Shock, Miles Morales, Storm, Vixen— comics are just catching up with the times.
I don’t go into comic book stores because I always get a reminder that the majority of comic culture doesn’t want me, but it’s still my culture too, just the same.