BREAKING: Tony Harris’ Call to Action for Comics Creators

Tony HarrisUPDATE:
We asked Tony about the Guild, and he gave us this update: "Steve Niles and I are currently moving ahead with the Guild, with Baby steps. Building a website, designing a logo for the Guild( all with the pro-Bono work of Industry pros) and when the site is ready to go live, then we will be doing press."

Best known for his work on Starman in the 1990s and most recently on Ex Machina, artist Tony Harris has always been known to speak his mind.  This week he's not only spoken his mind in public on his Twitter account (@TONYFINGHARRIS), but he's also issued a call to action for comics creators to join him in the establishment of a comic book creators guild.  Dubbed The Sequential Arts and Entertainment Guild, or SAEG for short, Harris has issued an open invitation to anyone and everyone in the comic book industry to join him.  

Beginning on May 3rd, Tony Harris first started posting on Twitter in response to recent criticisms of his work in and around the topic of the use of photo reference.  After ranting about art and photo reference for nearly an hour, Tony then posted the following:

I am sending out an open invitation to ANY working pro ( writer,artist,colorist, letterer etc…) get in touch with me. ( 11:13 PM May 3rd )

In person at Heroes Con this year.We NEED to talk about a UnionI will update soon about some face time concerning this@ Heroes Con. ( 11:15 May 3rd )

The next morning, on May 4th, Tony returned to Twitter ready to christen his idea of a "union" with a name:

Sequential Arts And Entertainment Guild, or S.A.A.E.G. ( pronounced like sage) (11:16 AM May 4th )
(Tony later adjusted the abbreviation to S.A.E.G.)

After establishing a name, Tony then highlighted some of the challenges that will be presented with this idea:

Lets not get ahead of ourselves. Again, right now its a name, an idea. Organization, and..
a mission statement Identifying all the problems that we would like addressed.Etc…Its not going to be easy its
going to horrifyingly miserable, and an uphill BATTLE. But nothing worth doing SHOULD be easy.
and there will be fallout. Of talent, at the publishing level, between friends and collaborators.
We are talking about a fundamental change here in how our industry works. At the VERY base level. Its going to take time,
Its going to take money, and most of all its going to take US! US!, we will not move an inch with out individuals joining hands here.

(posted between 11:37 AM and 11:41 AM on May 4th)

After that reports of creators joining him began to come in, including Ron Marz and Steve Niles.  After going quiet about this idea and focusing on his work on Ex-Machina #50, Tony returned to Twitter to post some clarifications about the concept in the middle of the day on May 5th:

SAEG is a name at this point. An Idea. Thats all. The idea behind SAEG is this:
SAEG is an ADVOCACY guild to promote the professional betterment, health and well being of Comic Book pros.
Thats it. Nothing else. We arent planning on storming publishing offices with picket signs, or shutting things down with strikes!
No. No. No. We are talking about advocating a better industry through awareness. Connecting a fragmented family of creators
Lobbying publishers through well respected creators a our face to improve working situations on both ends.
Raising $ thru (possible) member dues, and slush funds created by sale of merch to match money paid by creators
toward LOW health insurance provided by companies who will give lower rates , the larger the group.
and thru those same groups , options for saving for retirement thru many diff options that are open to individuals.I could go on and on, and I will trust me. But I wanted to clear up those concerns from some of you retailers, and the like.

(Posted between 2:30 PM and 3 PM on May 5th)

After this clarification, he adds:

we have some fucking HUUUUUGE names already signed up with what we are developing. We will announce those properly later. (Posted approximately at 3 PM on May 5th)

as well as this important clarification:

SAEG is NOT a UNION! I did use that word initially in my early rants, but this is diff. SAEG is an ADVOCACY GUILD. RT this everyone. (Posted approximately at 3 PM on May 5th)

Later in the day, Tony breaks down exactly what his vision for this guild of comic book creators, which isn't just limited to writers and artists, would include:

another thing( among MANY) that SAEG wants to tackle, is Colorists getting cover credit AND royalties.
Royalties which most colorist currently DO NOT recieve. ( Only @ Marvel, so Im told)
Free Tax advice, thru SAEG contacts, and retirement benefits for group members. Most of whom have NONE now.

(Posted approximately between 8:30 PM and 9 PM on May 5th)

So what does this all mean?  Why is this relevant?  Well, it boils down to creator rights, a topic that's been knocked around the comic book industry since the 1970s.  The concept of unionizing amongst comic book creators is not a new idea.  It first surfaced in the 1970s, led by Neal Adams who began to leverage his success in the comic book industry in order to fight for creator rights (including royalties, medical benefits, and getting their art back after publishing).  Neal Adams was able to help usher in many changes in how publishers dealt with creators, giving creators a bigger piece of the pie, but ultimately his idea of a union evolved into the establishment of Comic Creators Guild, which featured a membership that included such comic creators as Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Steve Ditko, Archie Goodwin, Klaus Janson, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson and many more.

The idea of creator rights came up again, nearly 10 years later as a group of independent comic book creators forged The Creator's Bill of Rights as documented by Scott McCloud.  This grouping of creators included McCloud, Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Larry Marder, Dave Sim, Rick Veitch and more.  And the most recent and memorable movement for creator's rights is seen as the establishment of Image Comics by Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio, who after being disillusioned by Marvel Comics profiting from their work, broke off and formed their own comic book publishing company and rose to prominence in the 1990s.

As the comic book industry continues to shrink in sales and the exposure to Hollywood and other media increases, the role of the comic book creator has become far more complicated than simply writing and drawing comics.  With agents and lawyers and thousands of other types of business people swarming in to get a piece of the action, comic book creators can have a daunting road ahead of them.  Harris' use of the word "Union" early on could clearly rustle some feathers with imagery of labor relations between creators and publishers becoming even more complicated.  His adjustment to the term "Advocacy Guild" is a wise change, removing the baggage associated with unionizing, but some of the items he mentioned in his posts like lobbying publishers and working for lower insurance rates starts to blur the line between a "guild" and a "union."  But that's just semantics, and as Tony pointed out numerous times in his posts, this idea is in it's infancy as he and other creators work to define just exactly the S.A.E.G. will end up being. 

Either way, it's a been quite interesting to follow Tony Harris on Twitter.  If you're interested in how this story continues to develop, follow Tony on Twitter at @TONYFINGHARRIS


  1. Awesome. Comic Book Creator Rights this is what I am talking about. One step in the positive direction for the little man in the industry. so proud to hear something like this is even being formed.

  2. This seems pretty cool. I’d love to see a group like this fold into something like the Hero Initiative. At the same time I don’t know all the back room goings on when it comes to creation of comics. So I can’t stand here and go "Just do that! Come on!" And not know everything. But if it simply comes down to taking care of the people that have given me and will give me hours upon hours of entertainment then I’d love to see this happen. 

    Who would have thought the modern day Norma Rae of comics would be Tony Harris.

  3. How do you go from ranting about people complaining about photo referencing to LET’S START A GUILD!?

    Either way, as long as quality doesn’t go down, I’m all for creators getting more of the pie. 

  4. This is interesing stuff, which follows in a noble tradition of other comics creators trying to forge fairer working practices.  I’m sure that there are lesser known names, or creators that don’t feature in the kind of top tens, that could do with this kind of support.  Like most employers, I think it’s always true to say that a company doesn’t just owe it’s workers a wage and nothing else.  Consistent quality work is the big companies’ bread and butter, and it makes sense that they do what they can to keep these guys working well.  I’ve just started reading the new IDW Harris artbook and can tell that if anyone’s determined enough to make this happen, it’s him…

  5. This is so needed. Its a sad thing when you meet an old time creator, who had a few great runs but never achieved that "legendary status", who now in his/her retirement years is broke and forgotten. 

  6. When you start talking about lobbying the publishers you’re talking about a union even though he may say guild. If that’s the case, these things always end up being passed down to the consumer in terms of higher prices. Hopefully that’s not the case. I’m still not clear on what issues he wants to tackle with the publishers because the only specific thing he said was colorist credit. That insurance and retirement stuff is a good idea if they get a lot of people they can get group rates.

  7. I wonder what the repercussions, if any, there would be if they did decide to unionize.

  8. I’d like to pay more for comics please

  9. I love his stuff, and I’ll be re-listening to his interview on Sidebar.  I think the guild is a great idea.  Looking back at his twitter feed, it seems his rant started with other topics before the photo referencing issue…

    Probably well-trod stuff, but I was quite surprised to see how staged those photos were at the back the E-M trade.

  10. Creators have all the power. If all the top talent get together, publishes will have no choice than to listen to them. Thats what other creative professions have done with great success.  

  11. One serious comment and one joke comment

    Serious comment: Honestly? why hasn’t something like this happened before? It seems really sad that the comic industry is so backwards in some regards. I get the feeling that something like what Tony is suggesting could hurt the operation of the industry in the short term, however, the industry and creators will ultimately be climatised and be better for it.

    Joke comment: So ron’s version of journalism is following twitter? I wonder if Marx would have twitted something like "varient covers are the opiate of the anal retentive" given the chance.

  12. @ Wally-  I don’t actually think the creators have much power when it comes to bargining.  Isn’t most of the money the companies generate (Big 2) actually from licensing the properties not book sales?  I’m not saying their product wouldn’t suffer but this isn’t like the movie industry where films account for most (that is a guesstimate) of the studios revenue.

  13. @ spoons–I think that if enough of the top talent banded together and had a unified front they could definitely bargain for better rights. I mean if all the big names decided to pull a 1990s Image comics thing, Marvel and DC would be really up a creek. What would happen to Iron Man as a brand if all the top talent refused to work on the books? We’d all "drop the book" which means bad sales=no perceived interest in the brand=no more movies or pencil cases or underoos with Iron Man. 

    Auto companies don’t field expensive racing teams to turn a profit. They do it for prestige and that gives the brand more value.  

  14. I am putting less stock in comics ability to affect the public consciousness directly on their own, which is what I think is required to turn the books into movies/cartoons/underwear.  They require some other, more mainstream, creative outlets to push them to the forefront of the culture and then that translates to profits for the companies much more than actual comics sales. Even with all of the movies we are still a niche market. 

    If anything the actual books could be seen as something akin to a R&D department for the various IPs the company owns. Pumping out stories that we all love and enjoy, then once in a while a story is put out and some one thinks "Hey, this would make a pretty awesome movie!"

    I wouldn’t mind seeing your scenerio play out, it’s just that I don’t really see it in the cards.