In an unprecedented effort at labor organizing in the comics industry, a group of 10 staffers at Image Comics, a major independent comics publisher, have announced plans to launch Comic Book Workers United, a new union in affiliation with the Communications Workers of America.
The group has launched a CBWU website that includes information on the goals of the union and background on efforts to unionize the company. The CBWU will represent editorial, production, and other support staff at Image. The new union will not represent comics artists and writers, who are overwhelmingly freelance workers and by law are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining.
The announcement of the union has spurred a wave of support on social media by comics creators and workers across the industry. The ten Image Comics staffers involved in the effort—whose positions range across production, editorial, accounting, marketing, and sales—are Emilio Bautista, Ryan Brewer, Leanna Caunter, Marla Eizik, Drew Fitzgerald, Melissa Gifford, Chloe Ramos, Tricia Ramos, Jon Schlaffman, and Erika Schnatz.
While the CBWU effort is focused on Image Comics, a noted independent house founded by comics artists looking for more equitable treatment, the launch of the union is aimed at spurring discussions and action on working conditions across the comics industry. In a statement on the CBWU website, the group states: “For years, comics publishing workers have watched our professional efforts support creators and delight readers. Sadly, we have also watched that same labor be taken for granted at best and exploited at worst.”
The statement emphasizes that “the comic book and publishing industry as a whole, is overtaxed and undervalued,” and that “our labor is integral to the comic book industry. It requires specialized skills, dedication, and makes quality publishing possible.” It continues: “We love what we do. But loving what you do doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't ask for improvements to your working conditions. It is with this in mind and with great hope for the future of Image Comics and the comic book industry itself that we announce our intent to form a union and request voluntary recognition.”
PW reached out to the ten staff organizers with questions about where they are in the process of forming the union, the size of the bargaining unit, and the response of Image Comics management and Image publisher Eric Stephenson; the parties did not respond to questions by press time. Image Comics management, however, provided a short statement: "Image has always believed in the fair and equitable treatment of staff and has always strived to support employees to the best of our company's ability with regard to their employment."
On the CBWU website, the group states that the union’s goals, among others, are salary and workload transparency for all positions, improvement of morale via increased compensation or workload management, better communication with staff, better documentation of duties, improved career mobility, increased staff diversity, and the addition of a collective voting option to allow staff to cancel publication of works by creators found to have engaged in objectionable activities or personal behavior.
The CBWU organizers emphasize that their effort to unionize is inspired by the founding of Image Comics. The house was launched in 1992 by a group of prominent bestselling superhero comics artists—among them Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Valentino, and Marc Silvestri—who broke away from DC and Marvel to launch an independent publishing house that continues to flourish. Those artists, the CBWU states, wanted better compensation and greater control over their works in an industry that was, and still remains, overwhelmingly a work-for-hire industry.
“In the early stages of organizing, we looked to Image's founders for inspiration. Their dreams of self-determination and more equitable treatment in the industry they loved and helped make successful are also our dreams,” the CBWU statement said.
“We are honored to grow their legacy by taking this step to give all comic book industry professionals, regardless of title, the same rights, guarantees, security, and protections which the founders sought when they broke away from the big two to start their own company. In fact, several months into our organizing efforts, Jim Valentino made a comment on social media celebrating union accomplishments. That was the moment we knew this could work.”