Yesterday Marvel revealed a variant cover for their upcoming Invincible Iron Man title featuring 15-year-old Riri Williams. It provoked strong reactions from both fans and creators, and it looks like Marvel has responded by canceling the cover and showing us their more conventional depiction of the character.
Donna Dickens dove into this one yesterday explaining why perhaps it's not the best choice to hire pin-up artists (in this case, J. Scott Campbell) to draw teenage characters for a book trying to pull in a female audience in particular. Variant covers are aimed at collectors and aren't necessarily meant to reflect the style or tone of the book. But in certain cases, like this Invincible Iron Man cover, the depiction is at odds with the book in such a way that people take notice.
Today, Midtown Comics' website revealed Campbell's non-armored variant (which was specific to their store) had been canceled. The armored version is still available . Representatives from Marvel confirmed the decision to pull the cover was a joint choice from Marvel and Midtown Comics.
Earlier today, Marvel decided to drop some interior art and sketches on Twitter. These are courtesy of the regular interior artist Stefano Caselli and show Riri how she'll usually be illustrated.
For his part, J. Scott Campbell has been both very dismissive of legitimate concerns and open about the situation which he feels has been overblown. He did reveal a bit more of his thinking when replying to one reader:
“I'll admit, you have too many comments here for me to read them all. Perhaps given this feedback I could've drawn Riri younger but I can assure you, “sexual” was not what I was going for. I was going for “sassy attitude” if that didn't. One across then I'm disappointed, but that's the extent of it. Sometimes these covers, like this one, are drawn in haste to meet a deadline and you have fly by the seat of your pants and fall back a bit on instinct rather than ultra-careful thought. Perhaps with more time, I could've contemplated another more nuanced approach. I have young daughters and I would not be embarrassed for them to see this cover.”
Writer of the upcoming series, Brian Michael Bendis, had this to say when asked about the variant cover:
@OAWReport first im seeing it. Thats a retailer variant. Has about as much to do with me as the toys on the shelf
– BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (@BRIANMBENDIS) October 19, 2016
While the main creative team may not be looped in on variant covers in the normal creative process, they've certainly had a say in the past. Remember that Rafael Albuquerque Batgirl cover? Writer Cameron Stewart said it was “completely at odds with what we are doing with the comic” and Albuquerque himself requested it be pulled once he realized how they and fans felt.
More recently, DC Comics writer Greg Rucka had the power to give art direction on his Wonder Woman title and took issue with some of artist Frank Cho's covers. Cho did not appreciate the interference and chose to step down from the book. Some fans, and Cho himself, claimed this was censorship but the same artistic freedom an individual can claim doesn't carry over into work for hire. You do the job you're hired for and if your boss thinks it should be altered, you alter it.
And that brings us once again to the continued tradition of hiring pin-up artists, whose work is certainly appreciated by many, on books where their work might be a bad fit. There's a market for pin-ups, there's no doubt about that, but there are plenty of artists out there who collectors will throw their money at that you could choose for variants on these types of books instead.
Consider this: you don't see variant covers like this on Ms. Marvel. That probably has a lot to do with editor Sana Amanat who has a strong idea of who that character and her audience is. That's her job, after all. An editor is meant to make sure the comic puts out a united front to the demographic they're courting. In this case, Marvel has and always has had the heterosexual male demo. They don't need a teenage character sexualized into order to lure them into buying the book and they, hopefully, won't be offended if there's a lack of sexualized characters because they're there for the quality story and art, right? But Marvel and others do need to make sure other readers (read: women, new readers, etc.) aren't actively turned off from buying it.