Guest editorial: Matt Hawkins says “Diversity = Money”

matt Hawkins Guest editorial: Matt Hawkins says Diversity = Money

[Matt Hawkins, President at Top Cow Productions and President & COO at Top Cow Productions, Inc., is an industry veteran who has seen it all, from the highest booms to the lowest busts, He recently posted the following essay on how diversity makes economic sense for comics on his FB page, and with his permission, we are reprinting it here.]

by Matt Hawkins

Why do we need more diversity of creators in comics? The simple answer is money. The only color in business that matters is green and gender-bias only hurts sales. Cut out any of the moral, political and affirmative action type reasons and just focus on reality. People buy stuff made by people like them…and that’s okay. Not in EVERY case, I’m not making unilateral statements.

Let’s start with women; women read far more than men. There are TONS of very successful female novel writers; one of my favorites is Barbara Kingsolver. If you’ve never heard of her, check out Poisonwood Bible or Flight Behavior. She’s a Biologist who writes, so I’m partial to her. And that kind of makes my point. I’m an amateur scientist, never practiced, but always stayed current. I LOVE fiction written by scientifically knowledgeable people…see where I’m going?

There are a lot of female artists. We’re currently working with three, not including colorists, and we only publish 4-6 titles a month. Rise of the Magi is drawn by Sumeyye Kesgin, Wildfire by Linda Sejic and Control the Clock by Colleen Doran.

We need more female writers. Why? Because female writers = more female readers. That’s all that matters. More female readers = more industry sales = more stores = more everything. People gravitate towards their own and women write stuff from a woman’s perspective about things women care about…and that’s okay! I don’t really understand why people get so upset by this.

When I announced that 1 of the 4 Talent Hunt winners for 2013 would be a female team, I got a lot of shit for it. Guys telling me it shouldn’t matter what genitalia someone has, the better “man” should win. Heh, pun there.

There are a lot of non-white artists out there, a lot of Asians. Can you name 10 non-white regularly working comic writers in this business? I can, but this is my livelihood. I bet a lot of you can’t. Why is that? Look at novels, films and TV. There is content made for blacks, Latins, Asians…usually by people of the same ethnicity. I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry film and I’ve heard plenty of people make fun of them, but they make BANK! SERIOUS BANK. Why? Because black people go see them. And guess what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s fucking great!

We need more black, Asian, Latin writers in comics. Circling back to my premise, this industry needs to grow its readership. The easiest way is to reach new demographics. So new demos = money.

I, for one, never want to limit my knowledge by surrounding myself with people like me and consuming media and content tailor made for me. How fucking boring is that?

I know I’m a whack-a-do, but to restate the premise of this, the only color in business that matters is green and gender-bias only hurts sales.

[Photo via Tucson Comic Con.]

Comments

  1. Matt’s right again.

    If you don’t work for an inclusive culture because its the right and human thing to do, do it because its smart business.

    I’ve gotten a lot of traction with that reasoning with my business clients.

  2. Dan Ahn says:

    I couldn’t really agree more with any of this.

    I think we obviously should have a more open industry in which various sorts of people should be able to get their good work out there and connect with different sorts of readers. Examples of industry (or comic shop) people being rude to non-white males should be addressed, because really it’s ridiculous whenever people are rude in a way that, at the same time, curtails the potential of the industry.

    But this brings up a good point:

    “women read more than men”

    ^This has probably been the case for a century at least, but it seems particularly true today.

    My question is: Do you think that the overall book industry is tearing its hair out and going through what seems to be a perpetual nervous breakdown because there isn’t a 50/50 gender divide within its consumer base? Or do you think that maybe people in the book industry have simply realized that there’s always going to be a disparity, and that’s basically okay as long as equal *opportunities* (not outcomes) are there?

    Is the proportion of male novel-readers higher than the proportion of female comics readers? It might not be. How does that break down in terms of dollars? I’m not sure. It’d be interesting to compare.

    I think the fact that different people like different things within different societies should be understood and accepted. I think more boys should be encouraged to read novels and I think more girls should be encouraged to read comics. But I also think that disparities in consumer bases are a) inevitable and b) “okay” as long as the industry is open. As long as all people have a chance to “find their level” within any industry, community, or past-time, that’s fine. Not acknowledging this will only lead to perpetual dysfunction for everyone. For skeptical liberals: Obama himself has said this: Equal opportunities, not mandated enforced equal outcomes, which is an impossible state of affairs.

    So many of these very “top-down” heavy-handed attempts to attract more female and minorities customers have been complete flops for the comics industry. I think the lesson to learn is that various types of people should be given the opportunity to attract their own audience. Instead we’re given the Miles Morales Spider-Man, who IS a great character… but, let’s be honest, more than half of his readership is the same 40+ white male audience. Why? Because the character plays on the same preexisting paradigm that’s there.

    I think that the tendency to create and interpret new non-white male characters through the lens of the industry as it exists now, and as it has existed, is unhelpful. The existing guard of creators, editors, and bloggers hasn’t got a clue in regards to how to attract a bigger audience. This is obvious, especially in regards to those terribly smart and successful individuals who have been at it for decades now. New voices need to be allowed to do their own thing — if possible, if they’ve got it in them — not be hampered from the get-go by “How can I fit this into the Marvel Universe?” or even “How can I make sure that this new female character gets the approval of the existing female readers?” It doesn’t matter — just do your own thing and attract new readers if possible. Don’t get bogged down by the politics of the existing, dying readers and pundits.

    Tyler Perry didn’t make a name for himself, or an audience for himself, by worrying endlessly about how he wasn’t Steven Spielberg. And, for that matter, Jim Lee didn’t break into comics and expand the audience for everyone by worrying that he wasn’t Stan Lee. Different types of people just need to be given a shot, but then the existing guard needs to let them do their own thing. Imagine if, after his first hit, Tyler Perry was bogged down by critics who wanted him to focus ad nauseam on racism in Hollywood. Or imagine if Jim Lee left Marvel not to found Image but to do a creator-owned project based on guilt and victimhood that various critics might have wanted him to fixate on.

    We need to encourage a more positive outlook if the industry is going to expand.

  3. It’s also obvious looking at Convention Guest Lists. I started checking out and comparing a couple mid size ones on the east coast.http://www.amberunmasked.com/cons-genderdiversity/

  4. horsto says:

    So true.. I mean. every comic published by the “big Two” comes with the obstacle that its rooted in a world that has a history of, like 20000 different people with SUPERPOWERS; there has to be a niche beyond that.

  5. well said, Matt. spot on.

  6. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    Dan Ahn, i like you. i was not going to comment because you have said everything i been saying here and else where for years, but i want to include some other points. I’ll recap my opinion on diversity in comics real quick:

    -It’s about equal oppertunity, not outcomes.
    -Asking “what *insert demographic* wants to read?” is a better approach than trying to get them to read something they’re not interested in to begin with. You’re better off selling kosher beef to muslims then trying to convince them to eat pork.
    -You need more comics exposure and comics education at all levels. you could create a generation of avid readers by pushing to have more comics in the classroom.
    -It’s all well and good to say all this stuff but if nobody i willing to take a risk then none of this will happen, this is for both side of the argument.

    now on to my main comment:

    Coming from Top Cow, I do take this editorial with a grain of salt because they’re not practicing what they preach. you only see the squasi-naturalistic mainstream house-style in their books. diversitry is not just having a woman or minorities working on a book, but also aesthetic diversity. Why hasn’t top cow printed a book in a style a la Noah van Sciver or Vera Brogsol? mainstream publications marginalize people more because of their aesthetic values than flimsy discrimination claims. If they were more receptive to printing manga/manga-esque work you would see more women like Svetlana Chomchoka or other Tokyo-Pop alumni doing work for them.

  7. Rich H says:

    Action speaks louder than words. If Hawkins is so concerned – “we need more female writers, we need more black, Asian, Latin writers in comics” – what’s his company really doing about it? Posting an essay on FB (and it’s in FB – not some main comics magazine either, where more people will see it) is hardly proactive.

  8. Rich H; Action speaks louder than words.

    Did you miss the part Where Hawkins mentioned hiring several female artists? Top Cow, incredibly, has a much better track record, percentage wise, than many a larger company where female artists are concerned. They’ve also worked with Laura Braga and Afua Richardson, just off the top of my head.

  9. Hufnagel0 says:

    @ Serhend Sirkecioglu – “You need more comics exposure and comics education at all levels.” DING! DING! DING! So the full equation, for anybody following along at home, is education on the medium + education on the industry x exposure to available content = growth in readership. and as we all know, growth in readership = diversity among readers and diversity = money. So through the transitive property, EDm + EDi x EXc = $.

    So how do we get widespread education on comics and the amount of stories available besides the tights and capes that come to mind for so many folks? That’s a helluva question. I like Eric Stephenson’s suggestion of book clubs, personally. And I’d go with a focus on OGNs (at least at first) so you can advertise that no expertise or knowledge on continuity is necessary to join the club and talk about the book. Spread the word through libraries and book stores to connect with folks who are already readers, and just expose them to wonderful stories told in a way that’s brand new to them. That or… I dunno… kill a big name superhero. That seems to help the industry a lot.

  10. Glad to see this comment from Matt Hawkins, especially after the puzzling ones from Eric Stephenson (in relation to the controversy about the Image Expo).

    As an African-American and having worked for over a decade in the videogame industry and with many of the comics/ anime/ manga executives…I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with Hawkins over the concept that if you can’t do it because it’s the right thing to do–then do it because of the business ends of it.

    I started my company and magazine, Saturday AM (www.saturday-am.com) specifically to address this chiefly within the world of manga.

    That said, I hope we can get past the singular nature of this. I remember the outrage of this latest episode was about the lack of women and Hawkins addresses this eloquently..but it’s not a one size fits all. Black men and black women often get left out of the conversation (I saw this alot in the videogame industry) when diversity came up which is just bizarre. Diversity means everyone–not just whatever group is in vogue…as a black man..I’ve made sure we have Africans (not just African-Americans) as well as Asians (S-E asians–not just Japanese/ Chinese) as well as Europeans, Latin Americans and gay/ straight.

    If you want to speak to this new world–you have to be prepared to accept that you yourself with your set of experiences is NOT ENOUGH. You need to ACTIVELY create a worldview in your corporate culture that reflects the world.

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