Previously On Comics: Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day today in the United States, and today’s Previously on Comics is more somber in tone than I usually write.

Colorist Justin Ponsor passed away, and his loss has been felt throughout the comics community. I did not know Ponsor by name as a colorist, but as I’ve seen covers and panels posted, I knew his work. Some creators and creatives posted tributes and memorials on twitter, and I’ve got a few here now. Nick Lowe’s thread contains some incredible examples of Ponsor’s range, and the depth and breadth of his contribution to comics in his short life. 

But outside of these tributes, the image that reverberated the most through the community, however, was this one, posted by Justin Ponsor on his blog, that shows him working from his hospital bed.

Image posted to Justin Ponsor's blog by the artist of him working on art while in hospital beds, including the ICU
The image was widely shared on Twitter, and originally posted on Ponsor’s blog.

To see someone working on deadline during their cancer treatment has galvanized the community once again to speak up about the not only unfair, but inhumane treatment of freelancers, who are contracted employees and therefore not eligible for medical benefits from their million dollar and billion dollar publishers like Marvel and DC, despite the fact that many of them work more than the required 40 hours a week that is the standard for benefit-eligible salaried employees.

Marvel’s memorial tweet and obituary have also, to many, symbolized the exploitative nature of the relationship between comics freelancers and the corporations they often have exclusive contracts with.

So, last week sucked. And so did the week before. And so the suck continues, because shockwaves from the Oni/Lion Forge merger are still happening.  Rachel Reed, former Oni Press publicity and marketing coordinator (who had left the company before the merger was announced) gave a scathing interview about the working conditions there, validating many of the criticisms previously shared on Twitter.

One passage stood out to me:

“I’ll go ahead and say it again, it’s all bullshit. You know, you have women who are in more than one marginalized group — they’re women, they’re queer, they’re black, they’re disabled. Just to put them all on the chopping block. They said that the decision wasn’t based on the people. The decision was based on the positions. And I find that frustrating because I know that they said that it was because of redundancies. But surely, removing your director of publicity doesn’t seem like you’re correcting a redundancy. Melissa [Meszaros, former publicity coordinator for Oni] did the press releases, the social media. She set up interviews. She emailed creators. She did newsletters. She sent out review copies. I mean, she did so much.

“And it flabbergasts me that she’s going to be replaced with Lion Forge’s publicist. That there was no thought that, “Hey, now we can have two people doing publicity and lessen the workload.” Lessening the workload would be great because then they could do even better work because they could focus on certain things instead of trying to do every single PR item under the sun.”

I worked with Melissa personally in the past three years of covering the Northwest cons that Oni attended, specifically Rose City Comic Con and Emerald City Comic Con. She was always wonderful to work with, professionally, and made sure that we knew that she valued our coverage. It got to the point where I would just ask who she had available to interview, and she would suggest someone, and I knew that it was going to be a fun conversation. My interview with Paul Tobin ended up with me working with his wife, Colleen Coover, on a Bandette-inspired Knit Your Comics (forthcoming…), and my conversation with Kris Anka about the Dream Daddy pinup covers he did was so much fun, we have plans to release the audio.

I’ve emailed the Lion Forge publicist Jeremy Atkins several times in preparation for these same conventions and never received a response. When I met him by chance at a convention I was given a weak apology that basically amounted to him being too busy to have gotten to my email. There may be others who have had more positive experiences, but I for one am extremely unimpressed and not at all optimistic about the way that WWAC (and other smaller outlets) will be treated in the future at conventions. It also supports the discussion in the article about the necessity of having a PR team, because the workload is immense and the pressure is incredible. Having Melissa still there would only make this transition (especially in light of the upcoming convention season) easier, and I can only view her dismissal as shortsighted and unwise, and one that does not bode well for anyone, since Oni is not only losing Melissa, but all of the personal relationships she built up during her time there, with WWAC and other sites.

Another reason why I don’t expect to be reading many Oni titles or interviewing creators is due to the departure of Ari Yarwood.

While no one knows what Oni and Lion Forge will look like going forward, the loss of someone like Ari, who, among other things, was the driving force behind the Dream Daddy series, makes me wonder if the days of Oni being known for its queer and diverse creators are behind them.

But that’s not all the suckage. Last week was also filled with reminders of how toxic and dangerous people somehow continue to be employed by large comics publishers, despite or, more disturbingly, possibly because of their alt-right signalling/dog whistling behavior. Looking at you, Dynamite.

And while EVS is a known quantity, a recent interview with Christopher Priest has led to other criticisms not only of Priest (specifically his statements about black women calling him a creep), but of the culture that’s happening at Dynamite because of their association with EVS.

The thread is worth reading, and thinking about, because it once again brings me back to the question that I return to again and again whenever something like this happens–and it happens far too often: How can I, comics reader and critic, do anything to make the comics community–and the comics industry–a better, safer, kinder place than it is now? 

I used to write the weekly Marvel news, but it got to the point that keeping track of all the many, many disappointments exhausted me. And the issues I wrote about this week are endemic of the industry itself. And so, on this day of remembrance, my advice is this: remember to take action, in ways large and small, personal and political.

Support a comics union (or guild, if that’s your jam). If you are a comics creator, fill out this survey on working conditions in comics.

Support comics creators in need through their GoFundMes or through organizations like the Hero Initiative.

Support organizations like the LAZineFest to support zine/indie comics creators:

Support work by creators you care about, whether it be by attending conventions or pre-ordering newly announced titles. Sure, I’ve got issues with Image and the direct market, but I am still absolutely putting the new Zdarsky/Anka/Wilson fantasy title that was just announced on my pull list and I’m not even a fantasy person. 

Support sites like WWAC by subscribing to our Patreon. We would love to be able to pay our contributors for not only creating much needed comics criticism, but also unparalleled investigative journalism.

Support each other. Take action if you can do so, and recognize that there are those who cannot financially, physically, or emotionally take action in the same ways that you can.

Support yourself. Find a community that supports you. Remember that you alone have the power to choose when, why, and how you engage with comics and with social media and don’t let other people dictate your interactions, especially when that engagement is to walk away and take a vacation.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.