Workers at Image Comics Want to Form the First Ever Comics Union

The organized labor movement is coming for the land of superheroes and ink-stained wretches

By Karly Quadros November 11, 2021

Employees at Image Comics in Portland want to form the country's first-ever union for comics workers.

At its core, Portland is a comic book city, home to both major studio artistic heavyweights like Brian Michael Bendis and independent auteurs like Craig Thompson and Joe Sacco. And of course, Bridge City is host to beloved comics publishers big and small.  

So it’s no surprise that, amidst a wave of energy around organized labor, workers from Portland-based Image Comics have begun forming the first ever comic book workers union. 

Comic Book Workers Unite made the announcement on November 1 in a statement signed by ten of the company’s twelve employees. 

In the statement, union members describe an all too familiar workplace culture. “Keeping our heads above water was the new normal before the pandemic and since its onset we have been expected to take on even larger workloads with fewer resources,” they wrote. “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.” 

As of November 5, Image Comics has failed to voluntarily recognize the union. As a result, Comic Book Workers Unite has filed a petition with the National Labor Review Board to hold a union election. 

Since January there have been nearly 300 strikes across the United States, with Portland seeing its fair share of union activity.  

Local Kaiser Permanente health care workers are preparing to join thousands in a national strike on November 15. Over 3,400 local union members voted to authorize a strike over a new two-tier compensation system and meager proposed raises. 

Meanwhile Portland-based members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) geared up for a strike, protesting unfair wages and taxing hours for crew members. Film and television production across America nearly screeched to a halt in mid-October before a last-minute deal was reached between union leadership and Hollywood’s major studios. However, it is still unclear whether union members will vote to approve the deal. 

Even workers at tourist honeypot Voodoo Donuts are battling to get formal union recognition. In June, twelve workers went on strike during the heat wave that rocketed Portland’s temperatures to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, prompting retaliatory firings and subsequent rehirings. 

Comic Book Workers Unite also cited the founders of Image Comics as inspiration for the union. “Their dreams of self-determination and more equitable treatment in the industry they loved and helped make successful are also our dreams,” wrote organizers. 

Image Comics was founded in 1992 by several prominent comic book illustrators including Todd McFarlane, best known for his work on Spawn and The Amazing Spider-man; Rob Liefeld, best known for creating Deadpool; and Jim Lee, who is now Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. 

Although Image’s output was initially dominated by superhero and fantasy characters from other major studios, it is now best known for its independently created publications such as Saga, Spawn, and Invincible, some of which have made the leap to streaming giants like HBO and Amazon. 

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