Thu
Oct 17 2013 8:00am

Marvel Was Happy to Answer Diversity Questions at NYCC. DC Was Not.

Hulk vs Superman, Marvel vs DC

There were two comics-focused panels on the large 1-E stage Saturday at NYCC: The first was Cup O’ Joe, where several Marvel comics creators got together to discuss upcoming releases that were not related to the superhero line, and the next was DC’s New 52 panel.

One of these panels was much more comfortable to sit through than the other.

At the Marvel panel, announcements were made about an upcoming George Romero comic, along with the re-release of Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman. Both of these announcements were well met with enthusiasm. Equal enthusiasm met talks of the new books coming up for both She-Hulk and Black Widow. When the panel opened up for questions, only one of them was diversity-situated; one fan was eager to know why none of Marvel’s female superheroes were headlining their own films.

“Watch Captain American 2,” they said, most of the panelists smiling.

“That’s still not a headliner—it’s not her name in the title,” the fan insisted.

“Yes, you’re right—but watch Captain America 2.”

Whether they were saying that Black Widow is about to steal the movie from under Cap’s nose, or maybe subtly hinting that the sequel sets up a solo Widow movie, it generated interest. The panel then proceeded to talk about the books for She-Hulk and Agent Romanov that were incoming. They gave the standard “buy these books to let us know you support these characters” spiel, the old vote-with-your-paycheck hat. While nothing new, it was at least vehemently put and to the point.

Frankly, it’s not as though Marvel needs to instruct fans in this vein (a recent article over at Vulture illustrates that point very well)—the all-female X-Men run has received all the attention it rightly deserves, the current FF Fantastic Four team is mostly ladies (and one of them is transgendered), and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run of Captain Marvel has fans dream-casting her movie all over the internet. We’ve got Miles Morales still heading up Ultimate Spider-Man, and Northstar married his boyfriend last year. Diversity is getting closer and closer to law in the Marvel Universe, and it doesn’t seem as though comics fans are balking; tellingly, that one diversity-based question had to do with the Marvel movies, which aren’t doing as fine of a job with representation. Marvel fans have higher standards now, and want the creative teams to know that they’re keen to see more.

When Cup O’ Joe cleared out, the New 52 panel started up, and it all seemed fine until the questions began. The problem became apparent when one fan pointed out that DC had killed off so many of its female/non-straight/ethnically diverse characters recently that it was starting to feel like tokenism to her. Panel moderator John Cunningham, the VP of DC’s marketing, was quick to assure her that tokenism was never the intent of anyone creating these comics… and that the concern was perhaps something that “you [the fan who made this comment] are bringing to the table.”

It was all downhill from there.

I understand that fielding these questions is difficult and supremely awkward from a professional standpoint. But what’s staggering is that the panel did not seem to be expecting them. Considering DC’s current track record and the heat that they’ve been receiving from all corners of the internet over (just lately) Batwoman’s lack of marriage and Harley Quinn’s drawing contest blunder, did it not occur to anyone that fans were going to air their queries in person? Mind you, none of these questions were tactless or angrily voiced—they were all considered, carefully worded, and evenly researched. Cunningham took the task of handling most of them, but his irritation was palpable; none of these questions were responded to with good humor or even the slightest suggestion that they were welcome.

On the flip side of this, practically every question or comment that called attention to diversity was cheered by the very sizable audience at the panel. People cared. They wanted answers, too. One wanted to know why Cyborg seemed like an afterthought in the Justice League, another was curious as to why Wonder Woman’s trousers and awesome leather jacket had been nixed in the New 52. (Although I personally wouldn’t have posed the question with the words “What happened to Wonder Woman’s clothes?” because there is no reason to shame Diana for her awesome thighs.)

The panel became all the more awkward when DC began handing out prizes to fans who asked “good” questions. Not a single person who asked something challenging received an e-reader or a special not-sold-anywhere lithograph. One audience memeber who asked the stock ‘how do I break into comics?’ question received such a prize, along with a fan who wanted to know how it was possible to breathe inside a particular helmet. Cunningham made sure to say, “Now that’s my kind of panel question,” as he handed a prize over, making it abundantly clear that the more challenging questions were aggravating him.

Which is not to say that anyone in a similar position wouldn’t feel harried or put on the spot, but handling those situations with grace could make DC Comics look so much better in the long run. Handing out a prize to someone who posed a less complimentary question would have made DC look mature in the face of criticism, and let fans know that their opinions and concerns were still being heard, even if the company line was to disagree.

When one fan stepped up to point out how few women were employed by DC currently (she had some bonafide statistics at her disposal) and ask what was being done to combat that gap, she was assured that this issue was constantly considered by the people in charge—which is about the party line you’d expect in that scenario, but was now mired by the snippiness in which previous answers regarding diversity had been delivered. Artist Nicola Scott (who notably worked with Gail Simone on Birds of Prey and Secret Six) went on to assure the audience that she had never had difficulties as a woman in the comic industry, and that her experience might have even been better for it. While it is refreshing to know that Scott’s personal career has not been marred by sexist undercurrents, it was an odd assurance to make after that particular question had been raised.

It also had the unfortunate affect of seeming callous in regard to the experiences of other women who have faced sexism in the comics world, and have chosen to be vocal about it. Kelly Sue DeConnick was in a similar position to Scott on Marvel’s Inhumanity panel on the same day—the only woman on a panel of men. But DeConnick has been outspoken about the need for different perspectives in comics, and has never shied away from how difficult the industry can be for female and minority creatives. In the Women of Marvel panel on Sunday, she told the audience, “I think that the message is that no one is ‘other,’ that white males are not the ‘default human being.’” Encouraging words for fans in need of outspoken professionals who want to see everyone’s stories told.

Conventions can be tasking for professionals talking about their work. Fans generally never have problems complaining about what they don’t like, but there are ways to handle criticism in a manner that is productive instead of defensive, especially when dealing with topics as important as inclusion and representation. Assuring fans that their thoughts are being considered, that their concerns are not flat out annoying, that they have every right to want to see themselves reflected in the fiction they love—those are all good starting points. Perhaps the real problem is that DC Comics doesn’t even make the cursory effort to head these questions off at the pass, to give them a place at their table. The Women of Marvel panel was a perfect way for fans with diversity in mind to gather and ask away to group of people who shared their concerns. DC had no similar programming, leaving all those fans with questions with nowhere else to ask them.

It’s time for DC Comics to start thinking ahead. Time for them to make an effort and at least attempt to convey that they care about these issues. If not, they can probably count on more convention experiences just like this one—and they’ll only have themselves to blame.


Emily Asher-Perrin cannot adequately convey how awkward it was to sit through that New 52 panel. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

34 comments
Dave Danevich
1. ddanevich
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship used in the civil war era
Nicholas Winter
2. Nicholas Winter
You do realize that you can't compare the two panels as one had actual representatives of the company and one, if I go by your depiction of it, did not?

Guthrrmore, we have nothing that actually states Marvel will be doing a Black Widow film, just wishful guessing.
Nicholas Winter
3. victorianfae
I've been looking for an article about this since sitting through both panels (the DC one really was painful), so thank you so much for writing this. I tried my hand at it but it's great to see a professional write-up.

Do you think DC took anything away from the panel other than "gosh those fans sure do like to grouse"?
Nicholas Winter
4. FatMat426
Thank you for this article, I was unaware that these 2 very different panels took place at the recent NYCC. It's good to know that some people in the industry are addressing the importance of diversity within the books they publish & the original stories they continue to create. It's unfortunate that Marvel is approaching this topic with more grace than DC, I enjoy various comics from both companies & have done so for more than 30 years. I'm not going to stop reading/buying Batwoman any time soon, nor will I ever not be a fan of Harley Quinn, but it would be much better if the people in charge of DC would take the time to properly respect & love these characters as much as I do.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
5. Lisamarie
Yikes. I would have been supremely irritated had I been there, I'm sure. They don't seem to 'get it'. It's always a challenge to try and bring up these issues in such a way that can help them understand, but without feeling like you're just wanting to dump on them or attack them (which just makes them retreat furthre into their view). But of course, there has to be some willingness to accept that, hey, they might need to broaden their perspective...
Nicholas Winter
6. iola
One would hope that the VP of Marketing would know a little something about proper PR. You don't act annoyed when your customers are asking questions about your product. That is just basic.
David Allkins
7. Ghostword
The panel became all the more awkward when DC began handing out prizes to fans who asked “good” questions. Not a single person who asked something challenging received an e-reader or a special not-sold-anywhere lithograph. One audience memeber who asked the stock ‘how do I break into comics?’ question received such a prize, along with a fan who wanted to know how it was possible to breathe inside a particular helmet. Cunningham made sure to say, “Now that’s my kind of panel question,” as he handed a prize over, making it abundantly clear that the more challenging questions were aggravating him.

You know, if you are giving out prizes for asking 'the right questions', you are treating the symptoms, not the problems.
Nicholas Winter
8. zandy
You mean DC, the same company that has more female leads than Marvel? You mean DC with more Lesbian leads than Marvel? You mean DC that has more Female Editors than Marvel? Or are you referring to some other comic book company that I am not aware of?

Your article reeks of lack of research, and Dan Didio (DC's E-I-C) answered many of the same questions with answers you seem to be looking for.

DC promoted a Z level black character to his own book that will run at least 28 issue (Batwing).

They gave a Latino character 10 issues to find an audience.

Batwoman has been running for 34 issues now since the pre-new 52.

Katanna and Amystah, both unknown females, were given ample changes to carry titles on their own.

The CW is heavily marketing the Black Canary (a female) on their TV show, as well as introducing Diggle into the comic book world.

No, DC has done a lot in expanding the diversity of their line, and employing females.

How about next time you think ahead and research the companies you are talking about before basing an article on questions asked by uninformed people at comic conventions.
Nicholas Winter
9. Mikael Live Here
Zandy nailed it. DC rebooted their line with three black male solo characters: Batwing, Static Shock and Mister Terrific. Where's Marvel's black male lead? It took them to Wave Two to really buckle down and do female driven titles. Captain Marvel doesn't count - she wasn't part of the Marvel Now launch. Red She-Hulk was - but wasn't given an issue #1. Sif was, but wasn't given an issue #1 or a self title.

This diversity thing has little to do with the actual content and more to do with some perception ignited by rumors and select incidents spread out to feel like it's some kind of company mandate.

Perhaps if readers actually SUPPORTED the titles that are there you'd have more of an argument. But if you don't know how to channel that energy into getting people to preorder or tell their comic dealers what to order, it's all just fog.
Emily Asher-Perrin
10. EmilyAP
@#8 and #9 - But this is exactly what I'm talking about with what happened at these panels. Why did no one make these points? Why did they make no effort to address those concerns with facts about their own lineup? Why were they acting annoyed with fans instead of talking outright about their initiatives? Perception counts for a great deal in these situations. If diversity is something you're working so hard on in your comics, you should be glad to talk about it, not angry.
Nicholas Winter
11. zandy
Emily DC doesn't make these points because A) DC doesn't have the average readers mindshare, and B) beacuse they don't take shots at the competition.

I would encourage you to read the CBR or Newsarama articles on the Dan Didio panel, he talks a lot about the health of the industry, how constant re-number 1s isn't good, and how you need to show a commitment to something, not just say it.

He also talked about the marriage issue, how it sounds really bad at the time (no gay marriage allowed), but what it really was is conflicted story tellings and how Divorce, which affected him negitively as a child, is the worst thing you can do to a character.

Regarding the anger, I have gone to SDCC and NYCC both of the last two years, he's angry because it's the same two people asking the diversity question at every panel. He has talked to them both, at length in private and publically answered the question.

The gifts, were given to people who were either, children, or asked a question that was answered by the whole panel. Neither of which was a softball question. (well the 10 year old's was, but it was about superman and it was cute).

DC also doesn't announce things at comic conventions, as the news cycle is already innodated by a massive amount of new information. Marvel was announcing 6 new female led titles, half of which, based on their publishing history, will be cancelled by the end of 2014.

Its a perfect storm of minor things, coupled with the continuing media line that DC is an old boys club, that causes their PR problems. But as I said above their problem doesn't actually exist.

Actually they do, but it isn't as serious as you're article protrays. Keep up the comic coverage, its fun to read an outside perspective.
Mordicai Knode
12. mordicai
8. zandy
&
9. Mikael Live Here

Wow; did you guys read the article in question before getting your comments in? Because while you both seem ready to cite some massaged statistics-- "look at all the diversity when you slice it along different axis!"-- which would be a fine answer to give...at the panel. Because really, this is ABOUT the panels, about the contrast between the two panels, about the tone of the discussion. Defensive argumentative rebuttals are part of the tone of the conversation. & pointing to the walk offs, deaths, cancellations & quotes out of DC doesn't count as a rumor, & pointing to a factually & anecdotally supported column & accusing the author of not doing enough research (a little ad hom?) do your counter-points any favors.
Ty Myrick
13. tymyrick
Both Zandy and Mikael Live Here seem eager to jump in and defend DC, but neither address the point of the post. Both want to blame the readers for the lack of diversity at DC rather than the company that is actually publishing comics.

Zandy mentions some DC characters that represent diversity, but fails to mention that most of those characters were less interesting after the New 52boot than before. She also fails to mention how poorly DC has treated the creative teams that were responsible for adding to their line's diversity. Zandy says "DC has done a lot in....employing females", but, based on DC's actual staffing, there doesn't appear to be any evidence to support that statement.

Mikael snipes at Marvel. He claims, "Captain Marvel doesn't count..." But why doesn't she count? Why do Red She-Hulk and Sif not count? Does diversity only count if it is done at a certain time or in a certain way?

None of that addresses the topic of the post. The title even lays it out. "Marvel was happy to address diversity questions at NYCC. DC was not." It couldn't be much clearer. Neither company is, nor has a history of, being particularly sensitive to the concerns of people who want to see more from their comics than straight white males. Within the last five years, both companies started to make small strides to correct that.

Marvel, for their part, seems determined to continue and expand those efforts. They appear to understand their fans' concerns and want people to see what they are doing to address them.

After the first blush of their recent reboot where they half-heartedly tried to offer something that would appease fans, DC seems to have given up trying. Based on the report from the post, DC has not only given up, they actively resent fans for wanting more diversity.

While their attitude is not particularly surprising after their behavior over the last couple of years, I was blown away by the report that they began giving attendees gifts in exchange for softball questions. While Ms. Asher-Perrin is right to be surprised by their lack of preparation, that merely reaffirms the cluelessness DC has been exhibiting for a while. The gifts are the real shocker because they highlight DC's condesencion toward their fans.
Mordicai Knode
14. mordicai
I guess part of the reason this bugs me so much is that I am at heart a DC guy. Oh, I like Marvel, I'm not partisan, but I'm a Superman guy, a Wonder Woman guy, a Cassandra Cain guy, a...well, a DC guy.
Nicholas Winter
15. zandy
again I am going to refer to the fact that many of your complaints were addressed by Dan Didio, and many of the "annoyance" that the panelist had was the author reading too much into the situation.

Also DC as a whole (New 52, Beyond line, Vertigo) employs more editors of the female varity than Marvel. They have less female writers, tis true, but they also have had much longer female series.
Emily Asher-Perrin
16. EmilyAP
@15 - At this point I'm going have to say that I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the event and leave it there.

I would also like to add: I have no dog in this fight--it matters little to me whether Marvel or DC comes out on top here. The report is simply on what I observed.
Nicholas Winter
18. Kasiki
Something should also be pointed out on the titles themselves. While it is difficult to have a character get their own series, there is something to allowing these issues to take center stage in center piece series with solid stories. Marvel, with its stories in X-men and FF, can do far more with less than many minor characters with their own solo run.
Chris Bridges
19. cabridges
zandy, Cunningham dropped the ball, plain and simple. As the VP of Marketing, he certainly should have been aware of what's been asked at previous conventions and what public perception of DC and diversity has been. He should not only have been expecting those questions, he should have been delighted to get them, ready with answers such as you've provided. This panel should have been an opportunity to get a positive DC message out there. Apparently, it was not.
Nicholas Winter
20. BetseyB
@Zandy

But Dan Didio wasn't on the panel so what's the point of mentioning him?Is he the only one capable of answering the questions? As someone who attended the panel, I was curious to hear the feedback right then and there.
Nicholas Winter
21. HeatherLYLAS
The fill-in Fantastic Four team in FF does NOT have a transgender member. There is a student that is part of the Future Foundation cast that is transgender, but if you're counting all of the kids in the book as part of the "team," then your assertion that it is made up of mostly females is REALLY wrong.
James Whitehead
22. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Disappointing that DC didn't do as good a job at talking about a subject that has become so big in today's comic work, i.e. diversity & representation of said diversity.

Just because someone is the VP of Marketing doesn't mean he/she should be presenting your company pitch. If Didio had answered these kinds of questions before then he should have prepared his team better. Or at least tapped someone with a better sense of humour and patience.

However, if zandy's & Mikael's comments are factual then we, as comic fanboys & fangirls, need to make sure we're not simply praising Marvel for doing a better job of spinning their message. Talking the talk is one thing but walking the walk is far more important.

I wasn't there and I am far more than willing to take Emily's assessment at face value. I'm a fanboy of both Marvel & DC. It's not a sin to like them both. ;-) I started with X-Men back in their Days of Future Past run & also enjoy Powergirl, Flash, Superman/Batman, & Green Lantern.

I want, demand actually, good comics with good art & compelling stories and I know that bringing in new people with different perspectives could potentially breathe life into the industry. My world won't spiral out of control if Northstar gets a title of his own or if I get to see Batwoman & her bride resplendent in white. Actually it would be a nice change of pace.


Kato
Chris Bridges
23. cabridges
Thing is, across-the-board decisions such as "marriages are no good for heroes" are the sorts of things that make me stop buying comics. Why should I bother getting interested in a hero's love interest when I know that due to editorial fiat it's really just a waiting game to see how he or she will ultimately get fridged to add sufficient angst?

Which is really the problem. Someone, somewhere, decided that all heroes must be Batman. They must all be gritty and dark and unhappy all the time. No highs, no light moments, no humor, nothing to counter the relentless misery of being a hero (even though such moments actually serve to make the dramatic turns more powerful). So, no marriages for major characters. Spider-Man and Mary Jane? Quick, slap on an incredibly stupid pact with a demon to make that never happened. Superman and Lois Lane? Break that 75-year-old relationship up and pair him off with Wonder Woman, she'll need the comfort after finding out her people have somehow been raping and killing sailors to get girl-babies for hundreds of years. Aquaman and Mera? Back to bf and gf status for you, for some reason. Barda and Scott? Midnight and Apollo? No! Heroes can't be married!

Oddly enough, firefighters, soldiers, policemen and other people in high-risk occupations still marry. Weird.
Nicholas Winter
24. mathan
This is a very well written piece. As someone who also sat through both panels, I echo some of your sentiments.

I do think that it's important to point out a couple things;

First, the two panels had different aims. Cup o' Joe is very much intended to be a conversation between fans and pros, as Joe explicitedly stated at the start of the panel. It's much more akin to DC's Sunday Conversation.

The New 52 Panel was a panel designed to promote titles for the New 52 and get to questions as time permitted.

Yes they were both panels put on by "The Big Two" that happened back to back, but it'd be like comparing and contrasting a Vertigo Panel to the Marvel Now panel; their missions were different.

Secondly, I didn't find Quesada's "Watch Captain America 2" demand as particularly welcoming. It was just a pinch beyond saying "wait and see." He didn't answer the questions, he sidestepped it.

(Cunningham basically did the same thing in regards to Cyborg being a token on the Justice League. His response was that Cyborg plays a pivotal role in the resolution of Forever Evil.)

I did have a problem with Cunningham's "the marketplace is partially to blame" for the lack of diversity in comics to be a troubling attitude to take.

I also think that your critique of Cunningham's handing out of prizes is an oversimplification. I think there's a difference between asking a question that the panel can answer or offer input or insight on and asking a question where the point it just to be heard and not actually get an answer. I'm not attacking that tact (if I hadn't been tasked with covering the panels, my question was going to be "So...this question is for the panel...do you think we have enough white male heroes in the (fill in the blank) Universe?)

For the record here's the panel for the New 52; Briancaletto (writer), James Tynion (writer), Paul Levitz (writer/former publisher) Nicola Scott (artist) Cliff Chiang (artist/former assistant editor) Charles Soule and John Cunningham (VP of Marketing). The one person who could actually give an opinion on female creators working at DC, (Scott) was the one who did. Cunningham's in charge of Marketing, asking him about diversity, either in terms of creators or characters, is like asking neonatal nurse about someone who checked into the ER; it might be the same building, but they're completely different departments.

The reason the helmet/breath question was rewarded was that it was directed at a) a creator on the panel and b) the creator who worked on those characters.

Again, as someone who sat through both panels, the most shocking difference was how they handled the "how do you breaking into the industry" question. Marvel's "advice" seemed very harsh almost to the point of crushing while DC's pros had words of encouragement.

I think you made some valid points, but I did want to share my own perspective, as a fellow panel-goer.
Nicholas Winter
25. JD85
I thought race and gender were just social constructs? I was taught to believe in school and the media that race doesn't exist, so why all the fuss about diversity?
Nicholas Winter
26. DaggerPen
As the fan who asked the question about the DCU killing off its diverse characters and tokenism, this was a really excellent write-up and I just wanted to say thank you. I actually had not attended the Marvel panel, and had no idea that there was such a disparity in how these questions were handled. It really is shocking how utterly unprepared for these types of questions DC was, as well as how blatant DC was about giving out prizes to any questions that were not about diversity (I myself got a free signed copy of Batman #24 for asking how crossover events could be improved despite the writers not really having much to say about it, but my questions about diversity in both the New 52 panel and the Conversation with Dan Didio panel were notably brushed off, while the people around me were basically given Kindles for lobbing softballs.)
Nicholas Winter
27. MattCD
Thanks, I thought this was a cool article!
Chris Bridges
28. cabridges
@JD85 I was taught to always obey the speed limit, so therefore no one ever speeds. I don't know why they bother putting those signs up.
Mordicai Knode
29. mordicai
25. JD85
&
28. cabridges

Money is a social construct, but I doubt you're willing to write it off as immaterial, for that matter.
Katharine Duckett
30. Katharine
@25 Comment edited--please tone down the rhetoric, and express your disagreement without disrespecting the author of the article and other commenters. You can refer to our moderation policy for those guidelines.
Nicholas Winter
31. Ark
DC was not happy to be at NYCC in general! They weren't even ON the main convention floor.

Thanks very much for this article; I couldn't have put up with the N52 panel in person.
Nicholas Winter
32. KF
HeatherLYLAS is correct. The trans character in FF, while handled well (IMHO) is a supporting character rather than part of the team, which puts her somewhat on par with Alysia Yeoh, Batgirl's roommate.

A trans main cast character, or a trans superhereo, hasn't happened yet at Marvel or DC. Still waiting on that one. And I think we're still waiting for any trans men to show up. I'd guess we'll see the latter, again in supporting roles, before we see the former. Probably going to be a long wait for a trans superhero from the Big Two.

@2, Nicholas Winter:
The Marvel panel had Joe Quesada (hence the name of the panel). The DC panel as John Cunningham. Both panels had company representatives there.
Nicholas Winter
33. A.Y. Siu
I thought race and gender were just social constructs? I was taught to
believe in school and the media that race doesn't exist, so why all the
fuss about diversity?
Things that are constructed still exist. My apartment building is a construction. It doesn't have to exist, but it does exist, because someone built it. Suddenly declaring my apartment building doesn't exist doesn't make the building disappear or crumble.

Likewise, claiming gender and race do not exist (or that you're "color blind") is a similar delusion.
Joseph Newton
34. crzydroid
@33: The person's remarks were meant to be sarcastic, accusing their opponents of saying these things. A further nasty remark was edited out by the moderator. Now the meaning of the post seems to have changed.

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