Is it “Impossible” to make money as a writer or artist in comics?Posted by buddyscalera on August 25, 2021 at 5:54 am
Thanks for joining us tonight on Comic Book School Live. Tonight, we talked about this article:
It’s Impossible To Make Money for Most Writers and Artists in Comics
Let us know your thoughts!
ModeratorAugust 25, 2021 at 5:59 am
Apropos to tonight’s discussion, here’s an article about Jim Shooter and Secret Wars. Ignore the click baity headline. He’s got a good attitude about it and knows the intention of his original agreement.
AdministratorAugust 26, 2021 at 8:20 am
Good find, @thesurrealari .
Shooter was aware that he would sign away characters that he created for Marvel. He also earned a nice living from the company, so he may have considered it a fair deal for years of employment.
You can’t judge deals exclusively from hindsight. He wrote new characters that went on to make money, but also write characters that failed to make money or find an audience. It’s not to say that one outweighs the other, just that there are other factors to consider in the discussion.
MemberAugust 26, 2021 at 8:49 pm
Hmmm. From the Shooter comments, it sounds like Disney is very concerned about having to pay some kind of settlement down the road similar to what the Kirby estate eventually received, except multiplied by the number of creators writing and drawing the Marvel lineup over the last 50 years or so. If the Superman creators could wind up with a settlement 40 years (?) later, once that character graced the big screen, then anything’s possible. ESPECIALLY when blockbuster, multi-film, high-budget movies become the cornerstone of your licensing revenue stream.
That comics doesn’t pay many of its creators enough to live on is nothing new. As Greg Capullo said a while back, it’s a small food dish with a lot of dogs trying to get at it. The upshot is that, if you can get established, you can potentially have a lucrative income stream down the road (if you’re an artist) selling commissions to fans, or springboard yourself into another creative field.
Monetizing creativity is challenging in any field. It’s like acting; a small percentage of individuals are able to make decent paychecks, the remainder are subsidizing their income through other means. If I recall correctly, Arnold Schwarzenegger sold real estate for a time before acting in Conan. Brad Pitt wore a giant chicken suit to advertise for a restaurant. Those bills won’t pay themselves.
Comics illustration also isn’t really comparable to other graphic fields, economically. Other graphic fields are typically working with companies who need specific images produced for specific purposes, therefore the graphics are not directly tied to their revenue stream. This is simply not the case in comics, where there is no product to sell without a significant amount of graphic production.
The publishers are typically running fairly tight margins, and assembly line production means a lot of people trying to put food on the table. If you figure that you’re going to have a writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer and editor in the mix (to say nothing of the other people in the office, marketing, shipping, etc.), and each of those people need about $2,000-$4,000 a month ($24-48k/yearly) to live on and/or support a family with, you need to sell an awful lot of books to just to break even. Assuming an average overall compensation of $30,000 a year, which correct me if I’m wrong is still below the Federal poverty line, 6x30k=$180,000 in revenue just to pay everybody that worked directly on the book, which is problematic when most of your income is from book sales in specialty stores. It’s not hard to figure out why outfits like Image or Alterna don’t even offer page-rates, or for that matter why Kickstarter becomes a more attractive offer for independent creators to put their books out. Less slices of the pie to have to distribute.
p class=””>The main hang-up in that math that we’re seeing right now is that licensing (if and when it happens) changes everything. Your revenue is then no longer narrowly confined to a single product through limited outlets, now it can be everywhere. Eastman and Laird found this out back in the 80’s with TMNT, Marvel and DC have long been slapping their characters on lunchboxes and T-shirts for decades. Now that big-screen adaptations of their characters are finally viable, they have a massive platform to promote their products. Are the people that those platforms being built on seeing any of that? Of course not, any more than a construction worker sees rent from an apartment building he helped build. As far as the publisher is concerned, they have simply helped produce a commodity entertainment item. So the better question is, should the end-goal of a creator be to work for a major publisher to make their living? Until they start including future licensing revenue streams in their contracts as part of the work-for-hire arrangement, I think that becomes largely rhetorical.
AdministratorAugust 27, 2021 at 7:04 am
I agree with you @philipspace – I think you are correct that creative work can be challenging, especially for freelancers.
One thing to note. There are a few other income streams for comic book creators. In addition to your page rate, you usually get your original art back, if you are an artist. You (sometimes) get royalities on published issues and reprinted issues. There are a lot of different factors, and it’s not just page rates.
Really, if it was impossible to make a living in comics, then we wouldn’t have this many working professionals. It stands to reason that creators with long careers are finding ways to make it work.
ModeratorAugust 25, 2021 at 6:12 am
Read the article – those are some low figures, it makes me think of the Ethical Pricing Guide. The figures given by the Graphic Artist Guild makes one believe these careers are worth so much. The issue come when the actual funding doesn’t match. I believe we are in a lucrative industry – however if we are accepting lower fees consistently, than we decided that fee is our worth. If we as both the artist and writers follow the ethical guidelines suggested by the Artist Guild, I’d bet the cash flow would increase significantly. Buy Reference – Ethical Pricing Guide Book: https://amzn.to/3jbmRIG
AdministratorAugust 26, 2021 at 8:17 am
I think those are low page rates as well @maryamsmarkers . If you consider all page rates from all publishers, it’s hard to come up with an average. It may be easier to average the top publishers, like Marvel and DC, so you are dealing with the mainstream monthly publishers. I think it would probably come out to a higher average page rate.