No cheesecake ’til Brooklyn.

In my search for new employment I’ve come to the realization that many employers are seeking free labor and are not shy in plainly asking for it.

It bothers me.

I have never provided free labor, though I’ve not always worked for money. I’ve been lucky to have been granted immensely beneficial internships where I was provided valuable instruction regarding the publishing industry. An internship is a trade. The mentor provides training and key industry contacts; the intern provides assistance—and often content or a product to be sold. There is a bartering system in place. More importantly, a relationship between the apprentice and his or her mentor should be established and maintained, even as roles change. The apprentice eventually leaves to become a supportive colleague and consumer. Later, when the mentor withdraws from the field, he can take pride in knowing that his methods and values remain via the individuals once taken under his wing.

There is a cycle—one with positives and negatives. It allows for efficiency; correct instruction is necessary to produce quality work at a faster pace. It also results in homogeneity. Mentors often choose those who remind them of themselves and think as they do, inhibiting the introduction of new ideas and new voices. However, I feel that the negatives can be easily eradicated with blind applications or mentors who choose to cast a wider net when initiating a search.

If you can afford to pay your interns, do so. If you cannot afford to do so, list clearly what you are prepared to offer in exchange for their unpaid labor. Nate Cosby, who would make for a wonderful mentor for a young individual interested in the comics industry, recently posted an awful ad seeking an intern. The ad does him a great disservice given his knowledge and experience. It clearly lists what he needs, but does not list how he can (or even if he will!) fulfill the needs of his interns. What will he teach? How? These are important questions to one attempting to build a career or gain industry knowledge. And one has a right to be wary or even dismissive should those questions go unanswered.

In the same vein, Heidi MacDonald recently did some sleuthing in regards to Wizard World’s bottom line, discovering that the organization made $6.7 million in conventions in 2012.

“The report attributes the increased profits to ‘running better advertised and marketed events’ as well as increasing ticket prices and ‘overall size and scope of each event.’ Others savings for the year were due to ‘reducing stock based compensation to consultants, reducing web development fees [emphasis added] and reducing professional service fees.'”

I did some sleuthing of my own to discover that the organization is also seeking unpaid editorial interns to provide content and editorial/marketing assistance for its site.

“Wizard World is looking for an Intern who can help keep a website updating with news and stories relating to popular fiction, which include updates on Movies, TV, Video Games, and Comic books. Articles must be compelling original and well thought out. Other task would include online marketing of ones articles and re-purposing material for articles. This would include wrapping articles around original content produced by Wizard World’s Video Production team. Articles must be posted through multiple CMS systems that you will be thought [sic].”

No information given as to what Wizard World will provide in return. Frustrating. Adding to the frustration is a comment indicating that the CEO earned a salary of $510,000 said year. Less than a tenth of his salary would allow the company to pay its web contributors.

As I said, frustrating.


Cycles.

“RE: The Stephenson interview. The Image method is meaningless when it comes to creators of color, so I wish that Eric Stephenson wouldn’t push it as the method of finding talent. All of the creators he named as new finds were white. I don’t see Jimmie Robinson being offered a slew of Marvel and DC books. (Note: it’d be nice!) The only way new writers of color can break in comics and receive regular mainstream work is if they’ve achieved success in another arena. And Image is not searching for creators of color in other arenas to lure them to Image. That is what DC and Marvel have been doing. I could not care less how we get new writers of color. If we need to steal famous people from other mediums, that’s great! But that whole ‘rising through the ranks of Image’? Son, that doesn’t work for you if you are black. Can we just be honest about that? The Image grooming process works fabulously for white people though. Still, it’s not gonna get me a Hudlin or Liu.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My comments on Twitter, shown above, grew out of a discussion of Heidi MacDonald’s interview with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson. It also grew out of the acknowledgment of the dearth of black writers in mainstream comics and the lack of upwards mobility for black writers within the comics industry. For talented white men with aspirations of working in mainstream comics or gaining widespread notoriety, the “Image to Big Two” cycle awaits: embark upon your career with an Image miniseries; get offered work on mid-tier Marvel or DC comics; develop a cult following; get offered work on a major Marvel or DC ongoing series; develop a need to branch out creatively and own one’s own intellectual property; return to Image with huge fanfare; bounce back and forth between corporate and creator-owned work until mainstream fans grow tired of your industry dominance and Marvel or DC will no longer offer projects.

This route is sealed for black writers. Jimmie Robinson has not been tapped for a Marvel miniseries. Enrique Carrion isn’t registering on DC’s radar. I’m baffled as to why. Marvel and DC rifle through Image as a kid skips through a candy store, gobbling up all the jellybeans save the black ones. (To be fair, black jellybeans are awful, but black writers—like all writers—run the gamut when it comes to talent.)

DC and Marvel do occasionally notice the need for diversity within the talent pool and actively seek out writers of color. However, instead of seeking these men and women at Image, they scout for popular writers in other arenas—film, animation, television, video games, music, prose. It seems the only way a black writer can garner mainstream success in comics is if he or she has already achieved mainstream success outside of it.

I don’t know why the route to mainstream success for black writers has become so narrow, warped, and difficult to navigate. All I know is that there thankfully is a route and I want to see black writers with the fame and talent needed to manage the journey traveling it. I want black people to have a voice in comics that is able to be heard by mainstream audiences. We are not a niche. We are not a tiny subculture to be denied larger access. We deserve to tell our stores, not in a quiet corner, but in front of a microphone.

Yes, black writers can thrive outside the mainstream, just as a musician can earn a living foregoing radio play and an actor can make a living never appearing in a major motion picture or national television show. However, when an entire group composed of multiple ethnicities is denied access to the mainstream? The industry is woefully incomplete. Imagine if one could only hear black musical acts via college radio stations. Imagine if Lucy Liu’s available roles were limited solely to those in plays. Imagine if the four women writers currently at Marvel and DC had their books cancelled, were not offered new projects, and fandom said not one word regarding their disappearance. (Note: the latter actually happened in regards to black writers.)

What do I want? I want exactly what I’ve been getting in drips and drabs, successful black writers from other arenas being offered work. However, I want this occurring in much greater abundance and at mainstream Marvel and DC (as well as at smaller imprints and independent comic companies). I also want something I haven’t been getting as well—talented black writers with years of industry experience (Priest, Burrell, Benardin, Trotman, etc.) being tapped to write series.

It’s 2013. Let’s make some changes.