N.b.: If you only have time to read one thing about Marvel editor Tom Brevoort’s latest comments, then skip this post and go check out comic artist David Brothers’ response. It is thoughtful, beautifully written, and what I’ve written here is just an echo of what he expresses so eloquently.
Recently, Marvel announced that as part of its October soft reboot of its entire line (Marvel is king of the soft reboot) the “All-New All-Different” introductory issues would include hip hop-themed variant covers. These covers would recreate “classic” hip hop album covers using superhero characters. Click here for a cool slide effect between the original art and the comic covers.
I wasn’t sure what to feel about this. I love hip hop. I love comics. I have written quite a bit about their connections. I included both in my dissertation project examining collection and racial/gender identity in contemporary transnational American literature. It makes sense that I’d find at least some of these appealing depending on the artist, the definition of “classic” (i.e. the album choices), and just the cleverness of the juxtaposition—that is, if the comic title works in play with the original album title or name of artist.
From the examples they showed the covers are great. The Spider-Man/Tribe Called Quest one looks so good, as does the De La Soul one with Extraordinary X-Men—though that could be because I love those records. But nah…because even though I take issue with Marvel’s definition of “classic” when it comes to Get Rich or Die Trying or Tyler the Creator’s Wolf, the covers still look fly. The place where the collector part of me and the scholar part of me overlap wants me to get them all as examples the cross-pollination I have explored made manifest.
Just to be clear: Tom Brevoort does not see the connection between black artists/writers and hip hop. It’s his use of “really” that gets me. It strikes me as so dismissive.
I’ve written about the commodification of hip hop before and the strange relationship the culture has with capital. I understand that having your album cover be re-created to be part of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man is “getting up” in a big way. However, as Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing and long-time editor cannot understand the connection between giving more black writers and artists opportunities to create for Marvel and the influence on music represented by covers of albums all of which are by black musicians, I must be skeptical of the spirit in which these variants have been made. I mean, I am not naïve. I know that these variants are a way to inflate sales of particular issues since there are people who will buy multiple copies of their favorite titles and sometimes every variant of the same theme regardless of the actual comic book content, but to not be cognizant of the connection between Black arts and hip hop makes this whole thing come off as a more sophisticated version of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble rapping and breaking.
I am gonna break it down for Tom Brevoort, so it is clear, giving him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming he really doesn’t see the connection and is not just obfuscating. The connection between the hip hop album variant covers and hiring more black artists and writers (and creating a less hostile work environment) is that instead of simply exploiting the work of Black artists for your profit, you’d be demonstrating the respect your company claims to have for those artists and the way they changed music by giving creators of color the opportunity to do the same for comic books.
Despite what Tom Hanks’ wack son Chet Haze may think and say (and yes Tom Brevoort, that’s how stupid you sound when you say things like this), there is a history to hip hop, and that history emerges from the social and economic conditions of black and brown people in New York City (particularly the Bronx) in the 1970s. Brevoort’s response to the question wants to see hip hop as a post-racial genre and not a historically-situated cultural practice and its production. It is not that white people can’t be part of hip hop. It is that fifth pillar of hip hop culture is knowledge, and this kind of response is demonstrating not the least bit of wisdom.
Actually, Tom Brevoort has been a blessing. Since Marvel Comics doesn’t seem to bother with professional public relations and its employees interact so freely with the fans, we get to see a bit into the mentality and attitude of the people who corral Marvel’s writers and artists and ultimately make the choices about our favorite characters. I’d rather have Brevoort’s frank ignorance than the slick PR response that uses the proper buzzword rhetoric, but is empty of any actual meaning. Arturo Garcia said it most succinctly on Twitter yesterday:
I love a lot of the stuff that Marvel has been doing lately. Ms. Marvel and the new Spider-Woman series are great examples (though, I think Sam Wilson as Captain America has been a waste of an incredible opportunity), but we need more than diversity of representation. We can’t forget that we need diverse writers and artists and editors! (Are there any numbers on editors of color in comics?) The kind of obtuseness Brevoort demonstrates on the regular is not the way such diversity is achieved, since he can’t seem to even muster the respect for the concept to address the question.
While I was writing this Brevoort started backtracking. I guess he agrees with me that his response was dismissive, characterizing it as “curt.” He says he gave “the wrong impression,” but I think he spoke transparently enough. Despite his claim that “[A]s [the new titles] continue to roll out, I believe that you’ll see the evidence of our commitment to creator representation among the creative teams,” until I see that evidence and a consistent prioritization of it, I am going to stick with Maya Angelou’s advice when it comes to this dude and people like him, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
Lastly, over at Black Nerd Problems, Omar Holmon points out that fans have been doing rap album cover/superhero mash-ups for quite a while now and presents evidence for the possibility that Marvel cribbed some of these covers. Shawn P. has a take on it too on his tumblr. I am not so sure that such a mash-up is so unlikely a thing to conceive given the long relationship between comics and hip hop, but as Holmon asks at the end, if Marvel had done their research why not hire some of these artists to do a cover a two or give them a shout out? The simple answer is: Diversity is not a priority for Marvel.