If you’re like me, you’re still recovering from the life-altering, summer-changing, amazing-ness that was the Black Panther movie trailer that debuted during Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday. The music, the action and the cast of actors look amazing. The costuming alone is about to change the game. Black women are going to dominate cosplay and Halloween. Appropriators of black culture are working overtime as we get closer to this movie. (Watch out for Khloe Kardashian’s new “Woke-Kanda” line from Nordstrom’s—you know she’ll try it! )
Amid that excitement, oh so quietly, it was announced Sunday night that World of Wakanda, the Black Panther spinoff comic that focuses on the Dora Milaje (all those amazingly dressed capoeira-fighting black women in the trailer), was canceled. Many people will feel like this is a gut punch. Marvel’s canceling a Black Panther comic book right after the movie trailer breaks the internet, and just a few weeks after canceling another Black Panther spinoff, smells like a C-O-N-SPIRACY. I’m here to tell you that comic books are a complicated business; there are levels to this. If we’re serious about supporting black art, we’ve got to show our love in dollars and not just tweets.
I’m one of those legitimate comic book fans. I go to conventions, I have thousands of comics in my house, I have the first Black Panther comic from 1966, and I even interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Root last year, right before he starting writing the new series. So, I also know a lot about the business side of comics and how that differs from what we see on the big and small screen, which is what most people consume. Comics get canceled all the time, and it’s usually just due to poor sales. Look at the World of Wakanda sales over the last six months:
Black Panther: World of Wakanda
11/16 BP World of Wakanda No. 1: 57,073
12/16 BP World of Wakanda No. 2: 45,009 (-21.1 percent)
01/17 BP World of Wakanda No. 3: 25,248 (-43.9 percent)
02/17 BP World of Wakanda No. 4: 17,454 (-30.8 percent)
03/17 BP World of Wakanda No. 5: 15,847 (-9.2 percent)
04/17 BP World of Wakanda No. 6: 14,547 (-8.2 percent)
In the current comic book market, a book is doing well when sales are hovering around 30,000 a month, and World of Wakanda hadn’t been anywhere near that number since the second issue. Some will argue that WoW wasn’t given enough time to gain an audience given the kind of niche storylines the comic focused on.
There’s some merit to this. The comic was centered on adventures in and around Wakanda, the fictional African nation ruled by T’Challa, the Black Panther. As a spinoff, the main characters were rebellious members of the Dora Milaje (Wakanda’s elite guard, all those ass-kicking women in the movie trailer), Aneeka and Ayo, who decided to start a revolution against the oppression of women and the monarch system in Wakanda. Aneeka and Ayo also happened to be very open, very out lesbians, something that was OK in the comic, but which Marvel steadfastly tried to deny in its movie depictions. Maybe those factors had something to do with the comic’s inability to catch on with a wider array of fans, but the truth is, the book sales were cratering faster than Donald Trump’s approval numbers. Some of the people upset now should have been out there buying the book before. A better example of a strange black comic cancellation was Black Panther and the Crew, which was canceled in May.
Black Panther and the Crew, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey was canceled after one issue due to “poor sales,” according to an interview with Coates himself. That seemed awfully premature given the comic debuted over the 35,000 threshold and featured characters prominent in comics, movies and on Netflix. A comic featuring a superhero team of Storm, Black Panther, Luke Cage and Misty Knight doesn’t deserve more than six months to finish out its first story? Maybe Crew was a little too Black Lives Matter for the publisher? Maybe Marvel projected the subsequent issues would fall off with a debut only hitting 35,000? Maybe there just wasn’t an investment in the book. Which brings us to the main title, Black Panther, from which all of these canceled books were spun off.
Black Panther is just now hovering on the 30,000 line of death but there is absolutely no chance that book is going to get canceled before February 2018, when we’re all trading in Beyoncé and National Museum of African American History and Culture tickets to stand in line beyond Barack and Michelle to see Black Panther on opening night. Why? Marvel comics as a staff label and an organization has a vested interest in maintaining the core Black Panther book as a baseline of support for the movie.
However, in the world of comics, books like Black Panther get canceled all the time. Yes, T’Challa has a 51-year history in comics, and an upcoming movie, but other books have that same résumé, such as The Flash, Thor and Green Lantern, and have been canceled dozens of times over the years.
The relationship between comic book movies and comics is a lot like the music industry and radio. People listen to radio or streaming services for free, love a song, but don’t pay to download it. People can cheer for Ryan Coogler putting together an amazing Black Panther movie, but don’t buy the comics, and are shocked when they get canceled.
The easiest solution to the disappointment of World of Wakanda is to simply buy the comic! Buy it for yourself, your cousin or a godchild that needs a new hobby. I bought the main Black Panther comic even though it took Coates a few months to adjust to modern comic-writing. Now I love the book. I bought World of Wakanda, even though it wasn’t my cup of tea, because I wanted to support black art. I bought Black Panther and the Crew because I really liked the storyline. If every black person who watched the Black Panther trailer online or who downloaded “Legend Has It” by Run the Jewels after that trailer (still listening to it in my car) bought a Black Panther comic this week, there’d probably be another spinoff launched by this summer.
Wakanda will be there for us next February. Now, it’s up to us to spend the next eight months making sure we all put down our monthly comic deposits to earn our passports.