The comic book industry has always been a ripe place for exploitation, dating at least as far back as the earliest days of the superhero genre in the 60s. Creative workers who were brought on to write or draw seemingly-disposable pulp stories ended up accidentally setting new precedents in intellectual property rights when their creations inevitably turned into billion-dollar cash cows … with little to no financial compensation. By the 1990s, several high-profile creators decided to branch off on their own, away from the corporate meccas of Marvel and DC, and formed Image Comics as a new creator-friendly alternative for the comics industry.
It seems only fitting then that Image Comics would become the new potential home for the founding chapter of Comic Book Workers United:
The union put out a list of 9 demands that are entirely reasonable (though more moderate than James Connolly's demands for workers).
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with some comic book industry veterans about the burnout that they face as workers, which they are often forced to accept because of the appearance of glamor and prestige:
Former Marvel editorial staffer Alejandro Arbona appeared to have the perfect job. "People always got really excited when they asked what I did and I told them I worked at Marvel, but I would always counter, 'You have no idea how hard and demoralizing it is,'" Arbona recalls. "The hours are long, the work is overwhelming, and the pay is low."
In the decade since Arbona left Marvel to work as a freelance writer and editor, workplaces in the publishing sector of the industry arguably haven't changed significantly. But on Nov. 1, staffers from Image Comics — home to Spawn, The Walking Dead and Savage Dragon franchises — formed a union called Comic Book Workers United (CBWU), with 10 of the 12 eligible staffers voting to organize and go public. The employees were assisted by organizers from the Communications Workers of America, a labor giant organizing workers across multiple industries.
This is a painfully familiar refrain to me. I worked in the professional theatre industry right out of college, managing several websites and producing multimedia content at a company with a budget of $14 million dollars that had sent several shows to Broadway and the West End. Hell, during my time there, we even received a Tony Award! I got to go to the Tonys! As an award recipient! I can technically tell people that I've received a Tony Award and not technically be lying about it!
…which all would have a lot cooler if I ever made more than $33,000 a year (the Managing Director and Artistic Director made about 10x as much).
Meanwhile, the editorial staff at Wirecutter (of which I am currently a part) is also in the midst of a unionizing effort — and in fact has been on strike through Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Comic Book Workers United had requested a deadline of November 5 for Image Comics to voluntarily recognize their union; as of that date, the management has been mum. The union has since filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.
Comic Book Workers United Wants A Seat At The Table [Charles Pulliam-Moore / Gizmodo]
The Comic Book Industry's Next Page-Turner: Union Organizing [Graeme McMillan / The Hollywood Reporter]
Image: Public Domain via PxHere