This article originally appeared on Blake Northcott’s Facebook Page.

It’s been almost a year since the Joker was seen on a variant cover of Batgirl, illustrated as an homage to Alan Moore’s iconic 1988 series, ‘The Killing Joke’. It was a fantastic piece by the talented Rafael Albuquerque; a cover which will live on forever because it never hit the shelves … it was pulled before it made print.

The “don’t call it censorship” move was made by DC Comics. Or Rafael. Or self-described social justice warrior/Batgirl writer Cameron Stuart.Or all of them and none of them, depending on what you believe.

The story of exactly who brought down the axe at the 11th hour was muddled by a series of rapid-fire tweets and press releases that were put up (and some taken down) and then taken out of context during one zany day last March. If you have a couple hundred hours to kill and the patience of a saint, go back and wade through it. Godspeed.

What IS clear is that approximately ‘three dozen’ angry protesters called foul on social media, which put the wheels in motion to trigger the cover’s ban (Rafael said this himself before the story changed several times).
Pulling the cover seemed extreme to me, especially since DC comics had so many other tools at their disposal.
Instead of the hysterical back pedaling, why not go with logic?

“Hey Batgirl fans—it’s a VARIANT COVER. When you see it on the stands, don’t buy it. Get the regular cover.”
Or how about some fan service to the devoted DC loyalists?

“This cover was for the long-time, hardcore readers who have kept this company afloat for decades—our most dedicated readers who we appreciate. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine.”

Or how about just being blunt?

“It’s art. This isn’t 1565 so we’re not going to censor it. Deal.”

All perfectly acceptable answers. But instead (and not surprisingly) DC opted to do what this small, vocal group of protesters WANTED them to do: they apologized. A lot. And then they made the bad cover go away.

You can argue forever about what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or what should have been done to protect the delicate sensibilities of these three dozen snowflakes – but that’s all subjective. I debated that last year, and that issue has been put to bed.

What is VERY concrete are the sales figures, and DC’s projected losses on this title alone. According to Comichron (the most trusted source of monthly comic book sales figures) DC’s Batgirl sold 45,096 copies in January of 2015, and was ranked #24 overall.

After a number of controversies and apologies and of course the Joker cover debacle (not to mention several comics book writers and artists who sided WITH the snowflakes, essentially shaming the loyal DC fans who liked it) this was the result: One year later, in January of 2016, Batgirl’s sales have slid to 26,905, ranking #76. That’s a loss of 18,191 monthly readers – a whopping ***40.3% decline*** in monthly readership.

So to appease the 3 dozen snowflakes, they lost 18,000+ readers. Multiply that loss, x $2.99 cover price x 12 months in a year? OUCH.

Now, losing $652,693 a year in revenue might not bother Time Warner (the company that owns DC Comics) and CEO Jeff Bewkes probably drops that much on a power lunch. But for a relatively small group of comic book creators, that’s a significant chunk of change. This loss is a strong indicator of who the actual comic book fans are; not the people who vote with online criticism, but those who vote with their wallets.

In recent months you can see examples of people protecting their art—standing up for what they believe in—and the results have been extraordinary. The ‘Game of Thrones’ backlash asked the show to tone down its R-Rated content, essentially calling for censorship (remember Sansagate?) HBO’s answer? Nope. If you don’t like it, don’t watch.

The result? RECORD viewership, and a massive spike in revenue for the company. According to ‘Variety’, the controversy (and HBO’s refusal to back down) resulted in 8.1 million viewers for the season 5 finale, a 14% increase from the previous year.

More recent: the snowflakes were out in force complaining about Deadpool’s hard-R rating, demanding a PG version. How will this horrible, violent, offensive movie ever make money?! It CAN’T with an R-rating!
Of course the rating stood, and now the movie is poised to smash box office records this weekend.

The takeaway is that art is not PC. It never was, and it never will be. Trying to please everyone all the time, as the old saying goes, will end up pleasing no one—something that became abundantly clear with the fall of Batgirl.

In 2016, Political Correctness has become a billboard—a sign to proudly hold aloft, signalling that ‘I’m morally superior to you’. A lot of writers and artists proudly displayed this sign during the Joker cover controversy (You actually LIKED that cover? Pervert!) but the problem is this: they were siding with the 3 dozen, NOT the 18,000. And these 18,000 lost readers are representative of the hundreds of thousands more who pay their rent. Without them, they have no audience.

DC can do as they wish, but if sales numbers are indicative of anything (and what other proof is there, really?) it’s that the most loyal, devoted fans—the ones who shell out their hard-earned money for comics every Wednesday—are sick of the politics, sick of the controversies, and they’re sick of the faux-outrage PC culture that has overtaken the titles they once loved. And I’m sure many of them will be in line for Deadpool this weekend, about to enjoy a movie that couldn’t be stopped by the snowflakes.

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  • Doris V Sutherland

    Is it really fair to pin the drop in sales on that one variant being pulled? As Comicsbeat’s month-to-month sales charts have pointed out, the lack of a freely orderable variant tends to result in a drop of a few thousand copies – and as far as I can tell, Batgirl hasn’t had a variant since March. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be surprising that sales have been lower lately.

    Plus, I notice that the big drop-off occurred right after the series (along with the rest of the DCU titles) went on hiatus for two months during Convergence. The Batgirl soft-reboot was an attempt to reach out to new readers, and it seems plausible that at least some of those new readers were put off by the series being interrupted for a two-month event. Retailers have been saying similar thing about the effect of Marvel’s latest renumbering.

    The variant controversy may have played a part… but honestly, I think you’re overstating it.

  • Jesse Richards

    I can’t imagine that the decision to pull this one variant cover can be linked to the sales decline in any way – and indeed, you don’t include any evidence that it did. In addition, the 40% drop sounds like the pretty normal drop that every mainstream superhero title goes through nowadays: big splashy launch (in this case, the soft-reboot with the new costume and creative team) that quickly drops off until another event or relaunch brings it back up.

  • Jesse and Doris, I think you guys are missing the point. Nowhere does Blake attribute the decline in sales specifically to the cover.

    This is what she says: “After a number of controversies and apologies and of course the Joker cover debacle (not to mention several comics book writers and artists who sided WITH the snowflakes, essentially shaming the loyal DC fans who liked it) this was the result: One year later, in January of 2016, Batgirl’s sales have slid to 26,905, ranking #76. That’s a loss of 18,191 monthly readers – a whopping ***40.3% decline*** in monthly readership.”

    You can see that she includes the Joker cover within the controversies and apologies that plagued the book.

  • Doris V Sutherland

    Hmm, the only other controversy I can think of was the business with the cross-dressing villain – is there something else I’m forgetting? Even taking that incident into account, it still seems a bit much to blame the 18,000-issue sales drop on political correctness, rather than the comics market being the comics market.

    I mean, look at this chart:

    12/2014: Batgirl #37 — 45,060 (- 10.3%)
    01/2015: Batgirl #38 — 45,096 (+ 0.1%)
    02/2015: Batgirl #39 — 40,880 (- 9.3%)
    03/2015: Batgirl #40 — 41,729 (+ 2.1%)
    04/2015: —
    05/2015: —
    06/2015: Batgirl #41 — 33,220 (- 20.4%)
    07/2015: Batgirl #42 — 33,168 (- 0.2%)
    08/2015: Batgirl #43 — 32,079 (- 3.3%)
    09/2015: Batgirl #44 — 30,654 (- 4.4%)
    10/2015: Batgirl #45 — 29,276 (- 4.5%)
    11/2015: —
    12/2015: Batgirl #46 — 27,591 (- 5.8%)

    So the big drop was a loss of 8,500 sales which, like I say, coincided with the series ceasing to feature variant covers. As the article I linked to says, the lack of a freely-orderable variant can cause a drop in sales of around 5-7k across the board, presumably due to collectors who would otherwise pick up both the regular and variant covers.

    The remainder of the 18,000 figure can easily be attributed to the typical monthly decline in sales that occurs when a comic isn’t being buoyed by variants, crossovers or relaunches (okay, the 1,700 issue drop between #45 and #46 is bigger than usual, but that could perhaps be chalked up to the series skipping a month). If there are people who dropped the book because they were tired of controversy, they likely take up only a fraction of the 18,000.

    I notice that the March and April issues of Batgirl will have variants. Be interesting to see how much that’ll lift the series’ fortunes…