Recently, David Gabriel, Marvel’s senior vice president of print, sales and marketing, issued these words from his lips in an answer to iCv2 during the Marvel Retailer Summit:
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity …They didn’t want female characters. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”
To be fair, Gabriel has since clarified his statement to ICv2, adding that “Our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes” such as Miles Morales, Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Moon Girl and Spider-Gwen. But if we’re discussing slumping sales, might I point to the most asinine change in the Marvel Universe, Captain America as Hydra’s poster boy? Legions of fans have decried Captain America’s Hydra turn in the current “Secret Empire” run, Marvel has had to publicly reassure fans that all will be back to normal. No one wants Cap as part of a fascist regime.
Regardless of Gabriel’s cleaned up quoting, the fact remains that Marvel and other comic book companies should take note of the overnight success of “Bingo Love,” an indie comic by Inclusive Press. Around the time people were livid over Gabriel’s remarks about diversity leading to poor book sales, “Bingo Love,” a story about a decades-long romance between two Black queer women, was able to reach its initial $20,000 Kickstarter goal within just five days. Currently, the project has raised $57,148 with 1,950 backers.
“I can’t even lie …I cried like a baby,” said Tee Franklin, founder of Inclusive Press and creator of “Bingo Love,” when describing her reaction to her fans’ Kickstarter support. “I could not believe that we [were] funded in five days .People believed in me. That people wanted something that I put together, that I created…it just brought me to my knees.”
“…You’re forced daily [to think] that people only want White comic books with White comic book characters. It’s just a White male-driven industry,” she said, herself a disabled, queer Black woman. “When you believe that and it’s forced down your throat all the time, you’re like, ‘Well, maybe they’re right, so I’m not going to expect anything.’”
Franklin said her idea for the comic book came from, oddly enough, a commercial for heart health.
“[It] had these two Black women who were sitting on this brownstone, and they got up and started to do a little sprint-walking …to get the blood pumping in their heart, and they saw this gentleman walking and these two women just started to giggle and turn into high school kids,” she said. “It was just the cutest interaction and I just said, ‘You know what, I think that would be a good book!’”
The fact that Franklin’s comic book prominently features Black women as protagonists and love interests are things Marvel should always heavily consider when creating comic books. Marvel’s stable of creators could very well find inspiration within their own daughters, just like how Franklin found further inspiration from her three daughters—the creative also has one son—each of whom possess attributes found in Franklin’s characters Mari and Hazel.
The character Hazel is also representative of two other groups of women who are rarely featured in comics, especially as love interests—those who are plus size and darker skinned.
“When it comes to inclusion in comics, it is lacking big time, from characters of color to someone who is as dark-skinned as Hazel to size. I’m plus size …and I definitely don’t see myself in comics, so it was a no brainer [to include plus size women],” said Franklin. “I needed to have someone who was my size. It’s just important, because there are some kids who are chubby [and] there are some kids who are chubby and dark. If they don’t see themselves represented in comics, they might feel some type of way because I know I have when I was younger. Now that I have the chance to …include everybody in a comic that I created, it was just beyond important to me.”
It would also do Marvel well to diversify their comic book creative teams. One of the fires Marvel has had to put out recently dealt with the fact that the writer/creator of the new “Iron Heart” series featuring Riri Williams, the successor to Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit, was Brian Michael Bendis, a White man, and that her initial character design by Stefano Caselli featured, essentially, a Black woman who was supposed to be a 15-year-old. Many felt like Iron Heart should have been written by a Black woman and that a huge opportunity for diversity behind the scenes was lost. Illustrator Olivia Stephens, for example, wrote for Women Write About Comics that Riri’s design showcased why Black writers and illustrators are necessary to tell Black stories in comics.
“…Marvel uses the best people for the job. Why should it matter that middle-aged White men are writing or drawing RiRi if they do the best job? Here’s the thing. They almost certainly aren’t. Half the time y’all don’t even know how our hair works, of course you’re not ‘the best person for the job,’” she wrote.
“As soon as we caught a glimpse of Riri Williams’ cover, we saw a two-foot fro with an inexplicable middle part on the top,” she wrote. “We saw an illustration of a fully grown Black woman passed off as a 15-year-old. We saw, yet again, how rarely Black children are allowed to be perceived as children …[W]hen you tell me, ‘Maybe it was just the best person that got hired, you are telling me, ‘POC aren’t talented enough to remark on their own lives.’ You are telling me, ‘White men know more about and do a better job of portraying Black life than actual Black people.””
On the other hand, Marvel did right by Miss America, America Chavez, by tapping queer Latina writer Gabby Rivera, author of Juliet Takes a Breath, to pen the adventures of America, who is also a queer Latina. Rivera is the first queer Latina writer for Marvel, working on a comic book that can allow her to use her personal experiences to drive the characterization and story. But something like this should be the norm for Marvel and any comic book company, not the exception. It will be the norm with Inclusive Press.
“My creative team, we’re inclusive. I have [artist] Jenn St-Onge. She is a White bisexual woman. The colorist, Joy San, she is a Filipino woman. I have [letterer] Cardinal Rae and they are non-binary. I have [editor] Erica Schultz. She is a straight cis White woman …and then you have myself—I am a disabled, Black, queer plus size woman,” Franklin said. “I think I’ve pretty much covered the bases when it comes to inclusion with this book.”
Franklin added that there are no men on her team, which is by design.
“…I don’t feel sorry about that,”she said. “The comic book industry is predominately White men and you do have Black men, [but] they’re not predominate at all. For telling this book, I just wanted something different that’s not found in comics on the comic book covers, and I’m really happy about that. It shows the kids that they can be a comic book writer, colorist, letterer, whatever because there is somebody who is like them on the cover.”
Franklin’s goal is to have at least two people of color involved in every book she and Inclusive Press create.
“I want to show that it’s not hard to have an inclusive team. It’s not hard to represent,” she said.
The last lesson Marvel needs to learn is how to market their products to more than just the usual suspects. Franklin said she thinks Marvel believes diverse markets won’t buy what they’re selling.
“They don’t know how to market,” she said. “They like to market to 19- to 40-year old White men. That’s what most of these comic sites are geared to. That’s who they go …and promote to.”
Instead, Marvel needs to branch out to the magazines and sites that reach other segments of their demographic, Franklin said.
“They just stick with what they know, and what they know is White sites,” she said.
At the end of the day, though, Franklin is focused on how she can turn “Bingo Love” into the next media sensation.
“I would love to see it go overseas and be translated and have it go all over the world,” she said, adding that there are more stories to tell with Mari and Hazel outside of “Bingo Love.”
“Above all, I would love to see this as a TV series or a movie directed by Ava DuVernay,” Franklin continued. “I would love to see Viola Davis in this role and Lynn Whitfield as the older Mari. I think that would just be delightful.”
For more info visit BingoLoveComic.net.
Monique Jones is the owner of JUST ADD COLOR, an entertainment news site focusing on race and culture.