Comics Gate and the Death of Single-Issue Comics
by Samuel John Crouth | published Oct. 10th, 2018
On July 28, 2017, Heather Antos posted a selfie. She is an assistant editor for Marvel Comics, and her selfie depicts herself and her colleagues sharing milkshakes to honor the memory of Marvel’s Senior Publisher Flo Steinburg. What was meant to be a respectful gesture towards the passing of a beloved friend was instead received with vitriol and hatred as angry comic book fans took up their keyboards.
People attacked the group for being “false geek girls” and made comments about their appearances, one even commenting that Antos looks like the "'false rape charge' type." This is only a taste of the toxicity that seems to be bubbling over in a dark corner of the internet known as Comics Gate.
The name Comics Gate stems from a past controversy named Gamer Gate, when video game fans and developers attacked women and/or POC for participating in the game development industry. Aptly named, seeing as it appears that history is repeating itself in the comics industry as channels like Diversity & Comics and their fans constantly attack women and/or POC creators for making stories that are supposedly ruining their precious comic books' culture. However you want to slice it, Marvel has taken hits left and right, not only to their public image, but to their market shares as well. Titles like "Hawkeye," "She-Hulk," "Uncanny Avengers" and "The Unbelievable Gwen Pool" have already faced the chopping block.
“There are a lot of black boxes when it comes to talking about what sells and doesn’t sell,” said Daniel Worden, a School of Individualised Study professor who teaches several classes about comics history.
Worden shared some insight on the nature of comic book publishing, and how the sales statistics presented are rarely enough to draw conclusions about the success of titles. However, Comics Gate advocates, like Charlie Nash, seem to believe that they know the real reason why.
“We’re not all monsters. We are just loyal, long-time readers who are sick of our favorite characters being butchered by nose-ringed lesbians for the sake of diversity,” wrote Nash in an article condemning Marvel’s moves towards diversity in characters like Thor or Captain America. These people believe that they are advocating for good comics in the industry. Unfortunately, their efforts are horribly misguided, and as the platform grows it is being used as a cover for fans of traditional comics to harass and demean women and/or POC writers and artists who are trying to share their skills and their voice on the mainstream scene.
Chelsea Cain, writer for Marvel’s "Mockingbird" ended up temporarily leaving Twitter after an overwhelming flood of hateful messages. The harassment came from the cover design for Cain’s "Mockingbird" Issue #8, showing the story’s main character wearing a shirt that read “Ask me about my Feminist Agenda.”
Perhaps the controversies facing Eve Ewing are especially disheartening. Ewing’s qualifications were questioned after the announcement that she would be writing "Ironheart," a full series devoted to "Invincible Iron Man" character Riri Williams. Some fans questioned her experience while others cried out against Tony Stark’s temporary replacement being a black teenage girl. One person wrote this in response to a tweet by Gail Simone:
It took the intervention of popular author Neil Gaiman sharing his own experiences to get Ewing's haters to back down. Though, in a way this may be even more sad that it takes the intervention and approval of a white man to confirm the qualifications of an already talented black woman.
Even Marvel’s own vice president of sales, David Gabriel, points the blame at diversity, insulting their readers by claiming that "people didn’t want any more diversity" when asked about slumping sales. Not only is this assumption offensive, but with the successes of independent titles like "Saga" and "Lumberjanes" created by and featuring women and/or POC, it’s factually incorrect as well. So, what’s the deal?
Meaning, there is very little information that discloses the amount of trade paperbacks or graphic novels that are being sold in bookstores, a market that may be much more diverse than the die-hard comic book fans that patronize comic book shops. Not only that, but the sales numbers that are reported are the number of issues sold to retailers, not how many of those comics make it into the hands of individual readers. So, there are no stats that talk about the sales of trade paperbacks in bookstores or digital copies, making it hard to gain a full picture of the market Marvel is selling to. The most identifiable portion of the market is that of the comic book store, and that is where most Comics Gate supporters come from.
Comic book stores must make safe choices when choosing to buy their inventory, because once they order their books, they cannot return any of the copies that do not sell.
“It used to be that if you did have old merchandise, you would put it in a warehouse somewhere, and ten years from now it’d be worth something. And that had gone away,” Worden stated. This risk may drive retailers to buy less of the books that are pissing off such a large portion of their specific market.
Single-issue comic books have been on a steady decline for years now, as less and less casual fans are willing to spend $4.00 or more on only 20 or so pages of content every week, when they can pay less money for more content in trade paperbacks and graphic novels. And gatekeeping and toxicity from Comics Gate isn’t making it any more inviting.
“I think ultimately that if single-issue comics are going to die, it might be because of the Comics Gate stuff,” said Worden. “Ultimately, people will just get tired of dealing with that in their day-to-day life and they’ll migrate towards other forms of comics.”
So, it looks like single-issue comic books may be on their way out the door. The gatekeeping and toxicity of the Comics Gate movement is pushing away talented creators who want to breathe new life into the industry, and, ironically, their stubbornness will only accelerate their demise. Comics Gate needs to stop devoting so much energy to harassing creators that they don’t like, or who create stories that aren’t for them, and start working with them to save the industry that is clearly valued by everyone on all sides. Otherwise, the future may look bleak for local comic shops everywhere.