THR & Vice Reviving Campaign for Unsuccessful Comic Workers Union


 

The Hollywood Reporter has a puff piece penned by one of the “Whisper Network” allies, Graeme McMillan, telling more about the new union formed by Image workers, which still sounds more like an advocacy for political correctness than an effort to get paid well and retain good working conditions, which I thought was what most past unions were formed for:

 

“Labor organizing is something the staff at Image Comics have been discussing for a few years,” the Image staffers tell The Hollywood Reporter via email. (The group responded to questions as a collective.) “Many of us have backgrounds in or adjacent to unions, including several of the founders, whose work being successfully adapted for the big and small screen has meant working with or, in some cases, actually being represented by unions.”

While unions are a long-standing reality for the movie-making parent companies of publishers like DC and Marvel, the comic book industry has historically been resistant, with publishers having fired creators discussing the possibility in the past. No creative guild exists solely for comic book freelancers; the Writers Guild of America’s minimum basic agreement is based upon work developed for broadcast rather than print, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America only recently voted to admit comic writers and graphic novelists. “We’re crafting membership requirements for this new group of creators,” SFWA president Jeffe Kennedy says of the organization’s current position.

 

I wonder if that’s phony what they’re telling about opposition to unions within comicdom? Though if the industry was once against unions, it could’ve been because they were perceived as troublemakers who could undermine the ability to run a business well, though that’s obviously not been the case for over 20 years already. For now, this article makes no direct mention of what the union really seems to stand for: blacklisting anybody whose politics don’t coincide with their far-left beliefs.

 

Image Comics has so far failed to acknowledge the request for voluntary recognition, something the CBWU says is “disappointing.” A Nov. 5 deadline passed with no official response from the company, although the company did issue a statement earlier that day reporting that the National Labor Relations Board was reviewing a petition filed by the CWA to allow eligible members of Image’s staff to vote for CWA representation. The statement ended, “Everyone at Image is committed to working through this process, and we are confident that the resolution to these efforts will have positive long-term benefits.”

Undeterred by Image’s lack of recognition, the CBWU is asking supporters to lobby the company directly to voluntarily recognize the union, seeing the potential for their efforts to be a game-changer for the industry as a whole. Although the CBWU is only open to Image Comics employees, the group believes the hunger is out there among staff at other publishers.

“We wish we could share the sheer volume of responses we have received from people working at other publishers, asking for advice on how to start the process themselves,” the group says. “As it stands, all we can do is put them in contact with the fantastic people at the CWA, wish them well as they begin their own journey, and promise to stand up for them when they decide to go public, as they have stood up for us.”

 

And just what do they expect this to lead to? A situation where nobody will be hired on merit? Something actually already lacking badly in much of the mainstream, but this would only make it an even more farcical affair.

 

Sources inside Marvel and DC say that, for now, there hasn’t been increased discussion around unionizing, but it may simply be a matter of time. “I can’t even remember how many times my former Marvel co-workers and I floated the idea of unionization,” Arbona says of his time at the company. “For us, it was just idle speculation and wishful thinking. Unfortunately, we always came to the same self-defeating conclusions about who’d join us, who wouldn’t, and how the company would respond.”

 

Their ideological leanings are self-defeating, so what’s the point here? It’s unbelievable they even work in the medium if what they really care about is blacklisting anybody whose politics they detest.

 

 

Another news source fawning over this pretentious union is Vice’s Motherboard section, which they call the “future” of comicdom, and there are some pretty fishy people involved too, including:

 

David Brothers, an editor for comics publisher Viz who worked at Image Comics from 2013 through 2017, told Motherboard that many of the issues that CBWU has brought up now have been brought up before. The company, he said, hasn’t grown with the times.

“I always described it as a big business that used to be a small business that never made the step up,” he said. “Image is independent but not indie, which is one of those weird online divides that’s hard to describe sometimes. So it has that scrappy underdog feel. I think the most people who worked there while I was there were like, 30.”

 

Brothers was a writer for the ultra-leftist Comics Alliance, and a decade ago, he wrote a predictably negative take on Frank Miller’s Holy Terror. So he’s not somebody on whose word one should put much value. If Image didn’t grow with times, it’s because of all the leftists they employ in turn, one of the worst being Erik Larsen, who won’t publish any stories by outspoken conservatives. The article continues:

 

Part of the problem has to do with the visibility of the work that it takes to make a comic book—the work these unionizing workers do. The people who are responsible for all the work it takes to get a comic book in your hands—like the editors, workers in marketing, and people who cut checks—do things that are largely invisible to readers, but vital to creators. Burdening these workers with additional duties on top of what they were already doing was having an impact on the whole workplace.

“We work directly with creators to make their books ready for print,” CBWU said. “We help to make sure creators are paid on time. We assist in the marketing for the books. We work directly with distributors and retailers to put these books on the shelves. We work behind the scenes to give our creators the best possible success on their creator-owned stories.”

 

 

 

 

I would think it’s only members of the union who’d get paid on time. What if they won’t go to bat for a right-winger? Besides, there’s all sorts of legal motions available to ensure workers get their wages. I get the strange feeling this is more like an excuse not to work too hard, outside of payment issues, considering that there’s only so many jobs where you could have to deal with heavy workloads, and provided you get paid well, that’s what people are in many businesses for. And then, somebody else decidedly fishy, this one more a veteran, is brought up:

 

According to Dan Jurgens, an industry veteran who wrote DC’s Death of Superman, a good editor is indispensable in comics. Jurgens said that although the writers and artists might get the most credit, every other person who works on a book serves a vital function towards getting it to the reader. Although comic books are creative works, they’re also collaborative endeavors that require coordination between many different workers.

“Your job as an editor, in some ways, is to manage the workload of all the freelancers who are working for you,” he told Motherboard. “Let’s say you’re editing four titles. You might have four issues of each of those titles in various stages of production on any given day. Some of them at the end of the chain are heading right for the printer, and you’re trying to get it out. Managing that in this age of email, and changes and everything else that occurs, it’s really a remarkable amount of work.”

[…] Scheidt and Jurgens both said that Image Comics already represented the potential for change within the industry because of how it was founded. Scheidt said that for creators, it’s still the best deal in comics.

“What I appreciated about the statement put out by the Image workers is that they did reference the founders of Image, who went out and capitalized on this idea that we can own our own material,” Jurgens said. “They built that company, and that’s what they are very much about. I think that’s fantastic.”

“They kind of had this whole cutting edge thing,” Scheidt said. “You know, the whole revolution of them being founded by Marvel and DC people who were just fed up with drawing other people’s characters and writing other people’s stories and, you know, being stuck in archaic publishing contracts and stuff like that.”

 

Gee, that’s pretty big talk coming from somebody who continued working for the Big Two long after Image’s founding. And who, as noted, co-wrote one of the most overrated, overblown stories of the early 90s in the Man of Steel’s line. During which time, as noted before, Cat Grant’s son was murdered at the hands of the Toyman. Was all that Jurgens’ way of expressing his disdain for writing stories for one of the most famous – and regrettably, one of the most misused – superheroes in history?

 

 

No matter what one thinks of work-for-hire, it’s no excuse for ruining other people’s work so badly. Something the other interviewee seems unconcerned about. Nor do they seem particularly concerned about censorship, which did affect some of their products, such as Howard Chaykin’s work, the leftism notwithstanding:

 

When one of the covers to the acclaimed but controversial Howard Chaykin’s series Divided States of Hysteria depicted a brown man being lynched with his genitals torn off, Brothers said, staffers at Image had a meeting with management to discuss the hot water that Image had suddenly found itself in. But it went poorly.

“We were like please, if we’re gonna do this kind of work, it has artistic value, give us a heads up. Like, we’re affected by this,” he said. “We don’t want you to not do this. Like, there’s all kinds of crime novels, and I grew up on rap music so I have no space to argue.

“But I do think there’s a level of appropriateness and respect you can approach these issues with, and maybe like the lynching cover’s not it. Maybe there’s another route. The thrust of our argument was, ‘Just keep us in the loop.’ The answer was basically, ‘You’re not the one who picks the books, so you don’t necessarily get a say.’”

Brothers said that in response to this meeting, Image Comics employees received a diversity training.

(“After concerns about DIVIDED STATES were brought to our attention by the public,” the Image spokesperson said, “the concerns were addressed with the cover being replaced before going to print, and then having all staff complete diversity training. There was not an all-staff meeting prior to that where employees voiced their concerns to Image.”)

 

Ah, now this is definitely a left-wing leaning here. Diversity training? Why not simply training to make a distinction between good and bad taste? I don’t have a very high opinion of Chaykin, but these are not the people qualified to go about making decisions. What they did is practically what’s spoken about in the union’s agenda, and is even mentioned shortly after:

 

The most controversial ask CBWU has made of management is for “a collective voting option to immediately cancel publication of any title whose creator(s) have been found to have engaged in abuse, sexual assault, racism and xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, ableism, etc.”

This has been read as a demand for a censorious panel to ensure that upcoming comics adhere to diktats of political correctness. It is perhaps more properly read as a response to past incidents including the Chaykin cover and the disastrous Warren Ellis situation, in which the company was caught in a bind after the well-respected writer was called out for predatory behavior. Image workers are not so much demanding that books and creators be put before a star chamber as putting on the table for negotiation a defined process for dealing with creators doing or saying objectionable things—a process that might, if laid out properly, do as much to protect creators who find themselves in the middle of a shitstorm as anything else, and which would in all simply meet publishing industry standards.

 

Well doesn’t this basically prove the point for anyone worried it’s more a political statement than an effort to ensure decent pay rates? I don’t care about Ellis’ work, but from what I know, he argued none of his relations were on the violent side, and if not, then provided they were between consenting adults, you can’t exactly call him a predator based on that. Though a valid argument can be made he shouldn’t have cheated his lovers out of any chance to get through to publishers, if they were interested in making their way into the medium. And Ellis doesn’t even have to be at the office; he can always work at home, if the women opposing his presence really don’t want him around. And they really see nothing wrong with censoring Chaykin’s work, no matter the intent? “More properly”, my foot.

 

 

“What they’re saying is that it’s not about the content of the comics, right? It’s about what the creators have done,” Brothers said. “It’s about abuse, essentially. I think people are reading it as they want oversight on what goes into the books. Really, it’s like, ‘We don’t want to work with creeps.’”

 

Based on Brothers’ past attacks on Miller for penning Holy Terror, we can only wonder who those creeps are he’s talking about. Do they also include people far more right-leaning than Miller’s ever been? (Let’s remember he’s since fully realigned with the left.) For example, if Image won’t work with Chuck Dixon based on his conservative leanings alone, doesn’t that serve as a troubling example? This also mentions a veteran who reportedly tried to work on unionization:

 

Perhaps most oddly, a spokesperson for Neal Adams, the legendary artist who attempted to unionize the field and secure royalties and rights to original art for men like Captain America creator Jack Kirby and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, denied that he had ever been involved in labor issues at all while turning down an interview request. “Those were creator’s rights issues,” the spokesperson said, and declined to elaborate on the distinction.

 

Well that’s the difference between then and now. It wasn’t politics, but creators rights and residuals. If a new union is formed putting politics at the forefront, it’s not a reliable movement. Besides, something tells me the new Image union ultimately won’t prevent sexual misconduct at workplaces.

 

This aside, the Image union exists in a specific historical context. Scheidt and Brothers both mentioned that none of this would be possible without Gawker organizing with the Writer’s Guild of America East in 2015. (VICE’s editorial teams are organized with the WGAE.) Both Brothers and Scheidt hope that just as Gawker affected the digital-media industry, the CBWU being recognized and successfully negotiating a contract could start to be a domino effect of other comics publishers unionizing as well.

“I think if it works at Image, it would definitely lead to a wave of other publishers unionizing,” Brothers said, adding that Dark Horse and Oni are also in Portland, where Image Comics is located.

 

All that’ll do is lead to bigger blacklisting situations, based on partisan politics, not to mention more destruction of creativity. Most intriguing they mention the now defunct Gawker, the leftist site with some of the most atrocious people working for them, which used to own Gizmodo a few other shoddy sites. The parent site’s company lost a lawsuit with veteran wrestler Hulk Hogan nearly a decade ago, and had to sell off its other assets to pay their legal bills. If this is the kind of news sources they consider worthy, no wonder this puff piece falls flat. At the end, it says:

 

“We hope this is just the beginning of a tidal wave of unionization in this country,” the union said. “It’s long overdue.”

 

A wave based on political correctness is not what we need at all. There’s already far too many cases of communist blacklisting going on, spilling out of universities and into businesses and other such institutes around the USA. It does not help creativity one bit, mainly because in the end, both liberal and conservative creators alike will suffer, based on petty issues, and all the wrong reasons. But, it’s hardly a surprise a site as awful as Vice happens to be would go this route. Image is bound to be screwed soon anyway, and so will Dark Horse, if they keep on with their far-left directions, and unions like these will only prove farcical in the end.

 

 

Originally published here.

 


Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON