Sites gushed yesterday as Marvel announced a slate of hip-hop inspired variant covers that riff off some of the greatest rap albums of the last 30 years. With over 50 upcoming variants, the October covers take on classic album art like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.
In the announcement, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso said:
For years, Marvel Comics and hip-hop culture have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue. Beginning this October, we will shine a spotlight on the seamless relationship between those two unique forces. Indeed, Marvel has already featured hip-hop artists prominently in its pages, most recently with the Run the Jewels variant covers it released for Howard the Duck and Deadpool. Eminem even teamed up with the Punisher back in 2009.
Some noticed that while Marvel is more than happy to make money off of hip-hop, a form of music that grew out of African-American culture (check out Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree for an amazing recounting of history), they lack any African-American creators in their initially announced All-New, All-Different Marvel line-up.
When asked about the notable absence and irony, Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort responded:
Well, to answer Mr. Brevoort’s question, I have only two words “cultural appropriation.” For those unaware of the term, here’s a simple explanation:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.
In this instance, the “white” creative of Marvel are appropriating a style made popular by African-Americans, from which they will not benefit at all. What’s important to keep in mind is that appropriation is a perfect description when the minority culture is subordinated in social, political, economic, or other status, or there’s been a history of conflict. In this case, both descriptions are appropriate. By using this images too, Marvel misses and muddies their deeper meaning, and yes these covers often have deeper meaning than just “looking cool.”
Cultural appropriation also has the air of colonialism about it. A mutual exchange is not present, instead it’s one-sided with the original art being taken out of context and diluted in some ways.
The comic industry is still dealing with race, and the ability of African-American creators of being able to break into the industry. Just this past week Women Write About Comics explored the issues of a white creative team tackling the racist South in BOOM!’s Strange Fruit. San Diego Comic-Con saw a very personal and raw panel focusing on the struggle of black creators in the industry. That was captured in this impressive Storify by Arturo R. Garcia. Again, out of the 45 newly announced series by Marvel for their post Secret Wars initiative, it doesn’t look like one creator is black or African-American. In the series since announced, Blade and Spider-Man/Deadpool, that continues. Maybe further announcements will change that, but even so, the optics aren’t good. This does look like “colonialism” of culture.
Joseph Illidge describes the increased profile of minority characters as a “half-measure” and lays out the issues of raising characters of color without writers of color. As he notes there’s only one person of color as a writer in those 45 comics. By releasing these covers, Marvel proves and reinforces Illidge’s point, that the goal is the perception of diversity and inclusion, without truly fulfilling it.
There’s a gap of African-Americans in comicdom, more than just characters and creators. According to my Facebook demographic research Asian Americans that “like” comics account for 6.84% of the population, in the United States as a whole it’s 5.6%. Hispanics who “like” comics are 17.87%, while the US population is 17%. Both are over represented according to this data. African-Americans who “like” comics is just 11.49%, while the US population is 13.2%. They’re below the general population, there’s clearly a need for outreach and focus.
Judging Alonso’s “ongoing dialogue,” and Brevoort’s response, Marvel’s dialogue is one sided. That dialogue? Dolla, dolla, bill ya’ll.
Update: A few minutes after we posted Brevoort clarified his remarks in a post that reads like it was run through both PR staff and lawyers.
Update 2: Remember, most of the people reposting Brevoort’s original dismissive response don’t even read comics! Seriously Tom, just stop before intelligent PR staff take your mic away.