Pre-SPX Thought Purge: Amazon is a Symptom

Some cool stuff is going to happen at SPX. Before I talk about that, let's talk about the stuff that everyone knows I have opinions on so I can talk about nothing but cool stuff later.

TCJ published a piece about Amazon's upcoming presence at SPX and while it wasn't particularly in-depth, it was important that TCJ took a position on it at all (thank RJ for that), and it didn't pull any high-level punches about what a den of complete fucking evil that place is.

I personally don't think it's controversial to say that if you accept the premise of Amazon's evilness, then it follows that they have no place at an independent comic festival. It almost feels like I don't even need to explain this because of the number of levels where this is fucked up. While some reasons for the shittiness of this are important if not a bit glib (e.g. it's got "Small Press" in the fucking name), there are plenty of substantial ones.

For instance, comics is currently at a juncture where small groups here and there are both publicly and privately expressing interest in questions about fair labor practices. Comics hasn't had a semi-legitimate attempt at organizing since 1978. To take a community on the cusp of finally grappling with labor questions for the first time in 40 fucking years and, at its most large and intimate festival, inject one of the largest and most disgusting violators of labor standards in the history of human society in any capacity is a shot across the bow. To ignore this--to not even bring this up--borders on gaslighting.

Any creative guild in the country should have a presence at this show to inform artists about how to make collective strides with respect to material gains in manageable ways. Instead, SPX is explicitly facilitating a foothold for a company that, if it wanted, could buy up every small publisher in existence tomorrow and wipe the current small comic press landscape clean.

"But Austin, that's an absurd scenario. None of the publishers--especially the small press ones--would ever deal with Amazon in that capacity."

Then what the fuck are they doing there?

As usual, despite my strong feelings (of which the above maps only one vector), Kim O'Connor makes a great point in a perpendicular direction.

While I am 100% OK with outright rejecting Amazon's presence anywhere near independent comics (or independent social institutions of... literally any kind whatsoever as long as human society exists in any discernible form),  Kim has a point: there is a vacuum here that people only cynically and vaguely gesture towards and shoo-ing Amazon away will do fuck-all to fix that. The increasingly labor-forward language of others and myself with respect to questions of self-determination for creatives is meaningless if we don't talk actual turkey about how resources are going to flow into these spaces.

If it doesn't look like Amazon, what does it look like?

My hope is that as labor and labor-adjacent discussions gain momentum, people's concerns coalesce around the fact that any meaningful organization of independent comic professionals has to (has to has to has to) be thinking about boring business shit. I think that the business side of comics can be divorced from predatory practices of predatory outsiders, but only if those within comics take it very seriously that only they can solve these problems and it's going to be complicated and shitty and require a lot of collective action.

Short of thousands of Koyama clones acting as benefactors, external support won't work. And while Amazon will likely get chased out with torches, the real issue knocking at the door is small publishers and small festivals themselves more-or-less having free reign to engage in predatory practices within the prevailing culture.

More important than vociferously opposing Amazon is taking pause and asking who opened the door for them and why they have the power to do that.

Austin Lanari

About Austin Lanari

Hacker, writer, critic; Democratize Everything