Why the Comic Book Guy Cares about the Wisconsin Situation

Some of you may have been watching news about the craziness in Wisconsin — some of you may not have. It hasn’t been all over the news the way I expected it to be, but here’s a short summary.

Wisconsin’s new governor is named Scott Walker. There are two things he really, really doesn’t like: unions and state employees. So his new budget essentially outlawed public employee unions in Wisconsin and stuck it hard to most state employees, forcing them to pay more out of their salaries for insurance.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t well received. What was surprising, however, was that protests took off like a rocket. Thousands of people protested at the state capitol for most of last week. The Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature pulled a vanishing act to give protests time to sway more Republican legislators away from the governor’s POV.

Since then, we’ve learned that Walker actually cooked the books to make the budget shortfall look worse because he hoped to use against the state employees.

So why do I care about this? I don’t live in Wisconsin, no one in my family lives in Wisconsin, and the budget doesn’t affect comics.

Well, for one thing, I work for the state now, and I’ve worked for the state multiple times in the past. My brother and sister both work for the government, my dad worked for the government, and I’ve got cousins who work for the government. My granddad worked for the government. The idea of a governor — any governor — with a mad-on to screw over state employees strikes me as deeply irrational.

I don’t belong to a union, but I’ve got no argument with ’em either. I like the fact that the unions got us the 40-hour work week and the weekend. I like the idea of minimum wages. I like workplace safety. I like the fact that there’s a check on the power of corporate management. I know there are lots of good businesses out there who’ll bend over backwards to make sure their employees are getting a fair shake… but at the same time, I’ve worked for too many low-down snakes who cheated customers, employees, and everyone else they could. I’m under no illusions that our corporate masters are blameless geniuses who serve only the glory of the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace, a’ight?

I don’t understand the current rage at public employees for either existing or for receiving decent wages and benefits. I know some pundits out there think that, if things are tough for private employees, they should be tough for everyone else, too. (But never for the bankers, CEOs, and con artists at the top, have you noticed that? If they get less than their usual multi-million-dollar bonuses, it means the terrists have won. Trillions of dollars to bailout the corporate goons who wrecked the economy, but heaven forefend if teachers or state employees get paid enough to make the payments on their homes.)

So why should comic book fans care?

Because management at DC spent years screwing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the profits for creating Superman.

Because management at Marvel screwed Jack Kirby out of money, and health and employment benefits for years.

Because management at DC has never acknowledged the contributions of Batman co-creator Bill Finger as much as they did for Bob Kane.

Because DC pushed out Gardner Fox and a lot of their other creators, including Finger, Otto Binder, and Arnold Drake, in the late ’60s because they dared to request health insurance and employment benefits. And I can’t count the number of Golden and Silver Age creators who died, if not penniless, at least a lot less comfortable than they should’ve been.

I’m glad there are groups around like the HERO Initiative, which works to raise money to pay the expenses of creators who are too old or sick to work, but I also can’t help wishing that Siegel, Shuster, Kirby, Finger, Fox, and the rest of them had had a union on their side watching out for their interests.

Sure, it’s not like any budget in Wisconsin is going to allow comic creators to live better lives — this is strictly going to be for the betterment of state employees in the Badger State. Ultimately, it’s all down to compassion and empathy — we root for the underdogs like Siegel and Shuster and Jack Kirby, like Wisconsin’s state employees, for the same reason we always root for the underdogs — because we’re all underdogs. And when the underdogs don’t get crushed by the powerful, it means maybe we all have a chance.

We put our blind faith in business and corporations at our peril. It’s not that business is evil, but the purpose of business is to MAKE MONEY, and too many businesses will choose to prioritize money at the expense of, well, the rest of us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times in the past, both within the comics industry and outside of it.

I see nothing at all wrong with being able to tell business and the modern breed of pro-business/anti-worker politicians that it’s okay to make wads of cash — as long as they don’t cross certain lines. I think Walker (and governors in other states, like Ohio, Florida… and maybe Texas? We’ll see…) are prioritizing megacorp/pundit ideologies over the welfare of their own constituents.

That’s a dangerous path to travel down, and I’m very happy that people in Wisconsin have been so enthusiastic about supporting their state employees.


  1. Jeremy Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    Well said. And I didn’t realize that stuff about the comic book guys getting the kryptonite. So thanks for the information.

  2. Gary Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 10:50 am

    Nice one, Scott. As a civil servant here in the UK facing the largest government cuts since WWII I can empathise with the Wisconsin employees.

    @Jeremy – read Gerard Jones’s excellent “Men of Tomorrow” for more info on how the big comic companies screwed the guys who created their biggest assets time and again.

  3. scottslemmons Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 11:01 am

    Gerard Jones is an amazing writer. I can’t remember if I’ve got “Men of Tomorrow” at home (I have way, way too many books lying around), but I’ll see if I can add it to my reading list. 🙂

  4. VoodooBen Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 11:26 am

    I’m almost positive I have a copy, though I haven’t read it either – I’m in the same boat as you, Scott. 🙂 Anyway, powerful words, man. That’s a solid perspective to frame this situation.

  5. scottslemmons Said,

    February 21, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    Thanks, Ben — I was nervous as heck about blogging this. Still not sure I understand all the union issues, but I know what side I come down on…