While comics has made major strides to become more inclusive to those who the medium has historically mistreated or barred, what hasn’t always kept pace are the relations of power that define its institutions. The horrifying realities of our contemporary politics, the pressing need to defend things like the fundamental humanity of groups under assault, has surpassed much of what our received modes are able to bear. Within this context, what has also been exposed is that these threats are not exclusive to the state or its top-down impositions of ideology. They instead exist within a broader, bottom-up culture of intimidation and violence, where such dangers are often misunderstood or underestimated by those not exposed to them.
Without transparency and democratically-elected representation for workers, we believe that institutions can’t understand, respond to, and protect all of those whose labor they rely on to exist. The precarity of those working in the medium requires that they have access to safe, separate channels with which to defend themselves and advocate for their interests.
Although it’s direly important that we set aside any defaults in comics that endanger us, we recognize that creating new circumstances is a collective struggle, for which we’re all responsible. To this end, and to provide a way forward, we’d ask that Comics Arts Brooklyn adopt the following principles:
Festivals need to open their books.
Artists and their publishers shouldn’t be asked to pay thousands in fees or have money solicited in their names without there being 100% transparency in accounting. All revenue, expenditures, and payments/gifts in kind made to staff, special guests, or outside persons and organizations should be publicly disclosed.
Artists need a say in festivals.
No matter how-well intentioned, those who manage these events are not sufficient proxies for the needs and concerns of those whose labor makes them possible. Artists should have their own independent, democratically-elected representation included in the planning and execution of festivals.
Festivals need to make honest and measurable commitments to understanding and reducing costs for all exhibitors.
Too much of their initial financing and too much of the risk associated with their performance is being placed on the backs of artists and their publishers. Festivals need to first devote themselves to improving the material standing of all of their exhibitors before growing themselves in ways that result in higher costs or subsidize the few at the expense of the many.
If someone is getting paid, everyone is getting paid.
If a festival is providing compensation or gifts in kind to its staff, special guests, or others, everyone else should be compensated for their participation in readings, instructional sessions, or similar festival-related activities.
Festivals need formal commitments to diversity and inclusion, including favoring broad, need-based support over hierarchical or individual celebrations.
Dispossession on the basis of things like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia is a systemic problem. It must be countered systematically with means that improve the standing of all members of these communities, not just for the most visible or well-established.
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