Comics Publishers Are Promising Change, but Does That Include From Within?

Comics Publishers Are Promising Change, but Does That Include From Within?
Cover art for BLACK #6. (Image: Khary Randolph, Black Mask Studios)

The protests that emerged against systemic racism and police brutality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis show no sign of slowing down, leading to a moment for people and companies to reflect on the ways they contribute to that system. That includes comic book publishers. Many are showing support and promising change, but most of the publishers Gizmodo reached out to didn’t say how.

The past week has seen a lot of pain, but it’s also sparked some changes. Derek Chauvin, the officer who was caught on camera pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest, has now been charged with second-degree murder ” and the three officers who stood by while Floyd said he couldn’t breathe have been charged as accomplices. In addition, Breonna Taylor’s case has been reopened, though none of the officers involved in her murder have been arrested.

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The deaths of Floyd and Taylor ” along with the repeated instances of police brutality against peaceful protesters ” serve as more proof of why the Black Lives Matter movement has been fighting for police accountability for years. But they have also sparked an unprecedented corporate response as creative and consumer industries reckon once more with issues of race. So far, these statements have come with mixed results. Media companies like Disney and ViacomCBS have donated money to causes benefiting the Black community, and dozens of companies participated in a media blackout on Tuesday to raise awareness (though that came with some backlash).

Among the brands responding to this global pushback of anti-racism were, of course, comic book publishers, and likewise, research by Gizmodo has found that so far results have been mixed beyond statements acknowledging the moment. So far, only a few have announced fundraising plans. Most of the others have shared statements of solidarity or, in the case of Marvel Comics and DC Comics, simply reverberated statements from their parent companies. We wanted to see what else they were doing, internally and externally.

To find out, Gizmodo reached out to 13 comic book companies ” Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Z2 Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, IDW Publishing, Valiant Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Archie Comics, Boom Studios, Comixology, Vault Comics, and Black Mask Studios. Only four responded to our queries (one, Boom Studios, declined to comment). Archie Comics donated one day of sales to the Equal Justice Initiative last week (Black Mask Studios has also been donating online proceeds to bail funds, but weren’t able to respond to our queries).

In a statement given to Gizmodo, Archie Comics revealed that it more than doubled its typical online sales during its 24-hour campaign. A company spokesperson said Archie Comics is exploring options for matching the funds or doing separate donations: “The team sat down and had an honest conversation: ‘what can we do to help that isn’t performative?’ We wanted to take a notable action. We have a meaningful platform and Archie has always stood out as a progressive and inclusive place and it felt like the right thing to do.”

Z2 Comics might be a smaller comic book company, but it’s putting in a larger amount of work to help than some of the bigger publishers. The company recently announced a $US5,000 ($7,146) donation to Fair Fight, a group that fights voter suppression efforts. In addition, company heads said they’re offering free counselling for all employees and their families to help during this time. Publisher Josh Franken noted that they’re looking to donate between 10-20 per cent of sales to charities by the end of the year. He also criticised other companies for solidarity campaigns that started and stopped at tweeting.

“We’ve seen countless companies pay lip service to morals and beliefs, then not pay their creators on time or sweep things under the rug, etc. In that vein, we’ve always felt walking the walk was more important than talking the talk,” Franken said. “By completely ignoring the situation, you’re tacitly approving of it or saying this is not our problem ” when, in fact, systemic racism is a problem every society faces.”

For other publishers, it started and stopped at tweeting. Most of the companies Gizmodo reached out to had previously shared a statement of solidarity (with the exception of Dynamite Entertainment, which only shared GoFundMe campaigns for comic book stores that were looted in the protests’ early days). Vault Comics‘ statement even petitioned for police reforms. Other companies retweeted resources to help protesters or ways to support Black creators (many of them coming from comic writer Gail Simone’s Twitter thread).

Image Comics is one of the companies that hasn’t released a statement online yet. In a statement to Gizmodo, it said it’s because it has instead focused on promoting the work of their Black creators: “We have not yet made any formal statement other than to hold back some of the promotions we had planned for the week and pivot toward amplifying the work of our Black creators, because we believe our response should be more than just a statement. As much as we can, we are highlighting the work of our Black creators to readers eager for diverse comics to pick up.”

It’s not entirely surprising that most of these companies aren’t donating money at the moment. It’s a a huge impact on the industry. Of course, it’s not impossible for publishers to find a few hundred or thousand dollars to help out, especially when employees are asking their employers to simply match what they’ve already given. But that can be a tough ask during a recession sparked by an unprecedented global pandemic. However, that’s only one part of it.

The comics industry has faced longtime criticism for its representation problems, both on and off the page. For example, Marvel Comics’ Editor in Chief C.B. Cebulski previously wrote comics for the publisher under a Japanese pseudonym (he doesn’t have Asian ancestry). In addition, Disney and Marvel continue to stand by as police officers use the Punisher logo, against the will of the character’s creators. Not to mention, an overwhelming majority of publishers, editors, and other decision-makers are white, and that influences the types of stories that are told and who gets to tell them.

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When asked about addressing issues of systemic bias, the companies that responded said they’re taking a hard look within. But no one is offering concrete answers on how they plan to do that or whether it will mean actual structural changes. Statements of solidarity are a step, but it’s clear that many companies, including comic book publishers, haven’t thought about how Black Lives Matter should impact them. Only time will tell whether that changes.

Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.