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Image Comics union Comic Book Workers United announces that its first union contract will be ratified

The announcement comes months after the last public update on the unionization of Image Comics staff

CBWU Image
CBWU Image

One of the most important stories of 2022 with regards to the comic book industry is one that’s been slowly unfolding behind the scenes, as Image Comics and Comic Book Workers United — the first major union of North American comic workers in the industry’s history — have been in negotiations for months over contractual terms for Image staff.

After months of silence, the CBWU has announced that, as of March 1, Image Comics workers have voted to ratify the first union contract in mainstream comics. It’s a historic moment for the industry — but how did we get here?

Secret origins of the Image Comics union

It’s been a little more than a year since Comic Book Workers United announced itself to the world via a Twitter thread. “We, the workers of Image Comics, have formed a union,” the November 1 thread began. “For years, comics publishing workers have watched our professional efforts support creators and delight readers. Sadly, we have also watched that same labor be taken for granted at best and exploited at worst.” Alongside its Twitter account, the group — which consisted of 10 of Image’s 12 staff members — also unveiled a website, which included a list of their specific goals, as well as testimonials from the group’s membership.

An initial deadline of November 5, 2021, for Image Comics to voluntarily recognize the union passed with Image refusing to do so — the publisher instead released a statement saying that the National Labor Relations Board was reviewing a petition to allow staff to vote for representation, adding, “we are confident that the resolution to these efforts will have positive long-term benefits.” Instead, an election was set in place for mid-December, with results announced January 6, 2022: with only 2 staff members voting against the union, Image Comics had officially become the first unionized comic book publisher in the United States.

The first of many comic book publisher unions?

Becoming the first unionized comic book publisher was a feat — one all the more impressive in that it followed literally decades of failed attempts to do the same, with some previous efforts resulting in the wide scale dismissal of creative and editorial talent at publishers.

Notably, Comic Book Workers United is made up not of independent freelance creators, but employees at a specific publisher, which is a significant differentiator for this effort compared with those in the past; that said, it wasn’t as if such thoughts hadn’t been entertained before. “I can’t even remember how many times my former Marvel co-workers and I floated the idea of unionization,” writer, editor, and former Marvel staff Alejandro Arbona told the Hollywood Reporter. “For us, it was just idle speculation and wishful thinking. Unfortunately, we always came to the same self-defeating conclusions about who’d join us, who wouldn’t, and how the company would respond.”

Image’s success inspired others; in late May, staff at Seven Seas Entertainment announced the formation of the United Workers of Seven Seas, becoming the first U.S. manga publisher to unionize. After initially rejecting calls to voluntarily recognize the union, Seven Seas eventually performed an about-turn and recognized the union in late June. Find out more about the United Workers of Seven Seas’ goals here.

The events behind the scenes of the Image Comics union

After winning the election to be recognized, things went quiet for the Comic Book Workers United, at least in terms of the public view. Between early January and early May, the group was silent, leading many to wonder what — if anything — was happening with the union. The answer was, simply, that things take time, especially when breaking new ground.

On May 30, the group released a statement reading, “We understand that after the initial excitement of winning the vote, a period of relative silence can be a bit anticlimactic, but this is all a normal part of the process. We have been working diligently behind the scenes to make certain our union is able to achieve its objectives once we begin collaborating with Image Comics on the contract. We're grateful for everyone's patience and interest are happy to be able to inform you that we are now moving to this new stage in the process.”

The end of the beginning?

On March 2, CBWU released a statement that read, “The CBWU is proud to announce that, on March 1st 2023, the workers of Image Comics voted overwhelmingly to ratify our first union contract! We were hopeful for, but could never have imagined, the outpouring of support we received when we began our collective bargaining journey. A lot has happened since that first announcement and we cannot begin to adequately express our gratitude to the community of people within and without the industry who have stood with us during contract negotiations. 

“As we celebrate this victory, we also want to take the opportunity to reaffirm that this contract is just the first step among many and we hope you will stick with us as we continue the fight for union representation and more equitable working conditions for everyone in the comic book industry and beyond. In closing, to those of you out there agitating, advocating, and organizing, we see you and we can’t wait to see, ‘What’s next?’”

That question is sure to be one on multiple people’s lips in the wake of this moment: is Image Comics, courtesy of the CBWU, breaking new ground and blazing trails that will be followed by other comic publishers? And if so, when will workers at other publishers — beyond Seven Seas Entertainment — start to make these moves?

Popverse will continue to track this story as it grows.

Last December, Oni Press named a new president and publisher as Hunter Gorinson stepped into the role in the latest change for the company’s that’s had a particularly eventful 2022.

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Graeme McMillan

Staff Writer

Popverse staff writer Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.

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