Sunday April 23rd’s New York Times cover story entitled Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel offered the briefest of profiles of twenty individuals identified as prime movers of President Donald Trump’s agenda. To what must be the unbearable consternation of the bizarrely camera-shy millionaire, one of those photos was of Marvel CEO (and Disney executive) Ike Perlmutter.
Mar-a-Lago fixture Perlmutter, a major Trump campaign contributor who has been advising the President on Veterans and Health Care issues, is well-known to virtually no one except die-hard observers of the comics industry. Perlmutter is the legendarily eccentric and quick-tempered (and according to some reports, rather vindictive) corporate boss that led Marvel out of the bankruptcy wilderness in the 1990s to its current pop culture dominance - and his growing profile as a Trump confidante continues to move him out of his obsessively maintained privacy bubble, where he has managed to evade cameras entirely for the last couple decades.
Now this association hardly makes Perlmutter the first icky person to run a large business. But there is a potential “perfect storm” dynamic with Marvel that can be a bit more problematic.
For one thing, has often lurked very close to the comics operation, reportedly dictating limitations (and even outright cancellations) on high profile comic product such as X-Men and Fantastic Four due to his anger at rival studio 21st Century Fox’s refusal to relinquish the movie rights to those characters they’d acquired during Marvel’s bankruptcy fire sale decades back.
This is not the kind of proximity to corporate operations shared by other moguls on the Times’ list. Consider list-mate Rupert Murdoch, for example. Sure some Director or Screenwriter could get antsy about a gig working on one of Fox’s X-Men movies, for example, but the reality is that Murdoch is nowhere near the X-films. For all anyone knows, he’s barely aware they even exist. From the perspective of that screenwriter, Murdoch is an abstraction at best. Perlmutter is a different story.
And one doesn’t have to get very far into Marvel Comic’s operations before you run into some decidedly non-Trumpesque personalities. Within the small brain trust of Marvel writers and editorials - those insiders that map out the greater direction of the overall comics universe - are people like Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Yes, that Ta-Nehisi Coates. And he’s not the only one; G. Willow Wilson, creator of popular teenage Muslim American superhero Ms. Marvel, is herself a Muslim, as well as a feminist.
It’s early, and not much has happened vis-à-vis this Donald-Ike bromance, but one wonders at what point it might cause some of the more actively liberal within the Marvel stable to get uncomfortable working for Perlmutter (and should it?).
I raised the question at a recent comic convention in Lexington Kentucky with legendary Hulk and X-Factor writer (and entertainingly unrestrained Trump critic) Peter David. I asked him if the notion that working for Perlmutter caused him any discomfort, and the typically verbose David responded with a terse “No, that was (an) easy (question).” When I attempted to follow up asking if he had heard any such rumblings from within the professional comics community, he cut off the question in mid-sentence with another firm “no” and immediately took another question.
Obviously there are no hard and fast rules or parameters for such things – these are personal, subjective judgments. For comparison, consider the multitude of politically-driven consumer boycotts. There are those who routinely respond to any and all boycott calls from their end of the political spectrum, there are those who never concern themselves with any boycott calls, and there is a whole range in between.
And historically, some have been successful, some have not. Boycotts (or simply the threat of boycotts) have nudged many sponsors to withdraw from Rush Limbaugh’s radio show over the years, to great financial impact. On the other hand, seemingly perennial boycotts of Disney films by religious right organizations have never seemed to have any impact whatsoever.
If a boycott were to be called, however, it could make things uncomfortable for contributors like Coates. In fact, there is a site dedicated specifically to these sorts of Trump-oriented boycotts. Grabyourwallet.org lists 62 companies under boycott for their association with the President, citing reasons ranging from being identified as a “Retailer that Sells Trump Family Products,” to simply “Company CEO endorsed Trump” (the latter line of reasoning being one Marvel is already susceptible to).
The point is that the moral calculus of commercial associations is as subjective as it gets, and where a Peter David may never see a reason to boycott anything (seriously, he really doesn’t), your mileage may vary. The same is going to be true if you are a creator whose work could be seen as enriching the enemy. Any given writer or artist might not be as quick to dismiss the very idea as Mr. David.
Who knows if these sorts of conversations are already happening within Marvel. If the time comes that they start, history suggests it’s a fire that could spread quickly. It’s likely a lot of creators are already feeling more annoyed than usual with Mighty Marvel, given Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso’s suggestion that artists don’t matter all that much and Sales VP David Gabriel suggesting that diversity is a drag on sales.
There’s also the recent Marvel marketing strategy of throwing every imaginable mega-event spinoff and new title at the wall and yanking most of them before they could possibly be spotted on the overcrowded shelves, let alone develop a readership base. Call it the hypercaffeinated-8-year-old-with-a-paintball-gun approach. No doubt that paradigm hasn’t been terrifically easy on artists and writers.
All of which is to say, if pressure were to start for creators to distance themselves from Mr. Perlmutter, at this moment in history there may not be quite the sense of loyalty among many of those professionals (who have the luxury of other paycheck options, of course) to offset it.