Previously on Comics: Image Comic Book Workers Are Forming a Union — Here’s How You Can Help

Hello again! I am sure that there were some things happening in comics last week other than the Image Comics staff forming a union, but I don’t remember because I was following the story about Image Comics staff forming a union all last week. So today, I’m going to recap some of the talking points I’ve seen around the Twittersphere and in this article at The Beat by Heidi McDonald.

So, the basics.

It all started on Monday, November 1st.

The world learned about the Image Comics employees forming a union from the Twitter announcement by the newly formed union, Comic Book Workers United (CBWU).

They are partnering with the Communication Workers of America Union (CWA) which is the same route that employees at Paizo, a TTRPG publisher, took just last month when they unionized. The Twitter account is @cbwupdx presumably because Image moved their headquarters from San Francisco to Portland in 2016. (Sidenote: PDX is the abbreviation for Portland International Airport and Portland in general, for some reason. I grew up in Portland and I have no idea why. I also can’t think of another city that uses its airport as its abbreviation but you know what, that’s Portland for you.)

While I encourage you to go read the CBWU website, it’s important to highlight that their demands are essentially extremely basic things like having meetings across departments so people know what the fuck is going on and having job descriptions that match the jobs they’re actually doing, hiring more fucking people so they can do their jobs better, and letting people continue working from home because we’re still in the middle of a fucking pandemic. I switched employers during the pandemic and I have asked my supervisor for these things, personally, and because they’re not a dick, they met these asks and the entire department (and consequently everyone we work with and support) is better for it.

They’re also asking for something that people who read comics have been wanting for a long time:

#9 Renewed commitment to company values through the addition of 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. until such time as said creators have engaged in meaningful reparations toward affected person(s).

Image has an extremely shitty track record with this (although they did decide not to publish the Warren Ellis comic, so they clearly have the ability to do the right thing). While freelancers are able to decide not to publish with Image again as a statement of solidarity or protest, staff have no such ability. And they should not have to leave the employer they work for to hold that employer accountable to its own values and common fucking decency.

In short, it’s a super rad thing that they’re doing, and they deserve support.

Monday was a day of celebration for me and everyone I know on Twitter. There were tons of supportive tweets and RTs of the CWBUPDX Twitter announcement by big-name creators (including some Image creators like Chip Zdarsky, Cliff Chiang, Kieron Gillen, and many others–although I’ll admit to being surprised to see which Image creators had NOT made a statement or RT’d a supportive tweet). It wasn’t until researching this timeline that I learned that the ComicsGate bros are anti-union (big surprise there), and that there was some misunderstanding of who exactly the union was for (e.g. not creators). While it’s likely not a surprise to anyone reading this article, comics creators are freelance employees and because a lot of complicated legal reasons they cannot form a union (but they COULD form a guild like the Writers Guild of America or Screen Actors Guild and then they could have their own awards voted upon by guild members and how cool would that be?)

Image Comics initial statement read as follows:

“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.”

Fast forward to Friday, November 5th.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November, because that was the day that Image Comics decided to not voluntarily recognize the CBWU. The voluntarily part is what’s important here, because it means that Image does not actually support its workers’ right to unionize, not that their workers won’t be able to unionize. Pathfinder voluntarily recognized Paizo’s union less than one week after the workers announced their intention to unionize and then moved to collective bargaining. However, Image will be making things much harder.

The November 5th statement reads:

“Earlier this week, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking to hold a secret-ballot election so that eligible members of the Image Comics office staff can determine if they want the CWA to represent them in their employment with Image. The NLRB is currently reviewing that petition to determine when that election will be held, where it will take place, and who can vote.

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.”

Sure, Jan.

Imagine forming a comics company with the sole purpose of giving people more rights as workers, and then being like, sorry, we didn’t mean you, the hardworking people we employ who make our comics a reality, we only meant us, the people creating stories that would never become comics if you didn’t work for us.

Yes, there’s a meme for that.

But the story isn’t over yet, though, and we can still help.

In the Friday statement, CBWU says that despite having to go through a longer process that will require a vote, 10 of the 12 eligible staff members have already voted to form and go public with the union. Any and all forms of public support help. Sign the petition. Tweet your support. Make more memes.

These 10 people are making history. Let’s help them.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

4 thoughts on “Previously on Comics: Image Comic Book Workers Are Forming a Union — Here’s How You Can Help

  1. Thanks for the links and the excellent write up.

    I hate to be the one who posts a total digression in the comments, but: As for PDX, I think it’s because Portland is the only major city in the US with the same name as another major city in the US, Portland, ME, where much of my family resides. Supposedly the folks who founded PDX were torn between naming their city Portland or Boston because they just loved New England. As someone who often refers to Portland, ME, it’s a lot easier to call Portland, OR PDX. (Portland ME’s airport code is PWM, which no one uses.)

    Silly founders.

    As for the other part, I support the CBWU.

    1. Thank you Heidi!

      And Portland’s name was actually decided in a coin toss between Portland and Boston. It’s so random and hilarious, really. They have the coin on display in some museum that I went to as a kid on a class field trip.

      The thing is, it’s the people in Portland calling it PDX and I can assure you we do not confuse our city with that place in Maine 🙂 It’s just part of our identity.

      And yes, solidarity!

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