Comic Creators should Boycott Kickstarter

Comic Creators should Boycott Kickstarter

For those who have not yet heard, Kickstarter recently fired two employees who were each heavily involved with unionizing efforts at the company. Then, Current Affairs, a left-wing "politics & culture" magazine (quotes for use of their description, not for sarcastic emphasis!) put out a joint statement with other editorial boards, encouraging other Kickstarter creators to sign on in support of Kickstarter's unionization efforts. From the letter:

Kickstarter’s unionizing workers have  not asked for a boycott of the platform. However, if the union believed  it undermined their organizing effort we could not continue to work  with Kickstarter. We will support them throughout their campaign in any  way they ask.

At the time of writing this, there are several editorial boards signed on and over 230 independent Kickstarter creators. I want to give a particular shout out to The Nib's editorial board, since I've been hard on The Nib in the past, although those criticisms were about content and not about the politics of The Nib or the way that it's run. I think it's important to see one of the few well-known outlets regularly paying comic creators out here supporting labor.

Some time around the time that the first unionizer got fired, I remember reading a piece talking about how it was surprising that Kickstarter, of all companies, given its public-benefit mandate, would be the one engaging in union-busting behavior (I'd look for the link but I'm at lunch and I just need to get this all out, honestly).

Let's take a look at Kickstarter's own opinion of itself as a "Public Benefit Corporation" from its own post about it four years ago.

At one point, they mention that in their charter they "declare how [they] plan to conduct [themselves] in situations that are often swayed by profit motives." Many of the bits in the charter to this effect are commitments not to tax-dodge and to give back some percentage of after-profits earnings to arts programs. Mentions of employees are limited to mentoring of underrepresented hires and "foster[ing] a supportive environment for employees to work  on their own creative projects, including time off to pursue them."

The charter reads as fairly centered on Kickstarter being of public benefit to the arts.

For that reason, I think it is vital that people in comics and the arts more generally – although I focus here on comics not just because that's what I usually talk about but because of its stature on Kickstarter – lead the charge and take things a step further than the Current Affairs piece suggests: comic creators should boycott Kickstarter, at minimum, until the company addresses the issue of unionization in good faith.

It's not obvious to me that boycotting first without taking the lead of internal unionization efforts would harm the unionization effort itself (although obviously I'd be happy for someone internal to the effort to correct me on this). It is important that Kickstarter's claim that it is a public benefit corporation – its claim that its role in the public arts community dovetails with its role as a for-profit corporation – is rebuffed by that same community if, in fact, Kickstarter is running afoul of its stated public benefit.

The employees at the center of unionization efforts within Kickstarter are first-and-foremost fighting for their rights as workers: I think that the task of holding Kickstarter accountable as a PBC (public benefit corporation) squarely falls with the public it's supposed to benefit. And, given an apparent recent upswell in organizational and unionization talks in the comics community, it seems prudent to send a message to Kickstarter and to everyone else that you cannot be in favor of the art community while being anti-worker. Giving any amount of money to art programs is not sufficient if you are actively working to undermine other, more robust forms of institutional support that stretch beyond a single company.

Austin Lanari

About Austin Lanari

Call me a bedbug to my face.