Do we need The American Sequential Arts Guild?

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201212141747 Do we need The American Sequential Arts Guild?
Over the years there have been many attempts to start a comic book creators union or guild. Neal Adams tried one back in the day, and got frustrated and gave it up. Tony Harris recently tweeted about starting one before he got distracted by something bright and shiny. And now Rantz Hoseley, Eisner winning editor of COMIC BOOK TATTOO, is back with more thoughts on a new idea for a guild.

You can read about it below and comment a bit further below. Comics creator guilds have traditionally been scotched by the differing goals of so many in the business and cat herding nature of the business.

What do you all think?

Comments

  1. Unions are always good.

  2. If comic creators were unionized, the price of comics would need to go up to accommodate higher pay and benefits demands. And we’re actually near the breaking point right now, in terms of what the slowly-ever-shrinking audience is willing to pay for a comic (digital or physical). This is just the fact of the matter. Maybe back in the ’70s or ’80s, when there was a grassroots/generational appeal for comic books, when it could be expected that every forthcoming generation of readers would discover comics in DROVES at their local corner stores, then a union would have been possible and made a lot of sense: Because the industry was actually somewhat solid (if not uber-profitable on an ever-shakier quarter-by-quarter basis).

    It probably WOULD have been a really great thing for creators from decades past to be unionized. But I don’t really see how the industry could even survive that at this point. Keep in mind something Ed Brubaker disclosed a few months ago: That right now in 2012 the STARTING page-rate at the Big Two is equal to what the TOP page-rate was when Ed started working at DC.

    Unions can definitely be a good thing in certain circumstances, but I don’t really see how the comics industry could sustain one: not because of big corporations but simply because any extra cost to an average single issue could topple the industry.

  3. Only if that union/guild was self sustaining *cough* Moxie *cough* 12/21/12 *cough* *cough* Kickstarter *cough* and stared with a new generation cartoonists I can see it working….yeah just click the links for more info.

    Facebook page :http://on.fb.me/VqWwms
    Event page: http://on.fb.me/UkD6iq
    Twitter: http://bit.ly/TnjuJi

  4. There’s only the history you don’t know. There was a Cartoonist’s Guild union in the 1930s that got all of the magazine markets to pay more. Well, except for one.

    More here: http://mikelynchcartoons.blogspot.com/2007/11/syd-hoff.html

  5. Only if that union/guild was self-sustaining *cough* Moxie *cough* 12/21/12 *cough* *cough* Kickstarter *cough* and stared with a new generation cartoonists I can see it working.

  6. Rantz says:

    If you read the attachment it specifically says that a.) it is NOT about unionizing, b.) that it is NOT an intent to “raise page rates” and c.) is a non-profit entity that is supported by Membership fees (instead of getting a “cut” of each creator’s project, ala the union model)

  7. Where would the large proportion of creators working in the US comics industry but residing outside the US stand in this proposed set-up?

  8. Jeff Trexler says:

    What Rantz is describing is not a union a la the Writers Guild, but a professional association. As a nonprofit organization exempt under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, a professional association is

    “an association of persons having a common business interest, whose purpose is to promote the common business interest and not to engage in a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit. Its activities are directed to the improvement of business conditions of one or more lines of business rather than the performance of particular services for individual persons.”

    You see these in any number of industries–there are associations of filmmakers, designers, even resume writers. Developing professional standards, providing insurance, issuing reports and creating networking opportunities are all common practices, although when setting ideal baseline prices and certifying those who buy members’ services an association would need to be mindful of antitrust law.

    There are other issues, of course, but I’m not writing here as anyone’s lawyer–just chatting about the general class of organizations analogous to the one described in Rantz’s memo.

  9. Johnny Memeonic says:

    From what I read Neal Adams and some other people tried to start a union for comics creators back in the late 70’s. It died after the DC Implosion caused a line out the door at Marvel trying to get work.

  10. Given the rate at which talent turns over and the way many creators are treated by the industry, it may be time.

  11. considering all the horror stories that one hears over and over again about how crappy the talent has been treated over the years, a little representation on behalf of the talent would be a good thing.

  12. Yes, we need a guild.

    If for no other reason than for freelance comics creators to be able to get better health insurance rates than they can get on their own.

    If for no other reason than to set down PREFERRED professional rates and guideline for what we do. Even though it doesn’t require publishers to adhere to those standards, it sets down markers creators can use as a starting point.

    I hope other comments that follow will address the guild question and stop referring to the pros and cons of unionization, because, as noted by others, this topic isn’t ABOUT unionization, and the unionization noise is distracting from the question at hand.

  13. Stink Monkey Pop Pop says:

    Create your own stuff.
    Market your own stuff.
    Profit from your own stuff.

  14. I talked with Neal about the Guild he was a part of. The Guild in the 70s was started by publisher Jim (James) Warren. Neal worked on it under him at first. Stan Lee insisted he was a freelancer like everybody else and wanted to be President of it and got enough votes to do so.

    But the gathering of cartoonists was a good thing for them though. At one meeting Neal Adams went around asking artists what their page rate was. Many balked, feeling that info should be private. So Neal told them what his page rate was. Some artists (Curt Swan being one IIRC) were getting paid significantly less. They then asked for raises from DC and got them.

  15. I think what Rantz is proposing is a good starting point. Not a union, but a professional association.

    One issue Rantz has not touched on that will be brought up sooner or later, is membership requirements. Can anyone who ponies up the dues be a member? Should there be other standards, such as a skills-assessment, a track-record of completed projects? Such things would make the idea more enticing for publishers to participate, although they do open a can of worms, or two.

  16. E. Allen says:

    The whole point of being a freelancer is to create your own terms as I’ve done as a graphic designer for over 20 years. Here in the great white north, I can get together with a group of other freelancers and get and create a plan for the group. Is this not available in the States or other parts of the world?

  17. Tommy Raiko says:

    Are there not already organizations such as the Graphic Artists Guild that comics artists can join and which provide members at least some of the advantages that often come up in these sorts of discussions? (For example, Lee Nordling brings up access to at least somewhat better health insurance options and issuing pricing/ethical guidelines, but doesn’t the Graphic Artists Guild already do that for members?)

    If that’s the case, then, aren’t the pragmatic questions something like:

    (a) Are the business of sequential arts and and the needs of sequential artists sufficiently unique as to warrant a unique organization separate and different from what already exists for illustrators, graphic artists, etc.? and/or

    (b) Would a new, start-up organization realistically be able to address those needs any better than these existing organizations?

    I’m genuinely curious…

  18. I don’t see a union working for comics. There is so much competition and secrecy. People work for different page rates. Agreements come and go. Creative teams get into hot water and spill the beans. There are people who would work for free to get a few pages published. A lot of barriers there.

  19. Jeff Trexler says:

    @Tommy Raiko These are excellent, essential questions that need to be addressed.

  20. I just want to point out that this proposal isn’t FOR a union, or for a guild that’s LIKE a union.

    It’s a guild that helps to set standards (which NOBODY needs to adhere to; they’re a realistic and professional ideal in a business that seriously needs more professionalism), and offers the potential for health insurance.

    Anybody discussing unions is having a different discussion than the one that’s prompted here.

    I really hope a guild happens, because it will help a lot of people, even those who choose NOT to join the guild.

    What’s so bad about that?

  21. Rantz says:

    @Scott Bieser – One of the things I hadn’t gotten into yet, but (to my mind) is a critical element of such a guild would be “Accountability”. Not only from Publishers, but from Professional Guild Members as well. that would mean that (for example):
    a.) Creators belonging to the Guild wouldn’t be able to just plunk down cash and join. You would have to (similar to the Screen Writer’s Guild) have a professional track record. (minimum titles published, etc would have to be addressed. In some Professional Guilds that are established, you have to have a ‘Member Advocate’, who goes to bat for the applicant, but that would be down the road, if ever)
    b.) That Guild Creators would need to be held as accountable as publishers. that means that if you missed multiple deadlines across multiple projects, you could lose your guild status.
    c.) That part of the idea of the apprentice program would be to reduce the resistance indie publishers (as well as “big” ones) have to “new” creators, since there’s a potentially costly variable on whether or not they can produce the work as scheduled. Having completed an apprentice program would ensure that there’s both a channel to becoming a guild member for new creators, as well as acting as risk amortization for publishers.

    As has been noted, this is much more about “clarity”, than regulations. Starting out it was almost impossible to know if you were getting screwed by a publisher because the info just wasn’t available. Even now, the idea of a clearly defined acceptable “baseline” is something that remains elusive for many creators (both new to the industry, as well as veterans)

  22. Rantz says:

    @Tommy Raiko
    The Graphic Artists Guild is a.) A different Kind of Organization b.) it is difficult for a comic creator who is not doing ‘regular illustration’ (i.e. magazine, books, etc) to join, and c.) the issues involved in being a professional graphic artist/illustrator are distinctly different than the ones involved in comics (such a backend or secondary payments for collections which were not planned or anticipated at the time of publication, etc)

  23. Da-truth-hurtz says:

    F! says:
    12/14/2012 at 8:16 pm
    Where would the large proportion of creators working in the US comics industry but residing outside the US stand in this proposed set-up?

    This might be part of the work to be done, lets face it out sourcing is killing america in general. Why spend money to foreign labor that rarely support our market. Are they undercutting.

  24. >> This might be part of the work to be done, lets face it out sourcing is killing america in general. Why spend money to foreign labor that rarely support our market. Are they undercutting.>>

    Well, that’s not a guild I’d want to be any part of, if that was the goal. Let’s chase off Carlos Pacheco, Stuart Immonen, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Gerry Alanguilan and other talented creators! Plus, the idea that these guys don’t buy US-produced comics is absurd.

    Luckily, that’s not what a guild like this would be aimed at.

  25. Rantz says:

    As Kurt aptly noted, this is not intended as a “circle the wagons for America” effort, or as a “big stick” to use against publishers. Those kind of efforts are the very root of divisiveness, and have failed time and time again.

    The aspect of group insurance for guild members in good standing would likely not be applicable to members outside of the US (based on my experience in working at Disney, and how insurance companies deal with multinational corporations) but there are many other aspects that WOULD be applicable.

    And let’s face facts… it’s a GLOBAL marketplace. To try and deny that is to deny reality (which traditionally has led to a company/group/industry downfall)

  26. E. Allen says:

    Well, freelancers say in Toronto for example can get together and get an insurance program between them. So why not in other large metro areas.

  27. Colleen says:

    The Graphic Artist Guild is not difficult to join. To join as a professional, all you need to show is you are a pro artist making half a living wage from art. If you don’t, you may join as an associate member.

    https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/join/

  28. That’s fine for artists, but what about writers?

  29. Colleen says:

    “All other interested persons in related fields who support the goals and purposes of the Guild are welcome to join as Associate Members, as are graphic arts students. Associate Members may participate in all Guild activities and programs and serve on committees but may not vote or hold office.”

  30. “All other interested persons in related fields who support the goals and purposes of the Guild are welcome to join as Associate Members, as are graphic arts students. Associate Members may participate in all Guild activities and programs and serve on committees but may not vote or hold office.”

    The point isn’t merely to join a guild, and be able to take part in its activities (short of actually voting). It’s to have a guild focused on the kind of thing that Rantz outlines in his thoughts above.

    How much of that, if anything, does the Graphic Artists Guild do? Does it have guild minimum rates for comic book letterers, colorists, scripters? Does it accredit comics publishers who’ve agreed to those rates and other issues? Does it run an apprentice program for comic-book production?

    The point isn’t merely to have a membership card in a guild, it’s to have a guild that serves the membership. GAG is a very good guild for what it does, but what it does doesn’t serve the comics industry in any sort of comprehensive fashion. It’s useful to comic book artists where the interests of graphic artists in other industries and comic book artists overlap, and they should certainly look into it. But that’s not the same thing as addressing the needs of comics creators overall.

    I’m a member of the WGA, as well, and it’s a pretty darn good guild at what it does, too. But what it does doesn’t really apply to the comics industry, so my WGA dues don’t do anything to support or accomplish the kind of thing Rantz is suggesting. I think GAG has rather more overlap with the comics industry than WGA, but not enough to be what’s being proposed here.

  31. Colleen says:

    Rantz’s comment was: “it is difficult for a comic creator who is not doing ‘regular illustration’ (i.e. magazine, books, etc) to join”

    I did not address any other issue, Mr Busiek. I simply addressed the issue of whether or not it is difficult to join. Any interested party can go to the Graphic Artist Guild website and review whether or not the Guild meets their needs. One might want to join, perhaps for a year, just to have access to health insurance, until there is a real alternative instead of a speculative one.

    I did not address any other issue. Such as “…merely to have a membership card.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.

    Thank you for your comments.

  32. >> Rantz’s comment was: “it is difficult for a comic creator who is not doing ‘regular illustration’ (i.e. magazine, books, etc) to join” I did not address any other issue, Mr Busiek. I simply addressed the issue of whether or not it is difficult to join.>>

    It certainly appeared that you were responding to Scott Bieser’s question about writers, by pointing out that writers can join but not vote or hold office. I don’t think Scott’s question was about how easy it is to join, but about what use GAG is for writers, and by extension others.

    Joining GAG in order to join GAG, if it isn’t helpful to those writers, amounts to joining merely to have a membership card.

    Sorry if I misread your response as to Scott if it was actually meant for Rantz, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that GAG is not the answer to the issues being raised. Regardless of how easy it is to join as a non-voting member.

  33. Colleen says:

    No worries, Kurt. I’d just posted a bit up thread from that about whether or not it was easy to join the Graphic Artist Guild, and then Beiser responded to me, and I responded again. These things happen.

    The GAG doesn’t really have any teeth in the comics industry, but then when I was on the advisory board, it was very hard to get any participation from the comics end of the industry. The Guild Handbook Of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines has good info, but I don’t know any publisher who follows those guidelines.

    I’d look into joining the Guild to get benefits now, if you need them. These benefits include access to health insurance and discounts on legal services – a lot more than just a membership card.

    Also, I’d certainly look into the possibility of creating an associate org with the Guild before reinventing the wheel.

    Then again, as you say, the Guild’s needs may be so far removed from those of the comics industry that an association may be fruitless. For many years, the Guild tried to get members to boycott work for hire contracts. That had no effect.

  34. >> I’d look into joining the Guild to get benefits now, if you need them. These benefits include access to health insurance and discounts on legal services – a lot more than just a membership card.>>

    I’m not anti-GAG by any means, and think that where it’s useful, it should certainly be considered. I’ll note that GAG doesn’t actually offer any insurance programs — it offers to help members find deals through other organizations, including USFSB and WTFU, although sometimes that help is limited to “go deal with those other guys directly,” and in some cases seems to require another membership fee, though I might well be wrong about that. Still, it might be very useful to some, as might joining some of those other organizations directly, where possible.

    I’ve had health insurance through the National Association for the Self-Employed for years (though their organization seems to have deteriorated over that time, and what was available back then isn’t as widely available now), so I’m all for finding good ways to get benefits even as a freelancer.

    My comments were mostly directed, though, at preventing the impression, however unintentional, that joining GAG could serve to accomplish what Rantz is proposing. There can be useful benefits to many creators, especially those in the New York area, but it’s not a substitute for a comics-focused guild that centers the kind of freelancing and the kind of issues comics people have to juggle.

  35. Colleen says:

    OK, Kurt. We’re good.

  36. Hi,
    I was a volunteer for three or four years, and then a staff organizer for the Graphic Artists Guild. It’s a membership driven organization if comics people wanted to make it work for them it would be the shortest point to making something happen as a group. 10-20 people joining and being active for comics nationwide would probably triple their volunteer base right now.
    On the other hand the Guild at least in the Bay Area has dried up, so who knows how functional it really is.

    And all the unionphobes should stop worrying, it would be considered anti-trust violation of price fixing if a bunch of wimpy little artists organized against poor Disney and Time-Warner. That’s capitalism folks. Our Government has got your fears of communism covered. On the other hand organizing is something Unions do really well. They are interested in working with people, it’s a skill like drawing and writing comics, and artists and writers can even learn it as I found. A number of unions have expressed some interest in organizing artists over the years, sadly most artists love those Republican talking points on unions and blew them off.

    Insurance isn’t going to happen with any Guild, because you have to prove you are a class of people by state, because that’s how we regulate things in this country to achieve critical mass. It was difficult for the Guild with a membership of a 1000 or so to provide it country wide. Insurance companies don’t care about such a spread out group of people. And as the Guild found, it’s really easy to get screwed by insurance companies when your little and don’t have big lawyers. I suspect any freelancer would be better off praying to Crom, and look at Obamacare’s exchanges in 2014 for insurance before investing in a Guild.

    Organizing is hard work but it’s really cool when it works. The California Guild chapter changed sales tax laws in California for the benefit of creatives. I helped end a war with organizing. America elected a black President, twice! health care reform, the stimulus and all the other benefits of the last four years all with organizing. It’s probably the closest you can get to really acquiring super powers in my book. So good luck and if you want some help feel free to contact me.

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