World of Wakanda was announced to great fanfare last year, bringing together author Roxane Gay, poet Yona Harvey, and artists Alitha Martinez and Afua Richardson—the first Marvel comic helmed by black women. It starred a pair of Dora Milaje, the Black Panther’s highly trained force of female guards, whose ranks include Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Florence Kasumba in the upcoming movie. (Kasumba’s character was recently a source of controversy, because while she’s gay in World of Wakanda, this won’t be the case onscreen.)
This is the second Black Panther spinoff to be canceled this year. Black Panther and the Crew got canceled last month after just two issues, despite being written by Ta-Nahesi Coates and featuring an all-star team including Storm and Luke Cage. Both comics were canceled due to poor sales, which as The Root points out, is hard to deny for World of Wakanda. It went from about 57,000 sales on issue #1, to about 14,000 on issue #6. Black Panther and the Crew debuted at 35,000, which brings us to a growing problem in comics publishing: these sales figures rely on a byzantine system that most readers don’t understand.
As we’ve explained before, Marvel sales are falling overall, and it’s partly because they rely on a flawed system. Publishers focus their attention on preorders from comic stores, meaning Black Panther and the Crew got canceled due to “low sales” for issues that hadn’t actually come out yet.
If you pick up your comics a month late, or buy them digitally, or wait for the collected volume, then your sales aren’t valued as much as preorders. The system is unintentionally weighted toward longtime fans who understand the preorder market. And a comic like World of Wakanda isn’t necessarily aimed at those die-hard fans. It’s a spinoff starring queer African women who aren’t superheroes, which could (in theory) attract new readers from Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey’s non-comics readership.
Cancellations like this will keep happening as long as Marvel and DC prioritize preorders. However, it would probably help if the comics were better promoted. World of Wakanda and The Crew got high-profile announcements in the New York Times and Time, but when the comics came out a few months later, their publicity was limited to smaller outlets. (In the case of The Crew, its cancellation may have gotten more attention than its launch.) If publishers explained the preorder system to new readers, or if comics like The Crew were cross-promoted through connected properties like Marvel’s Defenders Netflix franchise, then they’d have a better chance at survival.