Queer books sell. They sell, and they sell, and they sell. Marvel’s queer books somehow don’t sell, except, ya know, for the ones that have proven to sell well in trade. But I digress. Billion dollar corporations (in the case of both DC and Marvel) somehow can’t muster the marketing ability to sell a book with some gays in it. This on it’s own could be damning, but there is just so much else going on! Let’s talk about just how bad the big two in particular are at selling queer books.
Check, Please!: Year Two is easily cited as an example of how poorly these companies are doing with their commitment to queer people. It’s a lovely example that proves a sports comic (something they don’t think sells) that’s queer (something they don’t think sells) could make over 10 times it’s Kickstarter goal, landing on almost 400K in support. That is likely more money than Marvel’s top selling book of any given month makes after you take everyone’s cut of the money, despite being more or less required purchases from all LCS (ya know, being an event book).
Marvel sells comics at $3.99, so about $4 dollars. Amazing Spider-man Marvel’s third best selling book in September sold 71,159 copies, but I’ll round up to 72k, and you get 288K on Amazing Spider-man. Remember that number is before the store and distributor get their cuts too. That was their top selling non-event, non-Star Wars books if you look at slower selling, but still being printed comics, like Carnage, it’s only making before all that closer to 80K. What’s even more impressive about Check, Please!’s success is that with all the fear of piracy comic companies have this title with a link to read the whole thing for free, in a nicely done site, no ads, did that well. Check, Please! is a book made by one person, too; far less people needing money, far less people to involve, far less marketing budget, far less man hours to dedicate to pushing content.
Check, Please! isn’t the only queer book to find success through crowdfunding. This year alone we were put in a situation where about eight queer (often lady lead, trans people attached to many as well) titles were being funded at the same time on Kickstarter. Any logic would say that at least one is going to fail, but none did. Every single anthology was funded. Crowdfunding shows what often we could get for free we are willing to pay for, because we know we can trust these people. When we get print comics, we are often afraid of them being offensive, of them not caring about us, where the money is going, how their relationship will be handled. In webcomics, because they are so often have shared experience with their characters, we can trust that even if something isn’t how we live it that it’s an honest take.
While all of this already dispels the idea queer people don’t read comics, it’s worth noting nearly everyone reads comics. We just don’t think of them as being comics readers. Be it a few times only in their life on the back of a newspaper or a stolen strip shared on Facebook, the medium of comics is widely accessed by at least the majority of the western world. The lack of ability to convert one of the world’s most universally accepted art forms is baffling. A large part of that is that comics have worked hard to lose the trust of most people in favor of who they thought was the easiest market to grab: young, cis, hetero, white men. Comics being for everyone only counts when you prove it over time not just with a title here and a title there.
Now with this lack of faith in comics companies people might say, well now it’s too late to get queer people, to get these other audiences. But The Wicked and Divine’s Audience polling seems to suggest otherwise. Indeed, it seems to suggest Wic/Div has at a minimum at 14% not cis readership, with only a 36.7% heterosexual audience. In addition, Harley Quinn, canon queer woman, starred in the top selling book of August 2016 (Harley Quinn Issue #1), showing a queer book can outsell every other comic in a month. Even at the big two.
One could throw out that this is too much risk for Marvel. Only Marvel is not a stranger to randomly throwing out a concept and screaming “this will be a success” then watching it fail. Marvel has done this with Inhumans, whose flagship titles sell in the bottom 100 and then below the top 100 respectively. They also have their failed push of Squadron Superum and their likely-to-fail push of Deadpool’s Mercs with A Mouth. Now Marvel is pushing out a Daredevil line even with the very low sales of their Kingpin series ranking it under the canceled A-force. Hell, Venom is facing it’s third relaunch in a row, and despite low sales (it ranks under canceled series Webwarriors as well as A-force) it has managed to keep the same writer throughout. Frankly, it’s bullshit to say Marvel isn’t willing to take a risk.
DC is a bit more risk averse; they don’t like to rock the boat as much and rarely do any kind of push outside of a Batman line. They do, however, take bigger risks with imprints, bringing back Wildstorm and having Young Animal join their fray. Both companies could decide tomorrow it was time to make sure their lines should have ten queer books. They could just drop any that sold under 25K copies two months after first trade release (assuming the first trade isn’t a big hit itself). This would be a way to earn back some consumer faith from the queer community that is foaming at the mouth to buy content, but not from bigots who will turn around and slap them in the face. Be it Mavel’s Editor and Chief refusing to label queer characters as queer (still hasn’t too) then turning around and labeling a historically bi character as straight. Or DC stopping the marriage of Batwoman then moving her into a story where a vampire woman sexually assaults her.
Comics can and should be more inclusive to queer people. The more they don’t adapt the sooner they will die. The amount of hit webcomics that are queer only increases with every week, and with every title comes a reduction in reasons to go out and pay to chance representation. We can ether have a lock-down for sure, good representation, or we can chance it while paying upfront. Why pick the paid route? Corporate comics need to prove to us why, and this is just a jumping on point. Queer comics sell. The big two just suck at it.