PORTLAND, Ore. — The majority of eligible Image Comics workers have formed a union.
Image Comics is a Portland-based creator-owned comic book publisher founded in 1992 by a collective of artists. It is now the third-largest comic book publisher behind the big two (DC and Marvel). Ten of the twelve eligible Image Comics employees have signed their union authorization cards, according to Comic Book Workers United PDX (CBWUPDX).
In an email interview with KGW, the members of the union spoke about the need for a union, despite the perception of working for a comics publisher that produces big-name books.
KGW: So I guess we’ll start with that there are nine of you thus far? Do you think there is a wider interest?
CBWUPDX: Ten out of twelve eligible Image employees have signed union authorization cards. There seems to be a misconception, particularly among our most vocal critics, that we are "just" ten strong, and that there is little need for a union in such a small office. Image, as a publisher, is not a large operation. I think sometimes we seem larger than we are, or people fundamentally misunderstand the way our company functions, because we serve an overwhelming number of independent comic creators and we put out a very large volume of quality work. The ten that we are represents just about half of the complete employee roster at Image. Nevertheless, despite the size of our staff, we are no less susceptible to inequitable working conditions. All workers, regardless of the size of their workforce, can benefit from unionization. That said, it's not as if we're functioning independently--we are represented by CWA, Communications Workers of America, which is a large labor union for communications workers hundreds of thousands of workers strong.
KGW: Why form a union? I think the outward-facing image of Image (that wasn’t a pun, I promise) is that it’s a creator-owned company that cares for its writers and artists and letterers and colorists etc.
CBWUPDX: I think you're asking here if Image is projecting a false impression of itself onto the general public re: its treatment of creators, and that's simply not the case. You're absolutely right to say that Image is a company that cares for its writers and artists and letterers and colorists. We truly, truly do. This union does not include these creatives--mostly because it cannot. Though there is dire need for representation among the creatives who we serve and who really make the industry the amazing place it is, American labor law as it currently stands simply makes that sort of representation impossible.
This union is for the workers inside Image, the ones who make the whole publication machine move. When we say that we care about writers and artists and letterers and colorists, we say this firsthand, because we are some of the employees who work most closely with them to ensure the book that we release fully realizes their creative vision and reaches the audience it needs to.
We are the production artists, editors, marketers, and accountants who care about the minutiae of the publishing process. As such, we are largely invisible. It's been interesting to see the response to this unionization effort, because I think some people are truly seeing us for the first time, which has been validating. We've received a lot of creator support that amounts to, "Yes! Look at these people who make me look good!" So yes, we love our creators, and we work very hard for them because we love them. And as such, we feel that we have earned a more democratic working environment, wherein we have the power to serve our creators in a far more substantive capacity. We formed a union because, ultimately, it's better for everyone.
At the time of the interview, KGW’s Destiny Johnson asked how the response from Image had been, if there had been any at all. At the time, CBWUPDX said, "We have yet to receive any response from Image. We are asking them to voluntarily recognize our union and encourage our supporters to please ask them to do the same. The outpouring of support so far has been terrific, but we need to keep that momentum going; it's not over yet!"
And since then, Image Comics has not voluntarily recognized the union. On Nov. 2, Image said in a statement to KGW: "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."
It later released a statement on its Twitter:
CBWUPDX is still hopeful that Image Comics will recognize them voluntarily and it will not have to be forced into an election. It said on its website, in part:
As of November 5th, Image Comics has failed to formally acknowledge our request for voluntary recognition. We are interpreting that lack of formal response, coupled with a Twitter post the company made indicating their intention to force us into a totally unnecessary election, as a denial of our request. This is disappointing, given that 10 of the 12 eligible staff members have already voted to form and publicly support our union, but we are strong in our principles and the pending election changes nothing.
It asks on its website that supporters continue to email, write in and tweet Image Comics to ask them to recognize the union. Image has not said anything publicly regarding the union since its Nov. 5 tweet.
KGW: Do you think there is a need for more unions in the comics industry?
CBWUPDX: We believe that unions can only improve any industry or workplace, and would be thrilled to see unionization spread in the comics industry. Again, inequitable working conditions are sadly the norm in this industry and other industries that largely rely on independent freelance creative talent, and there's not a lot we can do about that. Quite honestly, we're lucky, and we're well aware of that. We are lucky to have full-time work and benefits in an industry where that is the exception more than the rule. That's why our union's goals are quite modest. But I think for a long time, people in positions of power have used this feeling of being privileged to be allowed to work in an industry we respect as a way to make their workers accept less than ideal working conditions. It's exploitative, and it works. We hope that other comics workers who love their jobs as desperately as we do might feel empowered to challenge this power dynamic because of this union. And we hope that this union inspires more conversation surrounding the freelancers who we do not yet have the power to help.
CBWPDX wanted to make it clear, “We love our jobs and we love comics. We believe that unionization will make us better able to do our jobs well, and more sustainably, in the long run.”
On its website, it lists its goals which include things like improving staff morale through reviews that look at the workloads departments face, a more transparent company culture, detailed record-keeping and more. You can see a list of CBWUPDX’s goals here.