I've noticed that a lot of bloggers are now rushing to the defense of Marvel Comics and Editor In Chief Joe Quesada in the wake of his comments regarding the feminist backlash against Marvel Divas, based on a summary of the book concept written by the author and a preview of the cover of the first issue. Most of them are saying that it's blatantly unfair of them to be judging the book without reading it - neatly side-stepping the issue, as Joe Quesada did in answering one readers' letter...
About the “hating” on Marvel Divas, let’s call it what it really is—criticizing how sexist this book appears to be. If Marvel produces comics that are offensive to female readers, why shouldn’t people “hate” on it? Why would I want to support a company that produces offensive, sexist material? Why shouldn’t everyone speak out against it? While the book hasn’t come out yet, what has been released so far is blatantly sexist. But what troubles me the most is that Marvel thinks people want to read this, and this constitutes strong female characterization. Does Marvel actually want to attract female readers or is the whole point that Marvel Comics are only for guys?
I’m going to go on a limb here and assume you’re a Marvel reader. It’s an assumption I’m making based upon the fact that you’re responding to this column. If you’re Marvel reader and truly feel we’re sexist, then why are you reading our books? Now, perhaps you’re not a Marvel reader, then if that’s the case, I’m not quite sure what you’re criticizing if you don’t read our books?
...You haven’t read a lick of this story yet! Please, I can buy you saying that you’re cautiously pessimistic based upon what you’ve heard so far, but to throw around allegations like that is completely unfair, not just to Marvel or myself, but to the creators and editors who are working on this book. Have you ever read any of Sacasa’s work? Have you ever found him to be a sexist writer? Is the cover image provocative, perhaps, but it’s no more or less than any other book we do.
The cold hard reality of publishing and trying to sell our books to as many people as possible, so here’s an example of what happens more often than you may think here at Marvel. From time to time, we’ll be launching a title that doesn’t focus very heavily on the super heroic. From time to time I’ll get a cover sketch and it doesn’t have a costumed hero or villain on the cover, what we internally refer to as a “quiet cover.” On those occasions, more often than not, I ask my editors to direct their cover artist to give me at least a first issue cover with the characters in costume. Why? Because it will help launch a book that will most likely have trouble latching onto a large audience. We want to give every title the best possible chance to be successful. Marvel Divas is no different and that’s why you’re seeing our strong female leads in their super hero personas. Let me try an example outside of comics. I’m a huge fan of Pink, I really dig her music and love her voice. Love her or hate her, I would say that she’s an amazingly strong and intelligent female performer and song writer in the pop genre. In many of her songs she even criticizes the over sexualized female pop stars of the day and their over the top videos. But when you look at Pink’s CD covers, while she’s looking strong and like she’s looking like she’s having fun, she’s also looking really sexy. The reason is simple, she’s trying to grab people’s attention and sell some albums. Comics are no different and as much a part of the entertainment business as any other medium, and the cold hard truth is that if we were to launch Marvel Divas with a “quiet cover,” I guarantee you the book would be canceled before it hits the shelves. That’s it in a nutshell, I could sugar coat it for you and give you a million other reasons that would sound plausible, but that’s not what I do.
So, where does that leave us? Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you somehow feel you know what this book is about sight unseen, then by all means just pass it up when it hits the stores. If you feel like giving it a try, drop me a line and let me know what you think. What I’d like you to avoid however is globally unfair statements like Marvel is sexist. And if you feel like you’re not being heard or like your opinion doesn’t matter, just look at how much column space I devoted to your question. Most companies would just duck stuff like this, but you guys are the reason we do what we do and if you have a concern or criticism, I want to try to address them as best I can. Thanks again for writing and for your question.
Uh-huh. So basically, here is Joe's defense, paragraph by paragraph.
1. I don't know why you're indulging in this double-plus ungood behavior. If you don't like our books, you shouldn't be reading them. And if you aren't reading our books, you shouldn't complain. Therefore, you don't like our books, so you have nothing to complain about.
2. I know I'm already assuming you don't read anything we publish, so I feel safe in telling you the man we've hired to write this book has never written anything anyone would find sexist. Also, I'm not saying the cover is sexist, but even if it were it's no more dehumanizing to women than all the covers for the books we publish that aren't aimed at a female audience.
3. Sex sells and it has to be used to sell anything that is aimed at women. Even angry grrrrl punk rock stars dress sexy to appeal to the men in their audience - not because they want to wear what they damn well please. So you see, it's not my fault that the industry is sexist... it's the fault of sexy rocker grrrls.
4. Remember - your opinion matters, even though I completely ignored your question and dismissed your right to make any complaint because I don't think you actually read anything we publish.
So to everyone who is rushing to Joe's defense and complaining about how we can't judge a book by its' cover? Bullshit! Take it from a trained librarian - our entire publishing industry, comics included, is based around the concept that not only can you judge a book by its' cover but that you need to devote as much effort toward packaging your book as you do creating it.
Thousands of graphic artists are employed to make covers appealing to the eye. Millions of marketing people are employed to argue over how to best promote new products, works and ideas. And the whole idea behind Marvel Previews and all the little extras and previews put up on Marvel.com or the Marvel MySpace page is to catch the interest of potential readers and get them to try new products BASED ON THE COVER OF THE BOOK!
That's why everyone is refusing to buy this book, Joe. And that is why they have every right to criticize the promotional materials they were given. You tried to promote this series as being something women would want to read - Sex In The City with superheroines - and you failed miserably. You asked them to make a judgment and then got pissy when the judgment was the exact opposite of what you wanted.
You tried to give women what you thought they wanted and are now trying to ignore them as they try to tell you what they want.
The problem here is not only that this promotion failed to snare its' target audience - it has failed in an epic fashion and alienated most of the potential audience Marvel was trying to reach. And Joe Quesada's reaction to the outraged audience has been to dismiss their concerns and ask why they're reading giving him money in the first place if they honestly think he's sexist.
Good question, Joe. But probably the last one that you should be asking a bunch of pissed off fans who are asking you why they SHOULD read your comics if crappy cheesecake like this and promises of "sudsy fun" are your idea of a what a comic for women should be like.