Answering a reader question on his company blog about why books with non-American casts (like the recently canceled Captain Britain and MI13) don' sell, Brevoort gave a very candid and honest appraisal:
I don't know that it's any one thing, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that it's all part of the same phenomenon that makes it more difficult to sell series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent. Because we're an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males… hat's something that continues to change as the audience for what we do gets larger and more diverse-but even within that diversity, it's probably going to be easier to make a success of a book with a female or African-American lead before it is a British or Canadian-centric character.
The 4thletter’s David Brothers responded with a pretty astute post, saying that,
But, if you’re going to go, “Our best-selling comics tend to be about our universe and continuity. We should do more of those so we can stay afloat,” you’re going to get comics starring people with several dozen years of Marvel history. All but two of those people are white, and the two are Black Panther and Falcon, who no one cares about anyway.
So if the audience wants stories that matter, you’re gonna get stories starring white dudes. It’s not even racism. It’s mathematics.
(He then goes on to note that there is the danger of creating a “self-defeating cycle,” wherein you keep doing stories starring white dudes because you know those will sell best, and never get around to grooming the audience to dig stories starring non-white, non-dude or non-American characters).
How representational Big Two super-comics are of the non-white male demographics is more or less a topic of constant conversation in the comics blogosphere (and, hopefully, within the Big Two as well).
That conversation was sloshing around in the back of my mind, as was a Vince Moore post on the lack of black villains in super-comics, over the course of this last week, while I was enjoying my recent discovery that you can find pretty much every G.I. Joe cartoon ever on YouTube*.
The G.I. Joe cartoon is over 25 years old now, and man, it is strikingly representational when it comes to diversity; certainly when compared to other cartoons of the time and even today (Like, for X-Men: Evolution they had to make-up a new black character because there weren't any more popular ones for them to choose from; when the Justice League cartoon started, they used the least popular version of Green Lantern at the time because he was the only way they could get a black character in a Big Seven line-up).
The original 1983 miniseries (the five-parter about the M.A.S.S. device) only had two black characters in it—Doc and Stalker, neither of whom I can remember ever getting a spotlight episode. But the 1984 miniseries (The Revenge of Cobra) and the series that followed between 1985 and 1987, featured many, many more characters, and among these were new black characters include Roadblock (who played a pretty prominent role throughout), Alpine (ditto) and Iceberg (who was featured as the lead in at least one episode...that awesome one where he gets turned into a killer whale? Remember that? God, that one was awesome).
There were at least three women on the team, Scarlett, Lady Jaye and Cover Girl, and those first two were among the most prominent characters in the series. Both were romantically linked to male heroes, but they were rarely were forced to play the role of “the girl” at the expense of being G.I. Joes.
I know there was at least one Asian-American (Quick Kick) and Native American (Spirit), and I could have sworn there were some Joes of Hispanic or Latin descent prior to the 1987 movie, but I’m afraid I can’t think of any off the top of my head now.
Anyway, there were a ton of white dudes, but still a decent number of non-white, non-dude characters. The portrayal of many of these characters was often cringe-inducing (well, is cringe-inducing to me now that I’m in my ‘30s, as a grade-schooler I didn’t notice), particularly in the case of Spirit, who was every noble savage stereotype rolled into one, but even now I feel inclined to cut the show a little slack. After all, almost every character on it talked with some kind of outrageous accent or verbal tick, either to help distinguish the large cast of characters for the benefit of young viewers, or to disguise the fact that like most cartoon, the voice cast was much, much smaller than the actual cast.
While the Joes were pretty diverse in terms of gender and racial/ethnic make-up, the villains weren’t. In fact, I can’t think of a single non-white Cobra agent, other than Storm Shadow, who looked white as hell on the cartoon, but I believe was supposed to be Japanese (he always talked like someones bad impression of a samurai). They did have a couple of women in their ranks—Baroness and Zarana—but diversity among the bad guys seemed to rest on which countries their crazy accents were imported from.**
I wonder if that had anything to do with the reluctance to create negative racial stereotypes leading to white creators avoiding using non-white villains at all (which is why, I think, Aquaman’s archenemy is the most prominent black super-villain), or if it’s just a complete coincidence. There seemed to have been a lot fewer Cobra characters in general, their armies generally filled out by anonymous foot soldier types in matching Cobra uniforms.
If there's anything that DC and Marvel can learn from this about making their team books more diverse, I think it's that the bigger the team, the easier it is. Like, if you're only going to have seven to ten characters are the Justice League, it might be hard to work in too many non-white dude characters if you reserve six or seven spots for the original, most popular characters, who happen to be white dudes. But if you have 14 or 20 guys on the team, it's sure a lot easier to work in Vixen, Steel, Skyrocket, Dr. Light II, Cyborg, Tomorrow Woman, Sala, Rising Sun or whoever. (If a 20-hero Justice League seems unwieldly, keep in mind not every character has to appear in every issue; the problem with JSoA and it's massive roster wasn't the number of characters, but that the writers insist on putting them all in every issue, whether they have anything to do or not).
The Avengers are a little more challenging due to the way they're being handled at the moment, consisting basically of Brian Michael Bendis' favorite characters, and how they relate to the overarching Marvel Universe storyline Bendis has a hand in. They've been a small team on the run from the law for a while now, which makes it difficult to double or triple their numbers, I guess. Even still, they could use more color or, at the very least, their "colorful" members—er, just Luke Cage at the moment?—could use some extra attention.
In the post I linked to above, for example, Brothers mentioned how long it's been since Luke Cage has had a miniseries, despite being a prominent member of the team starring in Marvel's best-selling book, whereas Hawkeye got a mini pretty much as soon as he joined the team. Even if Marvel's unsure how well a Luke Cage miniseries would sell, certainly a New Avengers: Cage or Dark Avengers: Cage one would sell like hotcakes, wouldn't it?
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see if I can find that episode where Iceberg gets mutated into a killer whale on YouTube...
*Holy crap, have you ever tried watching the post- G.I. Joe: The Movie series, the one that was produced by a different animation studio, and had new character designs, almost all-new voice actors and animation that looked about ten years behind the original cartoon series? Those are not very good cartoons.
**I thought Destro was supposed to be black, based on his booming deep voice, right up until that one episode where he and Lady Jaye see that Lovecraftian monster beneath his clan's castle in Scotland. If Destro's Scottish, why doesn't he have a Scottish accent instead of a vaguely Jamaican one? He sounds a bit like an evil, melodramatic James Earl Jones to me.