DC Devotees and Making Mine Marvel: What Does Brand Loyalty Mean In Comics?

DC Devotees and Making Mine Marvel: What Does Brand Loyalty Mean In Comics?

Are you “a Marvel fan?" Dedicated to DC? Do you have a loyalty to a different publisher or publishing brand? Does this whole idea perplex or enrage you? Where do you stand in terms of publisher loyalty? We're thinking about it. Was brand or publisher loyalty something you experienced as a younger reader or something

Are you “a Marvel fan?” Dedicated to DC? Do you have a loyalty to a different publisher or publishing brand? Does this whole idea perplex or enrage you? Where do you stand in terms of publisher loyalty? We’re thinking about it.

Was brand or publisher loyalty something you experienced as a younger reader or something you felt encouraged towards by the books you read? Have you made friends (or enemies) based on which house you read from?

Kate Tanski: I learned very early when I was getting into comics that you were either a DC fan or a Marvel fan, and while you could admire certain things—like good representation, and even good writers and good artists who could cross the Big Two all the time—you pledged your loyalty to one side and that was kind of it. I left DC once upon a time for Marvel and never looked back except in mourning. Now that I’m older, I find myself questioning that mentality, and I’m making a concerted effort to ditch the dichotomy of either/or and embrace the both/and.

DC versus Marvel #4 (1996)

Amalgam: DC versus Marvel (1996)

Meg Downey: It’s bizarre because on paper it sounds like my intro to comics as a younger reader (age 16 or so) would have been really conducive to forming that sort of staunch “loyalty” or whatever that would make a lot of enemies. I came to comics  largely via 4Chan’s /co/ board. Weirdly though, rather than forcing me into any sort of affiliation or clique, I came out of the experience with a lot of friends (some of whom are still very close to me even now) with a huge variety of interests. I’m sure I had my fair share of disagreements with people but none of them were related to publishers.

I don’t actually think I’ve ever actually experienced anyone earnestly trying to come after me, because I like DC more than Marvel or IDW or what have you. I read way more Marvel than DC at the start of things. It was just more accessible for me at the time, and like I said before, it’s hard for me to focus in on more than one big universe at a time. I’ve actually never had anyone give me any trouble for hopping back and forth between the two, though. I’ve never felt any pressure to pledge myself to a side and I’ve never been pressured to declare or explain my “loyalties” in any context that I can think of, not even at the height of my time on /co/.

Marvel comics letters pages acknowledge and encourage the two-house rivalry or they do in every year I own a book from. ~ Claire Napier

Draven Katayama: I didn’t read many comics as a kid, but I knew and liked the X-Men characters through their presence in shows and movies. I later started reading comics as a result of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, so I gravitated toward Marvel characters. I’ve made friends through fandoms of Fraction/Aja’s Hawkeye, X-Men in general, Silk, and Kamala Khan. It feels like a uniquely safe space when you meet people who love the same characters as you.

Claire Napier: Marvel comics letters pages acknowledge and encourage the two-house rivalry or they do in every year I own a book from.

Ray Sonne: I experienced something similar to Kate’s early years, evidenced by me still having competitive associations with the term “Marvel fan” that have very little basis in reality. But I don’t think DC necessarily has led to me making more friends with DC fans than any other type of comics fan. I started reading comics full-time as an adult, so cutting out people based on fandom or brand loyalty seems outlandish to me.

What does “brand loyalty” mean in comics? Is it relevant to your perception of your identity? Does it stop you from doing certain things or encourage you to do others? Does it change how you relate to stories, objects, people, and your own life?

Romona Williams: I have a knee jerk aversion to the Big Two. Both Marvel and DC have done a lot of incredible work in storytelling, but they’ve also pursued plotlines that were either blah or showed overwhelmingly poor judgement. I don’t dismiss all that they do, but they generally interest me far less than whatever Drawn and Quarterly, Dark Horse Comics, and independent comic makers are up to. So, as far as brand loyalty, I have none.

Desiree Rodriguez: I often admit to being more of a DC Girl than a Marvel Girl as far as the Big Two go, but brand loyalty I can’t stand by. I won’t support books that I don’t like, find offensive, or are just bad stories simply because they’re from a specific publisher. In the last few years I’ve branched out further into companies like Dark Horse, IDW, Boom!, Dynamite, and Image. I like some of their books, some of DC’s, and some of Marvel’s. Who I give my money to depends on who has the books that interest me the most and who I feel needs my money. My pull list has two books from DC, one book from IDW, and one book from Image. When Poe’s solo comes out, I’ll have one book from Marvel on there too. Boom! Is tempting me with their new Power Ranger series, so really, it just depends. But brand loyalty? Nah.

I won’t support books that I don’t like, find offensive, or are just bad stories simply because they’re from a specific publisher. ~ Desiree Rodriguez

Meg: I don’t know if what I experience is really “brand” loyalty so much as it’s character loyalty, which is probably a kind of goofy thing to say. I joke a lot about being a DC devotee and my pull list probably backs that up (22 DC, 1 Marvel, 2 IDW), but the reality is that I don’t enjoy consuming anything passively—I have to be 100% immersed in the universe or I don’t want in at all. And in order to do that, I really have to zero my focus into one “brand” over others since it’s my mission to be as tapped into it as possible.

Obviously, there are some exceptions. The one Marvel book I’m reading right now I’m reading because of loyalty to the author, which is something I experience from time to time. But I don’t actually feel any bad blood or negativity to Marvel at all. Buying the book wasn’t a begrudging thing for me. I love it. I’ve loved a lot of Marvel books in the past. I just don’t have the time or the energy to be plugged into two massively expansive comics universes at once.

I think that’s why I struggle with indie books and small press stuff. There’s just not enough there continuity wise to really engage me. But again, it’s not because I really feel any degree of “us versus them” sentiment or some sort of loyalty to the brand of the Big Two. I’m just a big nerd for back issues in the triple digits and compound retcons and complicated rebooted histories—the sort of time sink things that kick off Wikipedia spirals and conspiracy theory maps. Those are the things that pull me to comics, no matter who is making them.

I’m not at all interested in trying to pit myself against a Marvel fan or an Image fan to prove DC’s “quality” or whatever; they just happen to be the publisher with the universe that I’m most invested in right now.

Alenka Figa: Meg, you are so interesting; you are like my polar opposite! I tend to love shorter, more contained stories, which is part of why I love indie and alternative comics. Some of this is economical—if I start reading something I like to finish it, even if it’s terrible—but I also love digging into a shorter, more intense story. My meager pull list (I think there are only four titles on it?) often shrinks and grows based on short-run stories that I want to collect!

In a totally contradictory move, I have been known to start from the beginning with a webcomic that has been running for fifteen years, just to catch up! Money plays a big role, since binging old Marvel or DC stories can burn a hole in your pocket, depending on how many collections the library carries and hasn’t lost. However, I also love the level of engagement that is possible with an indie title. For webcomics, the intimacy often comes from being able to interact with creators through social media or at conventions—not that you can’t meet mainstream writers and artists at cons, but indie folks are more accessible—but for published and self-published indies, it’s all about how the publisher or distro cultivates your purchasing interaction. If I buy a book from Microcosm, they will send postcards and cute extras along with it. They’ll even give purchasing advice on twitter!

I should clarify that distros ≠ publishers; they distribute self-published comics, zines, and books. That’s a big piece of why I love them; they creators are getting more of your dollar! Plus, the lack of barriers (a.k.a editors and publishers) between the artist, the product, and you means marginalized people are less likely to be silenced. Ultimately, though, it really is the cute interactions and intimacy of a purchase that sends me back to Microcosm and Quimbys.

Kate: When my friend got me into comics, he got me into comics by throwing the Geoff Johns and Mike McKone run of Teen Titans at me and getting me hooked on the characters, which then required me to wade through decades of backstory, so in that sense, my experience was similar to Meg’s. I was invested in these characters, specifically, so it wasn’t really an issue of brand loyalty. I wasn’t consciously only reading DC—I had just been given DC to read and then continued reading it. When I started using comics in the courses I was teaching, it was Superman: Birthright and Lex Luthor: Man of Steel that I used first.

Runaways Omnibus volume 1 - Marvel Comics

Marvel’s Runaways

But when DC killed off characters that I loved, I looked at Marvel, and specifically Runaways and Young Avengers, because they were similar to Teen Titans, but had this amazing thing I had never seen before—queer representation and active courting of women readers. Mary Jane and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane were the first “girl comics” that I read, and I loved them. I loved making my students read them and having conversations about what it meant. I remember being excited about Young Avengers when at the time no one was certain whether Billy and Teddy would ever do more than just flirt. It felt affirming to call myself a Marvel fan when Billy and Teddy were confirmed as a gay teenage couple. I could be proud of the company, because it was doing what DC wasn’t. Marvel’s “brand” was, at the time, more welcoming, and more in line with my values.

Now, I feel like my loyalty is beginning to swing the other way again, with DC placing more of an emphasis on women readers and queer characters. So, I guess while I have a certain amount of nostalgia now for both companies, my brand loyalty has been trumped by my desire to support titles that are good in terms of representation, regardless of whether it’s DC or Marvel. I’ve got a pretty much even split between DC and Marvel on my pull list, and also Bitch Planet, Lumberjanes, and Jem and the Holograms. That’s my brand, and I’ll read across publishers to support it.

JAM: I love DC Comics. I’m DC trash. I watched all the cartoons. I love Batman. I love the Justice League.  I came to Marvel too late to seed the same love that I have for DC, but there is (or I guess, at the moment, was) still a lot going on over there that I like. The Aja/Fraction/Hollingsworth run on Hawkeye is the reason I really started to get deep into Western comics again.

But when people talk about loyalty, I tense up a little bit. I think I tense up because I don’t know how the word is being used and the way that I’ve seen it used before has been kind of distasteful. Actually, that’s wrong—very rarely do we talk about loyalty overtly. There are so many conversations in comics that are responded to with “where is your loyalty” even if it’s not said in those words precisely. “You’re making comics look bad.” “I just wish people weren’t so negative.” “There’s good stuff happening too, you know.”

I resent the refusal to look at a thing and call it what it is. I resent fanboys who only want to talk about continuity and wish we would stop hating on comics. I resent anyone who doesn’t see criticism for the passionate expression of love that it is. ~ JAM

It’s perplexing. To what am I meant to be loyal? To whom? And most of all, for what? I don’t understand! I don’t understand what you’re afraid will happen if people find out that the comics industry is a shitpile. I don’t understand what it is that you think will come to pass if we focus on the actual, in-real-life people who are being harmed as a result of bad behavior by creators as well as damaging material promulgated by content. What are you afraid of?

It may be kind of clear now that I resent this nebulous loyalty. I resent blind love. I resent the refusal to look at a thing and call it what it is. I resent fanboys who only want to talk about continuity and wish we would stop hating on comics. I resent anyone who doesn’t see criticism for the passionate expression of love that it is.

Comics isn’t a person. It doesn’t need your emotional support, and it definitely doesn’t need your goddamn sympathy. You didn’t swear an oath and it’s not going to tuck you into bed at night. Figure out what you’re scared of. Let go. Look at what’s happening and actually grapple with it. The good parts didn’t go away just because the bad parts are there. That’s about all the loyalty I’ve got.

Draven: Meg, I feel character loyalty too. I feel attached to certain Marvel characters, including Silk, Nico Minoru, Molly Hayes, Jubilee, Hazmat, and Kate Bishop. Part of that is identifying with certain characters in their backstories or even visually. I also feel a connection with Runaways, Young Avengers, and X-Men. I’m more likely to check out a new comic if it features these characters—for example, I was really excited about Nico’s inclusion in A-Force. Outside of Marvel, I feel that sense of loyalty to Maps and Olive of DC’s Gotham Academy.

Ray’s Relationship with DC Comics: A One-Act Play

Me: I am in a tumultuous time in my life and sure could use something comforting to hang onto.

DC Comics: Hey, lady.

Me: Oh hey.

DC: I have just the thing to make you feel better. Heres all these trades of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern! And heres all these standalone graphic novels about our other big properties!

Batwoman Elegy | DC Comics

Batwoman: Elegy from DC Comics

Me: Oh wow, Superman: Birthright! Batwoman: Elegy! This is so cool, I love these characters!

DC: Haha, yeah (but fuck them tho).

Me: What.

DC: Oh, nothing. Say, youre just in time! Now I’m launching my new reboot, The New 52, which makes my ongoings super accessible to you, too!

Me: Oh my god, this is like the EXACT opposite of the time Marvel infected my Spider-Man subscriptions with Civil War tie-ins and closed the door on comics for me!

DC: I KNOW, RIGHT? Fuck Marvel!

Me: Yeah, FUCK MARVEL!

DC: Haha, but actually, fuck your queer characters and female characters too.

Me: What. But. But baby. Im a queer woman.

DC: Ummmmmmm. Oh yeah.

Me: Dude. I thought you loved me.

DC: Well, actually, I love your cash because Im a corporation, not a person. Ummm, maybe try these books with female characters drawn in horribly offensive ways?

Me: No, thats not what I want.

DC: Ummm, how about books written by our one woman writer? You have to like her because shes a woman!

Me: Uh, no, she’s not my thing.

DC: Oh. Okay. Well, I dont really want to put too much effort into finding many other women creators so how about a title with these gay characters?

Me: You mean those gay characters who were awesome in 1999 that youve now made into total trainwrecks??? WHAT THE FUCK!

DC: Oh baby, dont be like that.

Me: WHY THE HELL SHOULDNT I BE LIKE THIS. WHAT IN THE NAME OF HELL ARE YOU DOING?

DC: I don’t know.

Me: Omg!

Wonder Woman | Written by BRIAN AZZARELLO and CLIFF CHIANG | DC Comics

The n52’s Wonder Woman, written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang

DC: Wait, are you sure you dont like Wonder Woman’s feminist origins largely altered and made more male-centered and her books handled by an all-male editorial department?

Me: I am QUITE SURE, YES.

DC: Alright. Alright. How about this ongoing starring one of your favorite characters with a really cool concept?

Me: I love you again.

DC: I knew you would 😀

Me: This is a trick.

DC: Yes it is 🙂

Me: This is a deadly cycle where we go from honeymoon to you screwing up to me feeling spite and distancing myself to you doing something good and me loving you again before you inevitably fuck up once more.

DC: Yeah!

Me: Im going to go read exclusively indies and original graphic novels and show YOU what I truly love.

DC: Lol, good luck. See you later, babe!

Me: I have no one to blame, but myself.

Claire: I used to call myself a Marvel fan, and I’ve never been interested in DC Comics. I don’t like it there—it is a dull and flavourless universe to me. I appreciate that “good comics” can take place within it; Starman was pretty neat, but there’s always a part of me that’s just not interested when I’m reading a DC Comic book. It’s like being stuck in a car on a long journey. Maybe I have some decent pastime, but behind it all … I’m just innately bored. I expect it’s a psychological defect. I love the TV programme Lois & Clark.

Really, when I say “I like Marvel” or “I love the X-Men,” I’ve meant I love what you did with the place, Chris Claremont, except that one Manara shitshow. ~ Claire Napier

I wouldn’t call myself a “fan of Marvel” any more. I like a lot of the comics published through Marvel over the years and I like spending time in “the Marvel Universe,” by which I mean parts of it. Eras of parts of it really. I can imagine waking up in the Marvel U, and it seems a little annoying but fine; waking up in DC seems blue and glum and like everybody I meet will just be so, so … earnest. But Marvel is a corporation, and it’s run by a lot of fallible humans, and some of those even seem like bellends pretty much. Some seem very nice, but appear to wield less power. Either way, “Marvel Comics” is a collection of spoken and unspoken policies gathered to define entertainment under capitalism, and as such I could not call myself its fan. I read those three issues of the Vision, and a while back I read Captain Britain and MI:13, and before that I read early Runaways, and before that X-Treme X-Men and Morrison’s New X-Men and before that I watched the X-Men and Spider-Man animated cartoons in 1994. Really, when I say “I like Marvel” or “I love the X-Men,” I’ve meant I love what you did with the place, Chris Claremont, except that one Manara shitshow, that they had some great Monster books out in the ’70s, and that Rogue/Gambit is my OTP 4 life.

Uncanny X-Men #251

Uncanny X-Men #251

Nowadays I feel pretty safe saying “I really like Peow” or “Breakdown Press is super great,” because (while they are companies) they are small and publish only weird things, and I’ve met and liked the people in charge of them. I trust Donya Todd to make a comics project go, and Hannah Chapman, and Alison Sampson. I like I feel like there’s some fundamental barrier of understanding between me and someone who can say “I love DC,” not because of the corporation thing, but because of the other thing, the failure of connection between the DCU and me thing. The world building, specifically, the taste of the air that I imagine. But I talk to J.A. every day, for example, so my feeling is probably an illusory one. I have no desire to read forever-comics any more, no more monthly-til-we-die stuff. Long is fine, but “sliding timescale” is soap in my mouth these days.

Other big publishers don’t seem to have the same suggestion of WITH US OR AGAINST, which is probably down to their relative newness (no history of Distinguished Competition) and to their lack of a shared universe spread between books. Some have one, some have the other, none have both. Top Cow retains a strange kind of affection, though I basically read it as an endurance test in my teens it seems to have been making real efforts to become a publisher that doesn’t rely on appropriating tits to sell the bulk of its books. Having a mark against it can work in a publisher’s favour, if it turns it around. Like Ray says—you feel grateful. Shouldn’t, really, should we.

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