An Open Letter to Comics Festivals

This is a letter from artists, writers, publishers, volunteers, workers, and other members of the comics community demanding festivals cease accepting sponsorship money from the Amazon subsidiary ComiXology. ComiXology, the digital distribution platform and marketplace for comics, was bought by Amazon in 2014. ComiXology/Amazon’s sponsorship of Bethesda’s Small Press Expo (SPX) raised public questions and controversy in 2018, as did its sponsorship of multiple other comics festivals, including the Toronto Comics Art Festival (TCAF), Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), and Thought Bubble. Commendably, TCAF no longer lists ComiXology as a partner on their website, but the relationship between the company and other festivals remains unclear.

SPX, a nonprofit, additionally operates as a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). ComiXology CEO and co-founder David Steinberger joined the CBLDF board of directors in June of 2019.

Amazon’s horrific labour abuses are well-documented. The company subjects its workers to inhumane working conditions (example 1; example 2; example 3) and regularly suppresses their efforts to unionize (example 1). Additionally, the company’s physical presence decimates the neighbourhoods, towns, and cities it occupies, leaving behind a legacy of displacement that disproportionately affects marginalized communities (example 1; example 2).

Amazon also hosts Palantir, the tech company that provides Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) information about undocumented people in order to arrest and detain them, and which has been implicated in the surveillance of union organizers and activists. Immigrant rights groups such as Mijente, Cosecha, and Never Again Action have been at the front lines of documenting and protesting the link between Amazon and ICE. On August 14th, 2019, an ICE agent drove a truck into a crowd of demonstrators outside the Wyatt Detention Centre in Rhode Island. Local cartoonists were amongst the protesters whose lives were threatened. SPX prides itself on its roster of international artists, which makes partnering with a corporation benefitting from the incarceration of migrants all the more unconscionable.

Art is not apolitical, and art workers are not afforded special neutrality as innocent bystanders. We must examine the ways in which Amazon uses sponsorships to whitewash its brutal exploitation of workers and the disastrous effects it has on the cities it moves into. We must examine our culpability in a system that enforces and profits from the violent, inhumane treatment of immigrants; a system of sting raid operations and concentration camps that separates families and murders both children and adults via neglect. When we take money from Amazon and look the other way, we are allowing these actions to happen with our silence.

Comics and the DIY ethos of small publishing have fostered a long and storied culture of radical independence. Independent cartoonists have worked to create communities welcoming of all voices, especially those on the margins, and including those targeted by ICE. Amazon looks to shield itself within our communities by buying into both the commerce and culture of our medium.

After a renewed round of public pressure voicing objections to the ComiXology partnership in August, SPX quietly removed any mention of the company from their website and dropped them as a sponsor. We applaud SPX and its organizers for listening to these concerns and being willing to work with the greater comics community to consider alternate sources of funding. We ask that they make a public statement announcing their decision and commit to refusing Amazon’s money going forward.

Furthermore, we intend to seize this momentum and demand from all comics festivals:

  • The full severance of ties from Amazon/ComiXology, including the company’s ongoing sponsorships of CXC and Thought Bubble.
  • A public pledge to not accept any future partnerships with Amazon/Comixology.
  • Complete transparency regarding sponsorships and money allocation. Artists should be able to provide input and make informed decisions about what our participation in any festival entails.

This is not an indictment of any of the festivals mentioned in this letter, nor their organizers. The connections and support offered to us from spaces like these have rarely felt more vital. Comics is not a lucrative industry, but we cannot allow Amazon to exploit our precarity and instability to buy our silence. When we contribute our money, time, and labor to these festivals, we deserve to know how they are being used, and from where festivals’ sponsorship money is coming. We sign this letter to register our dissent, demand more from our institutions, and show our solidarity with the organizing efforts being led by local and national immigrant rights groups.

Comics has always figured out how to do it on our own. We will not accept their money when it comes at the expense of our neighbours, our families, our communities, our jobs, and ourselves.

Signed,

A. T. Pratt
Aaron Polk
Aaron Renier
Aatmaja Pandya
ABO Comix
Aim Ren Beland
Alecia Gatlin
Alejandro Bruzzese
Alex Degen
Alex Hoffman
Alex Nall
Amanda Castillo
Ana Smith
Andrew Alexander
Ann Xu
Anna McGlynn
Annie Mok
Bailey Sharp
Barry Deutsch
Beatrix Urkowitz
Becca Tobin
Becky Hawkins
Ben Cohen
Ben Juers
Ben Sears
Bennett Hixson
Birdcage Bottom Books
Caitlin Skaalrud
Cameron Lucente
Carl Antonowicz
Caroline Cash
Caroline Hu
Casey Nowak
Cathy G. Johnson
Chris Kuzma
Christine Wong
Cleopatria Peterson
Colleen Tighe
Conor Stechschulte
Courtney Menard
Dalbert B. Vilarino
Dan Nott
Daniel L. Werneck
David Ziggy Greene
Dean Sudarsky
Dresden Douglas
Eleanor Davis
Eli Valley
Elisha Lim
Emma Elliott
Entropy Editions
Eric Kim
Ethan Heitner
Evan Dahm
Evan Morien
Femicomix Finland
Festival Workers Association
Flynn Nicholls
Fortuna Media
Frank Gidlewski
Frankie Johnson
Gale Galligan
Garrett Young
Gianluca Costantini
Gina Wynbrandt
Giovanny Cardenas
Glom Press
Gloria Rivera
Graham Chaffee
Haan Lee
Harris Smith
Hiller Goodspeed
Ilan Manouach
Io Ascarium
Iris Jay
J. Andrew World
Jack Hayden
Jackie Roche
Jade Armstrong
Jason Adam Katzenstein
Jax Sandoval
Jen Wang
Jesse Jacobs
Jesse DeNobrega
Jessi Zabarsky
Jessica Campbell
Jessica Trevino
Jillian Tamaki
Jim O’Boyle
Jonathan Dyck
Jordan Crane
Jordan Jeffries
J.T. Yost
Jules Zuckerberg
Julian Glander
Katie Fricas
Kelly McNulty
Kelsey Wroten
Ken Eppstein
Kevin Budnik
Kevin Czap
Kevin Huizenga
Kimball Anderson
Kimberly Edgar
Kori Michele Handwerker
Kris Mukai
Kristine Evans
Kurt Ankeny
Kyle Kerezsi
Lala Albert
Laura Knetzger
Laura Lannes
Laura Lewis
Laurel Lynn Leake
Leela Corman
Lido Pimienta
Lis Xu
Lisa Hanawalt
Liz Bolduc Sux
Liz Suburbia
Lucy Comer
Lyle Partridge
M. Sabine Rear
Madeleine Witt
Malak Omer
Marc Pearson
Maria Photinakis
Marley Allen-Ash
Mark Connery
Marnie Galloway
Matt Lubchansky
Matthew K. Hoddy
Meg O’Shea
Melanie Gillman
Melody T. Newcomb
Meredith Park
Meredith Smallwood
Mia Hye Mardikian
Michael DeForge
Michael Hawkins
Mickey Zacchilli
Natalie Mark
Nate Powell
Nero O’Reilly
Niki Smith
Nix Comics
Noel Freibert
O.K. Fox
Olive Brinker
Olivia Kim
Ollie Paige Linden
Paloma Hernando
Pascal Girard
Patrick Kyle
Phil McAndrew
Priya Huq
Quinn Amacher
Read More Comix
Rebecca Mock
Reilly Hadden
Remus Jackson
Richie Pope
RJ Casey
Roxanne Palmer
Ryan Sands
Sabrina Scott
Sage Coffey
Sage Persing
Sara L. Jewell
Sarah Crowe
Sarah Glidden
Simon Moreton
Simon Reinhardt
Sophia Foster-Dimino
Sophie Yanow
Spencer Winans
Stephen Favell
Sunmi
T Edward Bak
Tanna Tucker
Tom Whalen
Tyler Cohen
Victor Martins
Victoria Grace Elliott
Vincent Giard
Vinnie Neuberg
Wenting Li
Whit Taylor
Will Cardini
Zach Hazard Vaupen
Zachary Clemente
Zine Daze

If you are a member of the comics community and are interested adding your name or the name of an organization you represent to this list of signees, please e-mail CartoonistsAgainstAmazon@protonmail.com

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