Archie Comics New Gay Character – Tokenism or a Step Forward?

Excelsior, True Believers!

I return from my school-induced exile, returning to post before burying my head back in the books to revise a proposal, write a giant 20-page paper, and finish a take home exam. *le sigh*

On top of it all, I lost an early draft of this and another article – this isn’t in and of itself the worst possible thing that could have happened had I not also lost the login information so I could post my finished articles as well – when my MacBook Pro succumbed to what is lovingly referred to as the Plaid Screen of DeathTM. It looks like my graphics processor needs to be replaced (which is a totally free repair even though my MacBook is out of warranty), but I will be without my beloved Mac for at least a week. I brought it out of sleep mode and this is what I saw. *le le sigh* At least it’s a little more stylish than the Blue Screen of DeathTM. ANYHOW, let’s move away from my lamentations of school work and my venerations of Apple products and let’s talk comics, shall we?

Last week, Archie Comics announced that it would be introducing Kevin Keller, a hot, hunky blond piece of manmeat who would be joining the series’ regular cast of characters in Veronica #202 (set to be released in September of this year). Now, in case you didn’t hear – and it certainly isn’t a spoiler – Kevin is a remarkable addition to the Riverdale High gang because Kevin is also gay (wacky hijinks are sure to ensue).

Gay characters are nothing new. Comics – both of the superhero and non-superhero variety – have seen them before, the most recent of which is the new Batwoman, Kate Kane. But they’ve never been in the Archie universe and that’s why this is such a landmark event.

I have to admit that, when I heard the news, I rolled my eyes, thinking that it was just tokenism. That it was just another half-assed attempt to pander to modern readers (part of Archie’s New Look initiative). To try to bump up sales like they did when they announced that Archie was finally going to choose between Betty and Veronica.

Despite my cynicism, I couldn’t just dismiss this announcement as a publicity stunt for two reasons: (1.) the fact that Archie comics’ target audience is kids and tweens and, (2.) the fact that when thinking of Archie Comics, I typically associate it with texts that seek to romanticize conservative fantasies about what the good ol’ days were like (you know, when the world was safe and wholesome and family-friendly) and nothing more than a fantasy of what high school should be like (replete with all reinforcing gender stereotypes and heteronormitivity) rather than what it actually is.

However, if Archie Comics’ co-CEO, John Goldwater says is true and that

The introduction of Kevin is just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive…. Archie’s hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone. It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books.

Then this actually indicates a progressive step forward. It’s exposing younger generation to the increasingly diverse set of people that they will meet in their own lives and, likely, in their own high schools. By increasing the visibility of more diverse characters, you normalize them. Integration challenges the view that heterosexuality is the norm and that anything that deviates from that norm is aberrant and dangerous.

But what about the children?, some ask over fears that exposing kids to a gay character will turn them gay (usually the same close-minded people who are opposed to sex education in schools because telling kids about sex will immediately cause kids to have sex). Other than the few choice words I have for them that aren’t fit to be posted in this article (usually questioning their intelligence, among other things), all I have to say is that the only danger in exposing kids to gay characters is that the kids will grow up to be more socially accepting people. One’s sexuality is not a choice so there is no danger of kids being turned gay. As Chip Alfred of Equity Forum (a GBLT organization), so astutely puts it:

Kids should be introduced to gay characters. If they aren’t, they don’t understand them and that breeds hatred and intolerance. Seeing a gay character pop up in their comic book might also help a kid who’s “13 and in Kentucky” be “out and proud.”

Now, all we can hope is that Kevin doesn’t become some tired gay stereotype, reduced to nothing more than his sexuality (the thing that makes him different), like most Riverdale characters are. And while it took sixty or so years to get the first interracial kiss on the cover of Archie #608 (Archie kisses Josie and the Pussycats’ Valerie Brown), I don’t see any same sex kisses – even if they’re as tame as this one – anytime soon.

So, on the one hand, props to Archie Comics for attempting to promote diversity and inclusion. On the other hand, I suspect that this groundbreaking character will be reduced to nothing more than a one-off character who occasionally makes an appearance to remind the readers just how progressive and diverse the series actually isn’t.

While I usually embrace my cynical (or is it simply realist?) side, this time I really hope that Archie Comics proves me wrong.

Shelley Smarz is a comic book scholar and MBA student. She occassionally takes to the streets to drink tea and knit at a local cafe with her little Pomeranian at her feet. She is terrified of a zombie apocalypse and thinks that Archie should choose Veronica, much to the chagrin of her boytoy.

IDW Gets Premier Vendor Status at Diamond Distributors

If you read my article on the March 2010 numbers in terms of dollar sales and market share, then it comes as no surprise that top-tier comic book and graphic novel publisher IDW has been advanced to “premier” status classification by Diamond. Diamond announced today that IDW is the first publisher to have done so since the “premier” status was first implemented in 1996.

So, what does this mean? Well, a new multi-year agreement between Diamond and IDW Publishing, for one. Previews will showcase IDW’s new status as a premier vendor by moving them to the front of the book – along with Marvel, DC, and Image. This is also good news for retailers in terms of ordering. By being a premier vendor, IDW will eventually be added to Diamond’s Final Order Cut-Off program. This allows publishers to adjust initial orders to accurately reflect sales before they ship from Diamond. As a result, retailers will be better able to meet customer demand! Party on, Wayne!

But it’s not just the customers who win out. Diamond will remain the exclusive non-direct market distributor of IDW’s graphic novels. Diamond Book Distributors VP of Sales and Marketing, Kuo-Yu Liang is “extremely proud of the progress we’ve made in helping IDW grow its sales [of its licensed products and the successful launch of kids’ books under the Worthwhile Books line] in the book store market over the last five years.”

Shelley Smarz is a life-time comic book fan and a comic book scholar. She’s currently finishing her MBA at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

Market and Dollar Shares for March 2010

It’s time to put on my business geek hat and dissect Diamond’s recently released market shares and sales charts for March 2010. Now, the data is amassed, by Diamond, from over 3,5000 accounts representing both physical comic book and specialty retailers but also internet comic and specialty retailers. While there is some data pooled from international sources, the majority of the data comes from North American sources, giving us a pretty good idea of the landscape of the industry for the United States and Canada.

Based on total unit sales of products invoiced (includes reorders, preorders, and advanced reorders) the industry kind of looks like this – as of March 2010 (I’ve included the ranking in parentheses next to the percentage):

Unit Market Share: Dollar Market Share:
Marvel Comics 47.12% (1) 41.94% (1)
DC Comics 29.92% (2) 27.25% (2)
IDW Publishing 3.61% (3) 4.02% (4)
Dark Horse Comics 3.33% (4) 4.76% (3)
Dynamite Entertainment 3.08% (5) 3.40% (5)
Image Comics 3.01% (6) 3.22% (6)
Boom! Studios 1.84% (7) 1.98% (7)
Zenescope Entertainment 0.93% (8) 0.90% (10)
Archie Comics 0.81% (9) 0.67% (11)
Viz Media 0.71% (10) 1.48% (8)
Tokyopop 0.59% (11) 0.56% (12)
Avatar Press 0.42% (12) 0.56% (12)
Aspen MLT 0.40% (13) 0.26% (17)
Wizard Entertainment 0.37% (14) 0.46% (15)
Eaglemoss Publications LTD. 0.27% (15) 0.99% (9)
Random House 0.25% (16) 0.57% (14)
Bongo Comics 0.22% (17) 0.21% (19)
Devil’s Due Publishing 0.19% (18) 0.25% (18)
Bluewater Productions 0.18% (19) 0.19% (20)
Oni Press, Inc. 0.16% (20) 0.33% (16)
Other Non-Top 20 2.59% 6.01%

It’s no surprise that Marvel and DC are the two biggest players in terms of dollars and market share. However, with Marvel controlling 47.12% of the market share, it leaves DC Comics struggling with other publishers to control the remaining 52.78%. I was honestly surprised that there was such a large discrepancy in terms of market share between Marvel and DC Comics. I had never really looked at the market data before and thought that Marvel and DC Comics were on rather even footing in terms of the market. When you crunch the numbers, Marvel has 1.57 times the market share that DC does. Looking at dollars, Marvel controls 1.539 times the share that DC does.

Rounding out the top five (in both dollars and market share) are IDW (third in market, fourth in dollars), Dark Horse (fourth in market, third in dollars), and Dynamite.  Following Dynamite closely (0.07%) in terms of market share is Image, though Dynamite is 0.18% over Image in terms of dollars.

I wonder how this is going to change now that Marvel’s TPB/graphic novel sales outside of the direct market are doing to be handled by Hatchette (DC’s TPB/graphic novel sales outside of the direct market are currently handled by Random House). I predict that the move will probably make Marvel and DC Comics more equal in terms of market and dollar share. The question is:  will DC simply absorb the discrepancy, or will other companies swoop in and sweep it out from under them?

Shelley Smarz is a life-time comic book fan and a comic book scholar. She’s currently finishing her MBA at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON. She’s excited that she can add “business geek” to her geek répertoire.

The Gail Simone Interview

On the last saturday of the Toronto Wizard  World Con, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my favourite authors, Gail Simone. Here’s a transcript of our conversation….

Shelley Smarz: So I think I speak for everyone at Comic Book Daily when I say that we’re huge fans of your tweets and we were all really surprised when you of all people were labeled misogynist and homophobic leading to the wonderful Twitter thread “Gail hates women”. What was the story with that? By the time I came across it, so much had been deleted of the exchange between the two of you that I was just really curious. I know the storyline of how it started, but did this person just contact you and say, “Oh by the way, how could you? You are a betrayer of all that is good about feminism?”

Gail Simone: It was on a DC message board, so he didn’t contact me directly.

Shelley Smarz: So going along that line, the whole Women in Refrigerators phenomenon, do you think it’s changed, or do you think it’s just become less overt?

Gail Simone: In terms of comic work, or?

Shelley Smarz: In terms of superhero comics.

Gail Simone: I think it was already sort of on its way to changing when I developed the site, which was in 1999, so that’s a good thing because we were coming out of the ’90s and the whole bad girl comics and a lot of storylines where the female characters met pretty violent ends or were forever changed, as in the case of Batgirl being shot in the spine by the Joker. Now since she became Oracle, it’s now a story of survival; in the particular work of The Killing Joke it wasn’t. The site was never designed to say we can’t have bad things happen to female characters. If you’ve read my writing, you know that bad things happen to female characters anyway. It’s just that we don’t want a trend, and we don’t want it to be done so casually or the story to be designed only for the female character to be the plot device that gets the male character to stare off in the sunset and vow his revenge. Then the story becomes a revenge story, not a story about the victim. I think it has made a difference.

Shelley Smarz: Good. I think it has a lot to do with an increased presence of vocalization of female fans.

Gail Simone: Oh, I think so too. The online community has really made their wishes known.  At the time they were wondering why we don’t have more female readers of comics. My question was maybe you should take a look at this because if you’ve been a follower of a female character that you’ve really loved and admired and identified with and followed through their stories, then all of a sudden they are casually maimed or raped or chopped up and put into a refrigerator or whatever, it’s kind of hard to keep reading those stories all the time. It definitely has made a difference, the more diverse creators we get, the more difference it makes too. I think that over all, the industry is pretty great, right now.

Shelley Smarz: I think it makes writers, not more accountable for what they write, but more creative because you sort of get the feeling that if a writer is looking for something bad to happen to a female character, oh well she’d be raped, and there wasn’t much, I don’t want to say creativity, but that was sort of the go to point.

Gail Simone: Yes, exactly.

Shelley Smarz: It was never psychological, it was just “she needs to be raped” and that’s the only was that, if we’re going to have her grow, or propel her story forward. It was very troubling.

Gail Simone: I agree.

Shelley Smarz: So talking about getting more women to read super hero comics specifically, Marvel Her-oes and Girl Comics, do you think that’s a step in the right direction, or do you think it’s just Marvel Comics pandering to a market that they just don’t quite understand?

Gail Simone: I can’t really speak for Marvel, and I do know that the creators involved, the female creators involved, are really high calibre and really talented so I’m sure the work will be great.  I just look forward to the day where we don’t have to be separated, isolated and segregated like that. Also, to put out there that not all girls like pink bunnies and unicorns, so if you think that you’re going to market to a specific female audience, you might want to look at what the female audience actually does read. It’s pretty diverse. It’s not just quote “girly” stuff all the time.

Shelley Smarz: To go off in a different direction, I’ve been asking everyone here about the reaction to the Apple iPad. Do you think it’s going to be the doom for the print medium of comics, or do you think it’s actually going to help revitalize?

Gail Simone: I do not think it’s going to be the doom. I f we don’t do something, then we aren’t going to keep the younger readers who are so used to doing stuff digitally. So that is what I’m more concerned about personally, keeping a younger and a new audience coming in all the time so I think that if we approach it that way we’re gaining new readers by having more options to read the story. I don’t think it’s going to kill the print because most of us like the printed comics. We want to hold them, we want see the art and touch the art as much as we can, but I don’t see anything wrong with having a digital format. Personally, I just think that that’s the direction we’re going, and if you don’t open up to it, then that’s where the problems will start coming in. If you resist any of it for too long, then it might narrow the audience.

Shelley Smarz: I feel the same way.  I’m very excited. On the one hand, it’s like I want a digital reader. On the other, I know I’m always going to have my singles in my long box at home. That’s been pretty much the uniform response from comics’ creators that we’ve spoke to.

Gail Simone: I feel that it will do nothing but good in the long run.

Shelley Smarz: So we’re all sad to hear that your run on Wonder Woman is over. Do you feel you’ve said all you wanted to say with the character?

Gail Simone: I’m really proud of what we’ve done with Wonder Woman since I’ve been writing her, but like with anything that I write, I always feel like I could keep going.  I don’t know if it’s just that I talk too much or what, but I really get involved with the characters that I work on so if it came up and I was going to write Wonder Woman stories for another five years, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

Shelley Smarz: So do you think that there will one day be a return?

Gail Simone: It’s hard to say. I do know that it’s not the end of me writing Wonder Woman. It’s the end for now of the monthly book for me.

Shelley Smarz: The mark of a really awesome comic book creator is just making people care about characters that are sort of… I hate to use the term C-List, but you did this with Bane, and Catman in Secret Six especially, and you’ve made us really care about these characters that were sort of off to the side. Is there a potential that you see in these characters? Do you just root for the underdog?

Gail Simone: I do like to root for the underdog, and I do really like characters that are beaten down and then they’ve got to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and make something out of their life. So yes, I am attracted to those characters. But I love, DC has such a wealth of characters to draw from, and it’s fun for me to go and find one that maybe hasn’t been used for a while, or maybe has been used in a different way and try to show the potential that I feel they have by getting deeper and deeper into their character. I love manipulating the reader to get them to be on their side or at least find them interesting again.  So yeah, it’s one of my favourite things to do.

Shelley Smarz: We’re all excited for your return to Birds of Prey. Are there any teases of future story arcs that you can give us? Just a tidbit?

Gail Simone: You know how I am, if I could lie in the Previews, I would.  I think the one thing that I can say is that by the first page of Birds of Prey; you know who Black Canary is for one thing. And then I’ve created a new villain who is very scary and terrifying and scares even me when I’m writing in the middle of the night. I’m looking forward to the readers getting to meet her.

Shelley Smarz: Awesome. I cannot wait. I’m a huge fan. And finally, with your long awaited return to Welcome to Tranquility which was one of my all time favourite books.

Gail Simone: Well, thank you.

Shelley Smarz: Do you think you will ever do separate mini-series where you will explore the retro back-stories of all of these retired super heroes?  Because I really want to learn more about their careers as superheroes.

Gail Simone: I have so many stories I could tell in Welcome to Tranquility. Anything is possible in the future for that.

Shelley Smarz: Excellent. Will we ever see you pen a Big Barda/Mister Miracle love story?

Gail Simone: Oooh, I don’t know.  That’s something to think about though.  I love both those characters so that would be fun.

Shelley Smarz: Excellent.  Thank you so much.

Gail Simone: You’re welcome.

Shelley Smarz is a life-time comic book fan and a comic book scholar. She’s currently finishing her MBA at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON. She’s looking forward until the end of April when she can get to that giant pile of comics and graphic novels that has accumulated since Christmas.

Women in Refrigerators (WiR) Edition

I wrote this little piece a while back and, as I’m a little slow in terms of transcribing my Gail Simone interview (squee!), I thought I’d post this.

Women in Refrigerators (WiR) is the name of the list compiled by Gail Simone – with the help of her comic book buddies – of “female comics characters had met untimely and often icky ends”.

The name, incidentally, comes from a scene in Green Lantern #54. Kyle Rayner comes home and finds that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, has been killed and stuffed into the refrigerator by his nemesis Major Force. The name and the incident have since been used to describe the disproportional dispowerment, maiming, and death of various women in superhero comic books and how these incidents are usually used only to motivate the male characters into action or as a plot device to explore how these kinds of tragedies affect the male characters.

Now, before you get all uppity and point out that bad stuff happens to men too, I’ll say, “Yes, it does.” But WiR is different in that, when it happens to female characters they (unlike the men) are never allowed, as male heroes usually are, the chance to return to their original heroic states. And that’s where we begin to see the difference.”

For example: Batman has is back broken by Bane. With a little bit of Bat-willpower (and a lot of paranormal help) Batman manages to regain full use of his legs and go on to defeat Bane and save the day! Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) gets shot in the spine by the Joker and is paralyzed FOREVERMORE. I should also note that Batman’s back was broken during a heroic battle with Bane whereas Barbara opened the door to an apartment door. (And then, to add insult to injury, was undressed and photographed by the Joker  — photos which are then shown to her father, Commissioner Gordon in an attempt to drive him insane). Barbara Gordon becomes a prop in some sick play to drive her father crazy and to propel Batman into action against the Joker.

Okay, maybe this is a bad example. Babs did go on to become (thanks to John Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale) Orcacle who is a superheroine in her own right (and not just a Bat-sidekick). I mean, any attempt to “cure” Babs now would be met with disbelief and a lot of fans who would revolt. (Nor, do I share the sentiment that Babs is somehow less than she was becuase she’s a wheelchair user, which just proves that when you can’t dismiss a character based on his/her race, gender, and/or sexuality, you can say that they’re somehow inferior based on his/her disability.)

Just because I don’t think you can quite grasp the unfairness of it all unless I repeat it: Batman is injured during a heroic battle, completely recovers (which, to be fair, comes from a telekinetic duel between Shondra Kingslover and Benedict Asp), returns and vanquishes his nemesis. He clears Batman’s name and takes his rightful place as protector of Gotham City.

Barbara Gordon, on the other hand, is injured opening the door and is then photographed (while bleeding on the floor) in various states of undress in a devious plot to drive her father insane, is left – because of her injuries –  permanently paralyzed. Oh, and she only becomes an awesome character because we were lucky enough to have a fabulous husband-and-wife creative team who said, “Oh, hell no” at Len Wein’s decision to give Alan Moore permission to “cripple the bitch!”

So, where am I going with all this? Well, other than hopefully inciting some righteous feminist rage, I needed to talk about this in order to segway into this next bit. I’m a huge fan of Something Positive and (the artist/writer) R.K. Milholland has a great little side project (which, in my opinion, isn’t updated enough) called Super Stupor. The comic details the lives of several superheroes and villains and the wacky adventures that they get into. (I’d also recommend the first issue of the Super Stupor comic — it is made of win and cookies and rainbows and puppies). In one of his early strips, Milholland explored the phenomenon of WiR and kind of turned it on its ear (the original strip is found here):

Shelley Smarz is a life-time comic book fan and a comic book scholar. She’s currently finishing her MBA at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON. She’s trying to establish a schedule when she’ll regularly update, but business school has this really annoying habit of getting in the way. In her spare time, she knits and crochets inappropriate kawaii amigurumi body parts…we’ll let you guess which ones. Her current list of superheroine girlcrushes are: Oracle, Phoenix…damn, I guess what she told Gail Simone IS true – she does have a thing for redheads!