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.
A. T. Pratt
Aim Ren Beland
Birdcage Bottom Books
Cathy G. Johnson
Dalbert B. Vilarino
Daniel L. Werneck
David Ziggy Greene
Festival Workers Association
Jason Adam Katzenstein
Kori Michele Handwerker
Laurel Lynn Leake
Liz Bolduc Sux
M. Sabine Rear
Melody T. Newcomb
Mia Hye Mardikian
Ollie Paige Linden
Read More Comix
Sara L. Jewell
T Edward Bak
Victoria Grace Elliott
Zach Hazard Vaupen
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