Robot 6

Will the comics industry resolve to take care of its own?

Graphic Artists Guild

Over the holidays, writer Peter David announced on his blog that he had suffered a stroke. On New Year’s Eve, his wife Kathleen explained more, and another update followed Tuesday. She’s planning to let people know of David’s recovery on a daily basis.

Our thoughts are definitely with him and his family and friends. As the husband of someone with multiple sclerosis and lupus, I can somewhat relate to what they’re going through. A health scare like what they’re going through is just that, scary. Really, it’s downright terrifying. In addition to the emotional response and challenging medical decisions to be made, there’s also the question of how to pay for the ambulance ride, CAT scan, MRI, multiple other tests, medication, physical therapy, and whatever else. I don’t know David’s healthcare situation, but it reminded me how many freelancers and self-employed workers, which is the vast majority of comic book creators, have little to no healthcare benefits of any kind.

Rantz Hoseley recently sent out to creators and other industry figures a rough outline for a proposed American Sequential Arts Guild, which would include access to healthcare coverage for members. Note that he is not proposing a union, but instead an advocacy group. Some discussion ensued, like on this thread at The Beat. But I haven’t seen much movement since. Perhaps it’s happening privately, but based on past incidents, I fear it’s not.

In 2010, Tony Harris was working on creating the Sequential Arts and Entertainment Guild (SAEG, pronounced “sage”). Discussions were held on Twitter, and it seemed like some momentum was gathering, with professionals like Steve Niles and Ron Marz joining in, and allegedly some “big names” expressing interest. But nothing ever came of it.

The only time the comics industry has successfully had a guild was briefly in 1978. Neal Adams formed the Comics Creators Guild, which had a healthy roster of the day’s top creators as members. Unfortunately the “DC Implosion” of ’78 left too many people unemployed and it fizzled away.

There is the National Cartoonists Society and more regional organizations, such as the Comic Art Professional Society and Comicbook Artists Guild, but they are primarily focused to providing networking opportunities. There are guilds and unions that can help portions of the industry, such as the Writers Guild of America (West and East) and the Graphic Artists Guild, and while they may fulfill the need for healthcare assistance, they aren’t as familiar with the unique situations of the comics industry and may not always consider comics work as a qualifying job. Plus relying on those other organizations still leaves colorists, letterers, independent editors and others out in the cold.

So is a comics guild possible? I hope so, but there are significant hurdles.

First are the geographic challenges. The comic book industry is most decidedly an international field. While the largest publishers are located in the United States, they utilize freelancers from across the globe. By the title he offers, Hoseley seems to be limiting his version to Americans, but that would eliminate a significant percentage of participants and weaken what the guild could accomplish. Including them in healthcare insurance might be difficult because of differing laws from country to country. For citizens of Canada and other countries that provide full healthcare coverage, health insurance may not even be a compelling reason to become a member.

Second is the different concerns for freelancers versus creators that work on their own creator-owned comics or webcomics. Hoseley’s guild seems most focused on freelancers, but self-employed creators don’t need to worry about fair page rates from publishers. For a guild to survive, it needs to be beneficial to as much as the industry as possible. And that means not just people working for Marvel and DC, but every sector of the industry: mid-sized publishers, small publishers, creators who work mostly in the book trade with graphic novels, producers of comic strips, minicomics, webcomics, digital comics and more. Are the needs of all of these people too varied? Can a single entity fairly represent everyone?

For those that suddenly find themselves in a frightening situation like Peter David does now, the industry really owes it to its creators to provide some kind of support that other industries provide. The Hero Initiative has been helping cover medical and other expenses for creators in need for a number of years now, but it’s high time that something more than an emergency safety net with limited resources be put into place. With the New Year, it’s time comics resolve to work together for some kind of form long-term solution.

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Comments

13 Comments

From my perspective, this unfortunate set of circumstances is a symptom of a nationwide problem; you have a dysfunctional, overpriced healthcare system that serves the needs of insurance companies & big pharma first, the citizens who actually pay for it, second.

I’m based in the UK. We have a national health service, free at the point of delivery. And, right wing rhetoric aside, the UK certainly isn’t a rampant, socialistic state. Far from it!

People get the governments they deserve. Perhaps the same applies to a nation’s health management.

It’s a ridiculous situation for the most powerful nation on Earth to be in.

I agree, the UK and Canada and provide full healthcare cover for all citizens, we pay for this in our taxes, and we wouldn’t be without it. If I were hit by a drunk driver, I wouldn’t lose my house or go bankrupt paying for medical care that keeps me alive. America’s a lovely place, but I do not understand how anyone tolerates the healthcare situation. People say ‘buy insurance’, but insurers are allowed to refuse people with genetically inherited conditions and they are the ones that need healthcare the most. So why not just raise taxes and nationalise healthcare for everyone? If Britain and Canada can do it, then why can’t America?

And how many people die every year in the UK and Canada waiting for the goverment to decide it is their turn for healthcare? Look up the numbers on how many people have their appendix rupture because the goverment has decided they have payed for enough appendectomys that month, or the people who are deemed to sick to be worth the money in the first place. When you implement socialized medicine you take away all individual choice. You go to the doctor the goverment tells you to. You take the medicine the goverment tells you to. You have surgery when and if the goverment allows it. We need healthcare reform in this country but we do not need to jump blindly into another flawed system. Change does not always equal progress.

But as for the actual post here, I think a guild for comics creators would be beneficial. Allowing collective bargaining for health insurance, retirement plans, legal help, ect. seems like it would help the medium as a whole. I’m not a comic creator and I have no idea how one would go about starting a guild so all I really have to say on the subject is “Good Luck.”

Well to answer why America can’t do it (certainly not as easily) as Britain and Canada, this is one of the things that I’ve read: Canada has 35 million citizens. Britain 63 million. The US has 312 million.

There aren’t enough doctors! (And many that there are wouldn’t be as interested to put in all that money and time to get the job title for less money and more work.)

So even if taxes were raised, more doctors would be needed. If you couldn’t get enough doctors on the job (for any number of reasons) folks would be paying these taxes for a service they couldn’t use in as timely a fashion and we’d be back at square one logistically.

Are there solutions? Of course there are. Plenty have been suggested (everything from tort reform and allowing insurance competition across state lines towards forgiveness grants to med students, taking care of their school fees in exchange for X amount of years working those grants off at nationalized clinics, and more suggestions I can’t remember now.) Name a suggestion, you can find a political opponent and that’ll mire things.

Bear in mind, I’d like to see a solution. I can’t even come close to affording insurance anymore! Something needs doing, the catch is, it can’t just be ANY thing.

Please disregard the above post. It is filled with ignorance and false, politicized rhetoric. In Canada, we have complete individual choice. We see whatever doctor we want and get whatever medicine the doctor prescribes (often at out-of-pocket cost, which is why many of us carry supplemental health insurance). The government has *absolutely no say* in personal healthcare decisions, only general funding. Wait times are a fact of life for surgeries or to see specialists, but that is largely due to doctor availability, not government decisions. No emergency goes untreated. There are “horror stories” in any system, but don’t confuse those with everyday reality. Any American who thinks that they’re in better hands with their insurance providers are absolutely delusional. BTW, I worked in the US healthcare system for 5 years as a licensed, professional healthcare provider, so I do actually know what I’m talking about. The US system can be a nightmare for patients and even their doctors, who are handcuffed by insurance decisions. When I worked in the US, stroke patients were prioritized in rehab depending on their insurance coverage, some getting absolutely paltry treatment— even though they had insurance. US insurance companies also decide what tests will be covered and what medicines can be provided. Does that sound like “individual choice” is protected? Not at all. US doctors, in fact, can get extremely frustrated by the insurance comanies (I know this based on working with them and being related to one). In Canada, everyone is treated equally. Why does this concept scare people? Do people think we defend our system just due to politics? No, it’s actually a good system. Flawed, but good. And I’d never want anything close to the US system, thank you very much.

(Breathe. ;) )

The comic guild looks like a great idea, and I hope it gets traction. But yes, the insurance option would really only benefit US residents, due to how policies are created and used.

Oops, someone else posted before I got done. By “the above post”, I of course meant James’.

The problem with the US is simple: it’s right-wing conservatives are among the most ideological in the planet. if you gave them a choice between drinking piss in a glass with the letters “free market” in it, and ambrosia in a glass with the letters “socialism” in it, they’d drink the piss. And praise it as a high quality beverage.

Most of these comments (except for the inevitable repost from fox news) are getting it right. This is not an industry problem, it’s a societal problem. Which has been made more intractable, in part, by the failed idea that health coverage should be provided and paid for as an employee benefit.

As comics professionals’ very situation points out, however, this is stupid. Every living person potentially needs expensive health care, whether they are employed full time, employed part time, unemployed, between jobs, retired or freelancing. It has nothing to do with their employment status or industry.

As a freelancer (with an expensive, incurable “pre-existing condition”) myself, I can tell you that the system we have designed around employer-based private insurance does not work. (You want to talk about freedom? My doctor is free to prescribe me whatever she thinks I need, I am free to go to any pharmacy with that prescription, and they are free to demand several hundred dollars per month for it, of which my insurer is free to pay essentially nothing because despite my best efforts in selecting from the 100s and 100s of confusing plans on the market I got one with a big loophole, and for now I’m stuck with it because I have a pre-existing condition.)

The Affordable Care Act will begin making meaningful improvements to this next year, though it will still be a patch on a bad system rather than an overhaul.

If you really want to solve this problem, forget guilds and industries and advocate for a single-payer system, i.e. efficient, proven and sane “socialized medicine.”

The term “guild” has certain innate connotations. With the emphasis on “craft” floating around in certain comics circles, it would be really helpful if there was an actual master/apprentice system in place that would help up-and-coming creators learn the ropes and avoid some of the very basic beginner mistakes. Having a journeyman level that had some degree of actual publishing support would be a nice to have, but not necessarily a requirement.

sadly as much as peter condition should be a wake up call for other in the industry that the industry needs to step up more to the plate and take care of those who work to keep the field viable. not only the costs of trying to set up some system like that but also the issue of like would warners or disney want to shell out the cost of letting free lancers have some insurance even knowing they are considered temp workers from time to time. for saldy more in the comic field will wind up proably facing some health crisis in the future and wonder how to pay the bill out of their own pocket

One of the questions this brings up that no one wants to talk about is, should comic creators for the big two (or big four) go back to being company men 1960s style in exchange for health insurance? That’s a problem growing in every industry as there are more freelancers as corporations try to figure out a way to make more money (not because they are evil, but because making more money is what corporations are designed to do). The way it ends up working for most folks I know is having a spouse that is able to get you on their healthcare plan, also having a spouse that has a more consistent income than a freelancer is a big plus too.

@James – you have been fed some incorrect right wing notions about how health care works in Canada.

> I can get an appointment to my family doctor pretty much any day, MON-FRI same day.
> If I have an emergency, I can go to my local hospital any day.
> The only “wait times” that occur are in situations where you need a particular type of surgeon or specialist and the nearest ones have busy calendars [which get modified depending on urgency of situation]
> How many die waiting in those situations where a waiting list does apply? Far fewer than those who die from not having insurance in the USA.
> We did not lose individual choice at all – that is another irritating myth. I have changed doctors multiple times over the years. The government does not mandate who treats me or what medicine I take.
> While some waiting lists arise, it is not a matter of “when the government tells you” [cue ominous sounding music meant to conjure up the dreaded "Red Scare"].

Oh.. and as for the comic creator guild – a truly fine, excellent idea that will sadly, most likely never happen.

Why?

Because there isn’t even anything approaching commonality, let alone a level playing field, in a freelance industry. Some people are paid minimally, some get by and some are outright stars — for a time. There is so much disconnect between indie, small press, mid level publishers and the big 3. Their concerns, approaches and needs are vastly different.

Perhaps the best solution would be big 3 become salaried with benefits [like CrossGen attempted] and the indie community up to mid level publishers work with a creators guild. That, might stand a better chance than trying to form a guild that could equally represent the struggling creator self-publishing and the latest big contract signed by the “Hot” creator at DC/Marvel…

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