Many people working in the comic book industry have long believed that unionization is a good idea. Image Comics workers have finally decided to unionize in 2021.
Nine Image staffers, including Leanna Caunter and Marla Eizik as well as Drew Fitzgerald and Melissa Gifford, announced today the formation of Comic Book Workers United. This organizing effort advocates for significant changes to the comics industry that will benefit the people who keep it alive. CBWD posted a statement to the organizing committees site explaining how workers had to deal with difficult situations in the past year and that this was quickly becoming the norm.
Comics publishers workers have seen for years that their professional efforts have supported creators and delighted readers. Unfortunately, that same labor has been taken for granted and even exploited at times. Before the pandemic, keeping our heads above water was the norm. Since then, we've been expected to handle larger workloads with fewer resources.
CBWD's goals page also contains nine bullet points that outline the main objectives. These include regular performance reviews for employees and the extension of work at home provisions for those who are unable or unwilling to travel to traditional offices. CBWD also outlines the need for better, more consistent marketing of new comic books. While flagship titles get less attention than their easily identifiable characters or creative teams, CBWD explains how important it is to do so.
Jim Valentino and Erik Larsen launched Image in the early 1990s as an offshoot from Malibu Comics. The co-founders of the imprints emphasized the importance of retaining ownership over their creations. This was something that Malibu, then editor-in-chief, was very supportive of. Image Comics has maintained this ethos as a key part of its public-facing brand identity, with titles such as Saga and The Wicked + The Divine being awarded. CBWD now wants Image to establish guidelines for how goodwill is extended to all creators. This comes at a time in which workers from all industries are being forced to demand better pay.
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Comic book publishers were able to keep publishing work despite the global covid-19 pandemic, which brought the industry to a halt last year. This was possible because of the workers-the artists, writers, lettersers and many other creative professionals who work to transform ideas into works of art that keep the space alive. The pandemic that struck the comics industry last year clearly showed how vulnerable contracted workers are due to the absence of basic protections for their lives. However, this problem is not new. As more comics creators have started to speak out about the low profit they make from adaptations of their works that corporate IP owners can approve, there has been a renewed focus on them.
This issue is not the only structural problem in comics. There are also other issues such as a lack of diversity and a lack of transparency regarding long-term career options. Pay rates have been problems that comics publishers have done little to address. Image Comics workers are not waiting for the tide to turn. They are instead taking proactive steps towards unionization.
The CBWDs desire to renew their commitment to company values by adding a collective voting option that immediately cancels publication of any title whose creators have been found to be engaging in abuse, sexual assault and racism, homophobia and transphobia, antisemitism and Islamophobia, etc. is likely to raise eyebrows in the publishing industry.
Image was under fire earlier this year after Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith announced that they were resuming the Fell series at the comics house. The one-year anniversary of multiple allegations against Ellis alleging sexual predatory behavior began in 2020. Word of Fells revival was announced at the same time. Image Comics subsequently stopped production on Fell, insisting that it still wanted to finish the series. This was something Image Comics had been waiting for for many years. However, Image Comics won't be working with Warren until he has made good on his promises.
Image Comics would be the first comics house to acknowledge the union and to agree to its terms if it does so. Image Comics declined to comment when io9 reached them about CBWDs organizing efforts. CBWDs stated that Image may not have any immediate comments on the formation of unions. It also mentioned that Jim Valentino, Image's co-founder, had previously supported unions via a Facebook comment. This comment appears to be either deleted or changed to a more private privacy setting.
Only time will tell if Image recognizes CBWD and what that may mean for the rest of comics. CBWD hopes that Image will embrace it as a partner in making comics stronger. CBWD stated that despite years of anti-organization sentiments and union busting in the American workforce, Image still has the desire to do the right thing for comics workers. We know that we will win because our success is the company's success. Our success is the creator's success. Our success is the success of readers.
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