Time feels like it’s moving at different paces, depending on where you are; we’ve been under something close to 9 weeks of various levels of COVID-19-associated quarantine in the United States, and the days of April seem to all blend together. Still, governments across the world are pushing to reopen shuttered economies, and America is being extremely aggressive in its attempt to return to normalcy. The long term effect of this move to reopen is predictable and puts people at risk for increased transmission. We hope that you are safe and well.
Late last month, cartoonist and illustrator Lucy J. Haslam made initial accusations about publisher Nobrow/Flying Eye’s business practices, with specific complaints that artists were not paid for their work on Nobrow anthologies, after going through some more general complaints about ELCAF, a UK-based comics arts festival that is heavily tied to Nobrow. This thread led to a general airing of grievances and the leak of an internal email from Nobrow co-founder Alexander Latsis (aka Alex Spiro), the son of a billionaire shipping magnate.
Nobrow issued a counter-statement that generally refuted the statements made by artists on social media.
EDIT: As of 10/9/2020, NoBrow has deleted their statement. I have collected the statement to be published here verbatim:
We have been upset to see a number of inaccurate and damaging exchanges appear on social media over the weekend, making allegations about Nobrow, its employees and its shareholders. These now risk harming the careers of our loyal illustrators and authors, upsetting our dedicated staff and causing entirely unfair damage to our company. We now have no alternative but to respond to these, to correct the record.
- History of Nobrow, what we are about
- Nobrow started in 2008 and has always strived to bring exciting, new artists and their works to the fore of the trade publishing world.
- In the 12 years since its inception Nobrow has grown and developed beyond its early inauspicious beginnings and has launched many artists and writers beyond its original goal of re-invigorating the English language market for graphic narrative books. Many of the Nobrow contributors now enjoy global success in many languages.
- The allegations raised against Nobrow regarding bad contracts and poor pay are unfair, inaccurate and unfounded.
- All current Nobrow contracts which have been in place since 2014 are in line with industry standards. We continue to update them on an annual basis and keep them in line with the marketplace. Our contracts are negotiable and we do not coerce anyone.
- Specifically, our intention is always to pay a fair and on market advance and royalty. In light of the recent allegations as to the level of our payments, which have rather taken us aback, we have decided immediately to carry out a research project as to equivalent advance and royalty levels to check that we remain on market for a publisher of our size. If we find that we have been inadvertently paying below market rates, we will of course review them.
- We are speaking to our illustrators and authors. If we come across any concerns they have, we will, of course, address them.
- We do not prevent authors or artists from working with other publishers on different projects, nor could we, and in fact many of our artists and authors work with many other publishers.
- The 2013 email that was leaked onto twitter without permission and out of context was the beginning of a conversation that was taken no further, and does not represent the views of the company then or now.
- Alex has invested his own money into Nobrow since founding the company with Sam. That was a significant investment in comics and illustrated publishing and associated events that were at first loss-leading (like ELCAF & Nobrow magazine) and he has not worked in the company since 2015, although he remains a shareholder. Neither he nor any other shareholder has drawn a dividend from the company to this day.
- Current circumstances
- All businesses, and particularly publishing businesses such as ours that are reliant on retail, have been severely affected by the SARS COV-2 virus.
- We have therefore been forced to furlough five members of staff in our London office during the government furlough scheme period.
- None of these valued staff members would be in this position if not for the crisis and it is through no fault of their own.
- We sincerely hope there will be no further job losses, but everything depends on the evolution of the global pandemic, the lifting of lockdown and its impacts on retail and other developments. We don’t comment on individual staff employment issues as it would not be fair to those people involved.
- ELCAF is run as a break-even annual community event with grant funding, sponsorship and exhibitor and visitor revenue. If profit is achieved after an edition the revenue is rolled into the following year’s event. This means all funding raised for ELCAF and all revenue generated by ELCAF is spent on the event and related community events.
- ELCAF exhibitors are curated by the organisers. There is limited table space in the venue and the event has been oversubscribed since the second edition. Additional days were introduced to give more people the opportunity to take part.
- ELCAF uses donated office facilities from Nobrow.
- Whilst associated with Nobrow, ELCAF is run by three freelance Events Organisers.
- To ensure the continuation of the event and for the benefit of the community, Nobrow underwrites any financial loss experienced by the organisation of the ELCAF event.
- The purpose of ELCAF has always been to provide a platform for small press artists and others to exhibit their works to a wider audience, as well as to share ideas and learn from the works of international artists that might have not been so accessible.
- It is with regret that we have to cancel ELCAF 2020 as a digital or physical event, but the team will continue to promote the work of the illustrators and community involved and we will review the organisation of the event next year according to the evolution of SARS COV-2. We hope this in no way damages the well-being of all those participating artists and contributors.
We have been as frank and open as we have been able in a short period of time, in order to put this episode to rest. In these really difficult times, our industry has to pull together to survive and continue to support talented authors and artists to share their creations with the world.
As the publisher of SOLRAD, and the previous publisher of Sequential State, I have had a cordial relationship with Nobrow and its representatives, including Tucker Stone and Geoff Lapid who have both held the position of US Sales & Marketing Director for Nobrow/Flying Eye. This relationship generally encompasses the normal working relationship between independent presses and critics; I have received press releases, catalogs, and review materials from Nobrow at their expense, as have other writers for SOLRAD. I say this as a form of disclosure so that readers can be well informed as they read future coverage of this issue from SOLRAD.
We have approached independent comics journalists for coverage of this ongoing situation and continue to evaluate new information as it becomes available.
SOLRAD is an online literary magazine for comics art, and its publication is based on foundational realizations about the small press comics market and the criticism of comics art. We recognize that accusations of poor pay and inequitable business practices are of deep concern for our readers and the working artists in small press comics. We recognize that accusations and “open secrets” about inequitable business practices are fragmented by whisper networks and other word-of-mouth practices that require artists to be “in-the-know.” They are also not isolated to one publishing house or group.
As we continue to do our due diligence on this important issue, we ask for your cooperation; if you have information about inequitable business practices in small press comics, please contact me at email@example.com.
We also encourage cartoonists to contribute all of their experiences, positive and negative, to litebox.info. This is a website for cartoonists and illustrators to create transparency about what they’re being paid, by whom, and under what conditions. While the site is mostly dedicated to illustration and bigger publishers at the moment, there are some smaller publishers as well. Getting information for smaller comics publishers will only benefit every cartoonist who’s just starting out. It will also benefit publishers whose current practices are ethical.
Fieldmouse Press, the publisher of SOLRAD, recognizes that more transparency is needed from comics organizations and, at the request of the leadership of the organization and with the blessing of the Fieldmouse board of directors, has made both a fuller accounting of its 2019 finances and the SOLRAD Presents contract available to review. We hope that our small effort contributes to a trend of greater equity for comics artists and writers everywhere.
A few things to note as we move into May — SOLRAD Presents has really taken off, and at the time of this writing, we have signed five cartoonists and have four regularly posting work. We’re excited to bring more folks to the imprint in May — keep your eyes peeled for new work.
We continue to have writers affected by COVID-19, so criticism, essays, and interviews may be slower than previous months. We still have a great slate for you this month, and we’re excited to share what we’re working on.
This month, you can expect:
- Another of SOLRAD’s book club weeks, this time featuring the hilarious and potent cartooning of Anna Haifisch’s The Artist: The Circle of Life, published in 2019 by Breakdown Press.
- A profile of indigenous comics creators by Elijah Forbes, a new SOLRAD contributor we’re excited to feature this month.
- A review of Zak Sally’s Recidivist IV from ENEMIES OF THE STATE contributor and long-time comics critic Philippe Leblanc.
- A review of Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s Don’t Go Without Me from Keith Silva, who’s making his SOLRAD debut this month.
- A long-form essay from returning SOLRAD contributor Anna Sellheim on some of her concerns with the depictions of mental health in comics.
- Along with regular contributions from Ryan Carey, Rob Clough, Alex Hoffman, and Daniel Elkin, our core team of critics.
Finally, our weekly newsletter (sent out every Sunday) has been taken over by our Editor-in-Chief Daniel Elkin. The SOLRAD newsletter features a look back at all the great content we’ve posted in the past week and is often filled with musings about the world at large and/or comics news of interest. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t already.
Wishing for your good health and safety,