Comic book retailers, artists, writers, fans and the industry as a whole received a black eye on Sunday over comments made by a prominent retailer regarding speculation the new Ultimate version of Spider-Man would be African American. The reality is a bit more complicated than that, as Miles Morales was revealed to be the new person under the Spidey mask. Miles is a new mixed-race character who seems to embrace the heart of what Spider-Man is about. He’s the embodiment of that core that makes the character beloved and so easy to relate with. And in a way the Twitter discussions using #comicmarket and #comicretail should be the same. Embodying the positive core that is the comic book industry and hobby.
#comicmarket is an ongoing discussion between comic book retailers, creators, publishers and fans where new ideas on how to move the hobby and industry forward flows back and forth. On Monday, I vented some frustration that the discussion had turned negative, populated with insiders who weren’t open to all of the new individuals participating, though they may claim it, and pepper what’s generally positive discussion with threats to comic creators and publishers who don’t participate. What was a great idea turned into an insider’s tool that was all to quick to reject what could be valid viewpoints from outside individuals.
#comicretail on the other hand was started in reaction to the racist comments mentioned above. So far the discussion is positive, dominated by retailers who want to learn from each other and independent comic book creators looking to those retailers for ideas how to get their product out before a wider audience. It’s young, not heavily trafficked, but has the right attitude, inclusion.
As #comicmarket descended into a Twitter pile-on on Monday, you could feel the tension rise, as numerous new individuals caught wind of Sunday’s incident. It’s also apparent some didn’t learn their lesson, and there’s issues deeply rooted within the community when it comes to race in comic books. My plead to them is stay. Stick around, and participate. I Tweeted the below later in the day:
Some artists, writers and publishers publically and privately stated this incident is why they don’t participate in the discussion and is the perfect example of what’s wrong with the comic book retail end of things. It was the public example of the unprofessional nature by some of those who sell the wares, and unfortunately those unprofessional members are also some of the most vocal and high profile.
While it’s sad there’s a need to deal with this behavior, it was necessary. The tension and frustration was building for many, and you can see that in the #comicretail split off discussion. But, #comicmarket and #comicretail can be and should be a vital part of the greater movement to expand and professionalize the comic book industry. It’s the progressive voice of what has been a stale business with a failing model. It can break through the entrenched institutions and democratize purchasing and sales.
For the first time in history, people throughout the world have the ability to discuss things in real time, sharing information, techniques and data as to what is working for them. It allows writers, artists and publishers to reach stores easier, stripping power away from a broken distribution and marketing system. What at times waited for conventions, conferences or conference calls, can now occur 24/7 365, unfiltered. This is unprecedented, important and also allows for those who might not be involved in day to day operations of the comic book industry to weigh in with their knowledge which might be helpful. There is no wall anymore, these two hashtags are an embodiment and example of the community. But most importantly, an embodiment that is open to all, and where no one can be excluded. That being said, we’ll deal with issues like Sunday, but it spurred a vital discussion about race in comic books, so we can’t say there wasn’t a positive. The Twitter discussion might have been started by a few, but it was never theirs. It’s for us all.
Too many have images of “The Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons when they think of the register jockeys who sell funny books. #comicmarket and #comicretail is an opportunity to break that mold. It’s a public face of the industry, which is what was so disturbing about Sunday. The incident painted retailers and fans in a bad light, but it also turned off so many past, present and potentially future participants.
I plead you to still participate. Don’t let one incident deter you. If nothing else, after Sunday, you should engage more and show your professional attitude and add your voice to the discussion. You need to add to the progress we’ve made, and help pave what’s yet to come. The more that do, the easier we can control and drive a productive atmosphere that benefits us all and puts a positive face on a form of entertainment that too many forget exists.