The Comics Are All Right: Now’s The Time to Be Political

greater_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_states-svgI began “The Comics Are All Right” feature to explore the inner workings of the comic book industry and give a take that’s focused more on data, facts, and examples, not opinion. And for the most part I’ve succeeded diving into actual sales numbers and trends, throwing out hypotheses as to the direction of the industry, giving examples of publishers and stores that are breaking the marketing mold, and more. And, I think I’ve done a decent job of staying away from opinion (Yes that is an opinion. The irony is not lost). But, this one is going to be opinion, sort of. Here we go:

The comic industry needs to get political!

Now, this particular column isn’t what you think it is. I’m not going to debate that politics and comics go hand in hand (they do and have a long history together). No, this is a call for the industry and publishers to become aware of possible legislation and policy changes over the next years and how it’ll impact them.

For almost seven years I worked as the Online Advocacy Director for the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA). During that period we monitored legislation and built campaigns to allow video game consumers to have a voice in the political process about legislation and proposals that directly impacted them. At times those campaigns overlapped with the needs and wants of the video game industry itself. We tackled issues ranging from censorship, broadband expansion, a Supreme Court case, video games and health, Net Neutrality, broadband caps, and more. I’m proud to say, we never lost a battle.

The comic industry will face legislative issues (they always do beyond censorship) and it’s time we recognize this, and do something beyond it. Here’s just a sampling of what we’ll likely have to deal with in the years to come and why it’s important.

Repeal of the ACA aka Obamacare – The pay for comic creators can be pretty low and add on top of that a lack of benefits and it’s clear that eeking out a living as a creator isn’t the easiest or most rewarding career there is. Freelance creators are forced to purchase their own healthcare through the ACA, from a union, a spouse, or through another job. That first option is currently at risk with threats of a repeal which will cost an estimated 18 million people their insurance in the first year.

Our insurance system is flawed, that’s not what this is about, this is about ensuring an easy way for self-employed individuals to gain insurance, not be discriminated against due to pre-existing conditions, and benefiting women and helping with their choice of birth control.

A repeal would increase costs by either putting some individuals in a high cost “risky pool,” deny coverage outright, or increase out of pocket benefits. It’s estimated that women will have to pay $1.4 billion in copay for birth control for instance.

That’s less money in the pockets of creators. More freelance jobs needed to take. Possibly greater cover prices due to the need to charge more by freelancers. Decreased health. Less money means less traveling for conventions. Less interaction because time spent online is time not spent earning money.

Quality of life will decrease for those in the industry.

What this means is the industry needs to start thinking of solutions. A guild through which freelancers could purchase insurance or publishers offering ways for creators to buy into their offerings are both solutions. Now is the time to think this through before it’s too late.

Import Tax – The Trump administration has threatened to create an import tax, the theory of which is it’ll force manufacturers to produce items in the United States. I’m not going to go into the legality of this or how flawed the economic theory is (that’s for another post). Instead, if it goes through, the import tax won’t be paid by corporations, it’ll be paid by the consumers. That $3.99 comic will now be $4.99 or $5.99. Nothing changes except higher retail prices which equates to fewer items sold, stores struggling further, and publishers cutting back or going out of business. No one gains in this scenario, from the consumer through to the publisher, we’re all screwed.

Repeal of Net Neutrality – If you sell digital comics or use the internet to market, you should care about this issue. At it’s basic core, Net Neutrality is the concept that like content online should be delivered at like speeds (it’s more complicated than that, but we’ll stick with the basics). If Comcast offers you internet and voip phone and another service offers voip, Comcast wouldn’t be able to slow down the competitor to benefit their service.

If Net Neutrality goes away the internet becomes pay for play with content producers shelling out money making it more difficult for upstarts to get noticed. It would allow internet providers to outright block content and websites. It could slow down connections making it more difficult for creators to talk to fans, their publishers, or fellow creators to work on projects.

That’s not even getting into data caps.

The Return of SOPA/PIPASOPA/PIPA is online censorship. The legislation was first put forth in 2011 and threats of new versions rear their ugly head every year. We beat it once. It doesn’t mean we will definitely beat it again.

European Rules on Copyright Infringement – Lets not focus on a “what if” and instead focus on the now. A current proposal by the European Commission would adopt new rules requiring platforms to scan and filter user uploads for copyright infringements.

Want to share that cool art? Yeah, not happening. Want to upload a gif? Nope.

SOPA/PIPA was a similar plan and was defeated here in the US, but this is one that’s being discussed, today. As is, the copyright system and its tools are broken. The DMCA is used in ways it wasn’t meant to and the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. A rule like this is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of expression and if you’re in Europe, this should concern you.

Immigration and Travel – The Trump administration that has put out an Executive Order that has thrown our immigration and border system into chaos. Individuals are being asked to hand over their phones and unlock them even if they are US citizens. Not to mention the disturbing questions being asked and social media being mined. The EO threatens all of us, but if you’re a foreign creator or US creator (citizen or not) who has to return from overseas, I’d be nervous right now. Do you enjoy creators being flown from overseas to conventions? This could impact that, at a minimum.

Publishers, creators, and we the fans, need to organize and be aware. These issues will impact our enjoyment within the industry and the ability for publishers and creators to deliver. Now is the time to band together. Now is the time to build an apparatus to lobby and help speak on our behalf. Now is not the time to sit on the side and watch it all pass us by.

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