Quarterly Diversity Check: January-March 2018

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Quarterly Diversity Check Jan-March Feature Image

In January, one of the first articles I wrote for ComicsVerse explored the concept of social justice warriors (SJWs) and the idea that diversity was somehow forcing out white, straight, cis male heroes. It was a popular assertion, then and now, made by opponents of diversity, typically straight, white, cis men themselves.

After the column ran, there were a number of criticisms of it. Most boiled down to asserting that I’m a beta male who was selling out “my people” for points with minorities. I’ve ignored these. However, a few criticisms raised possible issues in the methodology that I took seriously. The concerns more or less fit in one overall banner of sample size. The objection went that I only looked at two weeks. While my results may have borne out my hypothesis for that time, these critics said it was too small a slice of releases on which to truly build my argument. I do not necessarily agree with that view, but it raised an intriguing point worth following up on. If I analyzed a larger sample size, would the results prove that those two weeks were the exception? Would it prove that comics were no longer “safe” for straight, white, cis male heroes?

Quarterly Diversity: WONDER WOMAN
Wonder Woman gazes into the distance in search of gender parity (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Thus, instead of looking at two weeks as I did then, I’ve looked at 3 months, January 2018 through March of 2018, in this analysis. The parameters are the same. Once again, I looked at solo books for gender, sexuality, and race. As readers will see as we go forward, I analyzed and calculated results monthly for each of the Big 2 (Marvel and DC). I also analyzed and calculated results for the two companies combined per month. Additionally, I looked at the numbers across all three months. Again, I did these for each company individually and then both companies as a whole.

Therefore, in total, I had significantly more data than I had collected from the two-week version of the story I did back in January. Over the course of the article below, I will discuss Marvel’s results for January, DC’s results for January, and their combined results for January. I will repeat this for February and March as well. Then, in the concluding passages, I will look at the results for the quarter as a total. Additionally, I will offer commentary on any trends that might be notable. For instance, does Marvel start strong on diversity in January but become far more homogenized by March? Does DC improve over time on race but lose ground on gender? And so on.

Additionally, I plan to do this once a quarter over the course of this year so, by year’s end, I can do a massive analysis of 12 months and all the changes therein. So, you know, get hyped for that.

The Ever-Shifting Goalposts of Calling SJW

A Brief Explanation of Some Scoring Issues

A couple of quick things to be aware of. First, there were a couple of characters on whom I simply could not find any statements that indicated their sexual preferences, whether they be by the creator(s), the character, or actions . They’ve been coded as unknown. If characters have only ever presented as straight or gay, I label them as such. As always, there is a possibility that they are bi but have only had same-sex or opposite-sex relations. This is not an issue for say, Spider-Man, but it is for relatively new characters like Silencer. In the latter case, I am making assumptions based on only a few issues. This is the same for questions of gender.

Two, some of the characters defy racial labels. For instance, Adam Warlock is literally a gold-skinned man, while Snagglepuss is a cat man. I’ve noted them as such. However, if a character is a non-human who nonetheless presents as a, say, a white man, I’ve coded them as such. Think, for instance, Thor Odinson who is a Norse god but presents as a white man.

Also, in looking at race, it is important to note that while Latinx is not technically a racial identity, I am coding it as such because surveys typically do the same. Additionally, Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani, also not a race. However, people in Pakistan have no definitive racial identity. Given that Ms. Marvel has never been specifically labeled as, say, Asian or Arabic, I have coded her simply as Pakistani. It is not ideal but it acknowledges that she is a person of color without making assumptions about her racial makeup.

January by the Numbers

Marvel in January (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 42
Racial Identity White-30 (71.4) People of Color- 12 (28.6)

Black-5 (11.9), Biracial-2 (4.8), Latinx-3 (7.1), Asian-1 (2.4), Pakistani-1 (2.4)

Sexuality Straight- 37 (88.1) Gay- 2 (4.8) Bi- 2 (4.8) Unknown- 1 (2.4)
Gender Men- 24 (57.1) Women-18 (42.9)
Straight White Cis Men 16 (38.1)

DC in January (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 34
Racial Identity White-28 (82.4) People of Color- 6 (17.6)

Black-3 (8.8), Latinx-1 (2.9), Asian-1 (2.9),

Other (A Cat)-1 (2.4)

Sexuality Straight- 28 (82.4) Gay- 2 (5.9) Bi- 3 (8.8) Unknown- 1 (2.9)
Gender Men-27 (79.4) Women-7 (20.6)
Straight White Cis Men 18 (52.9)

Total in January (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 76
Racial Identity White-58 (76.3) People of Color- 18 (23.7)

Black-8 (10.5), Biracial-2 (2.6), Latinx-4 (5.3), Asian-2 (2.6), Pakistani-1 (1.3), Other (A Cat)-1 (1.3)

Sexuality Straight- 65 (85.5) Gay- 4 (5.3) Bi- 5 (6.6) Unknown- 2 (2.6)
Gender Men-51 (67.1) Women-25 (32.9)
Straight White Cis Men 34 (44.7)

January Racial Identity Analysis

First, a pleasant surprise! Marvel’s ratio of white characters to characters of color roughly matches the U.S. ratio found by the 2010 Census. In that year, the national population broke down to 72.4% white, 27.6% non-white. So, actually, by this standard, Marvel is faring a percentage point better. That said, the ratio has no doubt changed in the past 8 years, so it is likely the House of Ideas is now slightly behind the curve. Still, a nice thing to see.

DC fares worse in this category, as you can see, with white characters occurring at about 10 percent above the US’s rate of white people and 11% above Marvel’s. However, overall, the big 2 are at least in the neighborhood of matching the white/people of color ratio in the United States.

Quarterly Diversity: ICEMAN
Iceman seeks to bring a little chill to a heated debate. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

January Sexuality Analysis

Comparatively, DC provides a more diverse spectrum of sexual identities when held up against Marvel’s numbers. In terms of the number of titles featuring gay, lesbian or bi leads, DC and Marvel are very close, with DC having just a one title advantage. However, because Marvel published 8 more books than DC, DC’s higher percentages are noteworthy.

Before describing how their percentages compare to the identified sexuality rates in the United States, it is worth acknowledging the difficulty in getting accurate numbers regarding sexuality. For one, any identity that continues to have a stigma attached to it will have depressed numbers. This can be the case for any population with reason to feel they might suffer to reveal their true identity. Be they gay, non-Christian, or an active substance user, individuals will often not report that which they think might endanger them.

The other problem is that the scoring that surveys use, or that I am utilizing here, forces people to place themselves in definitive categories when sexuality is more of a spectrum. For instance, 93% of women will call themselves straight when they can only make one of three choices— gay, straight, or bi. Other choices, like ace, were not an option. However, when you add just one more option — mostly straight — now only 80% of women choose “straight.”

In the name of parity, I will also note that men’s sexuality is more concrete in the study. Adding the mostly straight option only reducies “straight” by two percent, from 95 to 93%.

By the stark option standard, DC and Marvel, both individually and combined, demonstrated a slightly higher percentage of sexuality diversity than is reported in the United States.

It is worth noting that two of the three “bi” responses for DC are provided by Wonder Woman due to double shipping. That said, Batman and Superman alone are responsible for 8 “Straight” responses, so double shipping increases responses across the spectrum.

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January Gender Analysis

This is the category where we see the largest disparity between the comic ratio and the real-world ratio. For simplicity sake, I’m estimating that the population is roughly half male and half female. In practice it was more like 51.4% female and 48.6% male in 2014 but that is not without problems. One is that they made no effort to track transgender or nonbinary in those numbers. The second is that a large amount of the disparity can be owed to the significant difference in the life expectancy of men versus women. So 50/50 feels fair to me.

By that standard, Marvel is lagging behind the real-world population by 7 percentage points. DC, meanwhile, is over 29 percentage points off. The combination of the two companies is therefore about 16 points off the United States ratio. Not a great showing.

Quarterly Diversity: SILENCER
The Silencer asks for your attention. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Straight, White, Cis Men in January

DC only has two leads more than Marvel that are straight, white, cis male heroes. However, as noted above, because DC publishes 8 fewer titles, that two-hero difference translates into a gap of 14.8 percentage points. Overall, both companies and the total percentage are higher than you’d expect to encounter in real life, about 34.7%. Marvel, once again, came closest to this number.

February

Marvel in February (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 45
Racial Identity White-30 (66.7) People of Color- 15 (33.3)

Black-7 (15.6), Biracial-2 (4.4), Latinx-2 (4.4), Asian-1 (2.2), Pakistani-1 (2.2), Unknown- 1 (2.2), Other (A Dog) 1 (2.2)

Sexuality Straight- 39 (86.7) Gay- 2 (4.4) Bi- 2 (4.4) Unknown- 2 (4.4)
Gender Men- 33 (73.3) Women-12 (26.7)
Straight White Cis Men 21 (46.7)

DC in February (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 34
Racial Identity White-28 (82.4) People of Color- 6 (17.6)

Black-2 (5.9), Latinx-2 (5.9), Other-2 (A Cat, A Plant Creature)(5.9)

Sexuality Straight- 28 (82.4) Gay- 2 (5.9) Bi- 3 (8.8) Unknown- 1 (2.9)
Gender Men-26 (76.5) Women-8 (23.5)
Straight White Cis Men 18 (52.9)

Total in February (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 79
Racial Identity White-58 (73.4) People of Color- 21 (26.6)

Black-8 (11.4), Biracial-2 (2.5), Latinx-4 (5.1), Other (A Cat, A Dog, A Plant Creature)-3 (3.9), Asian-1 (1.3), Pakistani-1 (1.3), Unknown- 1 (1.3)

Sexuality Straight- 67 (84.8) Gay- 4 (5.1) Bi- 5 (6.3) Unknown- 3 (3.8)
Gender Men-59 (74.7) Women-20 (25.3)
Straight White Cis Men 39 (49.4)

February Racial Identity Analysis

On first blush, it looks as though Marvel improved here. They published three more titles in February but their number of white characters did not increase. As a result, they boast a higher rate of racial diversity than in January. A closer look, however, reveals some dispiriting information. While they did add two more black characters this month, they lost one Latinx character. Additionally the other “diversity” added comes from Adam Warlock (coded as “Unknown” due to his golden skin) and Lockjaw (a dog). If we subtracted them completely from the equation, we’d still see a slight improvement, but very slight.

DC, meanwhile, presents as statistically the same for white versus people of color. However, here too, a close analysis demonstrates it is not great news. They published one fewer book featuring a black character and one fewer featuring an Asian character. They did publish one more book with a Latinx lead than in the previous month. However, the final title is “made up for” by a Swamp Thing book. He codes as “Other,” but it doesn’t really feel like racial diversity.

The combined numbers show that February was more racially diverse than January. However, as discussed above, it didn’t really get there in a way that feels satisfying.

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February Sexuality Analysis

DC holds study here as well, this time across the board.

Marvel, on the other hand, published more titles with straight leads than in the month prior. However, with the number of titles in general going up and the inclusion of another book with a lead of unknown sexuality, their percentage actually went down a couple of points.

Overall, diversity of sexuality improved by just under a percentage point.

Quarterly Diversity: GWENPOOL
Gwenpool is already easing into her hiatus. (Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

February Gender Analysis

DC’s gender diversity improved slightly as they added one woman-led comic (MERA, QUEEN OF ATLANTIS ) and dropped a man-led one (NEW SUPERMAN). With their number of titles published holding steady from January to February, this improved both their raw numbers and percentages.

Marvel, on the other hand, lost significant ground in gender diversity, adding nine titles with men in the lead role and dropping six with lead women heroes. This increased the rate of male-led titles by 16.2% and, of course, reduced the number of women-led ones by the same.

This shift translated into increases in the companies’ combined number as well, with the percentage disparity growing to 59.5 from the comparatively heartening 34.2.

Straight, White, Cis Men in February

With DC staying at 18 straight, white, cis male heroes and Marvel adding 5 to reach 21, the percentage of heroes who are straight, white, and men jumped to 49.4%.

March

Marvel in March (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 38
Racial Identity White-28 (74.7) People of Color- 10 (26.3)

Black-4 (10.5), Biracial-2 (5.3), Latinx-1 (2.6), Asian-1 (2.6), Pakistani-1 (2.6), Other (2.6)

Sexuality Straight- 33 (86.8) Gay- 2 (5.3) Bi- 1 (2.6) Unknown- 2 (5.3)
Gender Men- 29 (76.3) Women-9 (23.7)
Straight White Cis Men 20 (52.6)

DC in March (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 37
Racial Identity White-32 (86.5) People of Color- 5 (13.5)

Black-3 (8.1), Latinx-1 (2.7), Other (A Cat)-1 (2.7)

Sexuality Straight- 29 (78.4) Gay- 2 (5.4) Bi- 4 (10.8) Unknown- 2 (5.4)
Gender Men-26 (70.3) Women-11 (29.7)
Straight White Cis Men 20 (54.1)

Total in March (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 75
Racial Identity White-60 (80) People of Color- 15 (20)

Black-7 (9.3), Biracial-2 (2.7), Latinx-2 (2.7), Asian-1 (1.3), Pakistani-1 (1.3), Other (A Cat, A Dog)-2 (2.7)

Sexuality Straight- 62 (82.7) Gay- 4 (5.3) Bi- 5 (6.7) Unknown- 4 (5.3)
Gender Men-55 (73.3) Women-20 (26.7)
Straight White Cis Men 40 (53.3)

March Racial Identity Analysis

DC published three more titles in March than in February or January. In doing so, they added four titles featuring male protagonists and dropped one woman hero. Thus, both their raw numbers and ratio suffered.

Marvel, on the other hand, published eight fewer solo titles in March than in February. Here too, titles led by people of color suffered disproportionately, losing five titles. White leads, meanwhile, only went down by two. As a result, Marvel had nearly three-quarters of their solo titles in March led by a white character, their highest numbers of the three months.

With both companies decreasing their racial diversity, it is a foregone conclusion that overall racial diversity would go down as well. Here, too, March represents the worst white-to-people of color ratio.

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March Sexuality Analysis

With their increase in titles published, DC added three titles featuring, respectively, a straight lead, a bisexual lead, and a lead of unidentified sexuality. This gave them the most sexuality diverse lineup in three months for themselves and overall.

Marvel, on the other hand, ended up at virtually a statistical dead heat with last month’s percentages, indicating that they proportionally, more or less, reduced the titles across sexualities.

As a result, March ends up being, overall, the most diverse month for sexuality in solo titles amongst the Big 2.

Quarterly Diversity: SNAGGLEPUSS
Snagglepuss takes a stand. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

March Gender Analysis

For the first time in three months, DC has a double digit amount of solo titles headed by women while Marvel drops to single digits. As a result, DC had its most diverse month, percentage and number wise, in terms of gender while Marvel has its least.

Overall, though, the gender diversity of the Big 2 did improve in comparison to February by nearly 1.5%. Unfortunately, it still ends up over 6% short of January’s high.

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Straight, White, Cis Men in March

Most discouragingly, March proves the highest month for solo titles led by straight, white, cis gender males both — by raw numbers (40) and by percent (53.3). At that level, it is not just a higher rate of occurrence than what happens in the US, it is a higher rate of occurrence than men occur in the US, before you even include race or sexual preference.

The Quarter

Marvel in the Quarter (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Quarter 125
Racial Identity White-88 (70.4) People of Color- 37 (29.6)

Black-16 (12.8), Biracial-6 (4.8), Latinx-6 (4.8), Asian-3 (2.4), Pakistani-3 (2.4), Other (A Dog)- 2 (1.6), Unknown- 1 (.8)

Sexuality Straight- 109 (87.2) Gay- 6 (4.8) Bi- 5 (4) Unknown- 5 (4)
Gender Men- 86 (68.8) Women-39 (31.2)
Straight White Cis Men 57 (45.6)

DC in the Quarter (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 105
Racial Identity White-88 (83.8) People of Color- 17 (16.2)

Black-8 (7.6), Latinx-4 (3.8),

Other (A Cat, A Plant Creature)-4 (3.8), Asian- 1 (1)

Sexuality Straight- 85 (81) Gay- 6 (7.1) Bi- 10 (9.5) Unknown- 4 (3.8)
Gender Men-79 (75.2) Women-26 (24.8)
Straight White Cis Men 56 (53.3)

Total in the Quarter (percents in parentheses)

Total Issues for Month 230
Racial Identity White-176 (76.5) People of Color- 54 (21.6)

Black-24 (10.4), Biracial-6 (2.6), Latinx-10 (5.3), Other (A Cat, A Dog, A Swamp Creature)-6 (2.6), Asian-4 (1.7), Pakistani-3 (1.3), Unknown- 1 (.4)

Sexuality Straight- 194 (84.3) Gay- 12 (5.2) Bi- 15 (6.5) Unknown- 9 (3.9)
Gender Men-165 (71.7) Women-65 (28.3)
Straight White Cis Men 113 (49.1)

Quarterly Diversity Check Conclusion

Overall, January through March demonstrated that, while comics do have some diversity, they still largely fall short of matching society’s rate of diversity. This is especially the case when it comes to gender and the rate of heroes who are straight AND white AND men. On sexuality, the diversity was closest to reflecting the real world. However, that comes with the caveat that comics, like surveys, typically treat sexuality as a stark choice between options, not as points along a continuum. The Big 2 also did decently on racial diversity, although within the category of people of color there was some troubling information. For instance, no book boasted a Pacific Islander lead. For another, aliens and personified animals helped boost the numbers some.

Over the course of three months, Marvel was consistently more diverse than its rival when it comes to gender and racial identities. On the other hand, DC was more diverse when it came to sexual preference.

Perhaps the most disconcerting piece is the way diversity in Marvel suffered after they reduced their titles being published in March. Several people predicted it would and that seems to be borne out. Interestingly, the fear was most often associated with sexual preference, where Marvel lost the least ground post wave of cancellation.

See you at the end of June to see if and how the Big 2 have improved in addressing diversity.

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