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Thursday, February 11, 2010

How I F@$#ed up

by Joshua Jenkins

The most asked question I get at conventions is, “Dude, is that a meatball sub from Subway!? Where is that?” which has zero relevance to this article, it just irks me. However, the second most asked is, “I have an idea for a comic, how do I do it?” To which I retort, “You have to fuck up a lot and learn to mend your wafer thin constitution daily… oh yea, and bring lots of money.”

One of the first things I screwed up was trying to escape the money-clause by not paying an artist.

Pay your artist!

I don’t know anyone that writes comics that hasn’t tried to do this. I know it’s incredibly tempting, the lure of, "When we get picked up by image I’ll give you 50%." I’m certain that works in certain circumstances, but C’mon! You’re not going to get the quality you want from someone working for free. Plus inevitably when you don’t get picked up, that artist is going to grow resentful and bitter and assume everyone’s out to screw him/her. I sincerely wish I still had my initial sketch from the artist I wasn’t going to pay.

Let’s just say there’s a reason I don’t have it anymore.

I’m not just going to pick on writers here. Artists! Lower your page rates! Us starving indie writers cannot afford $75 a page. I know Marvel pays more than that but you’re not there yet. You don’t go to Marvel, Marvel comes to you, and they can’t find you if you’re at home chewing on graphite waiting for someone to pay your insane page rate.

More work equals more exposure equals more money.

So what do I think is fair? For black/white, around 22pgs w/ lettering, I say $500 (That’s like 3 months of iphone bills). Yes I know your broke writer-ass sees this as a lot of money in this harsh economic climate, but let’s break this down. If said artist does 2 pages a day, each day being around 6 hrs that’s 66hrs of work, that’s roughly $7.57 an hour. Now if you think about it $500 isn’t a lot of money to spend to see your vision come to life.

Next week I’ll talk about how to lure a decent artist into your creepy writer van.


  1. Nice post. I called out writers in a similar fashion in a column I wrote at Comic Related. http://comicrelated.com/news/2218/creating-comics

    It probably would have been worth calling out artists for unreasonable page rates as well. Nice blog, and looking forward to checking out your podcast.

  2. The best thing for any writer and artist to do is form a relationship beyond "independent contractual agreements." If a writer can't afford an artist, you find one you can afford. If an artist has too high of rates he must be willing to negotiate or walk away. To hire an artist for a full issue's worth of work at $500 may pay your iPhone, but you're iPhone isn't the roof over your head. Art is work. And doing 6 of 8 work hours per day on a 22 page indie comic only gets you $45 bucks. An artist can make double that on a commission for less time. Now if the writer doesn't care how long it takes, then fine. Slow burn an issue over 6 months. Do a page a day while you're drinking a beer and watching the nightly news. But no one wants to wait 6 months. I know a few prolific writers that have take on drawing their own comic. It's usually short in length, and sure the art isn't stellar. But its made. Hassle free. And the writing carries it.

    To produce an independent work, both writer and artist need to be in it for the craft. Not to be paid or retain rights over art. If an artist wants to work at Marvel, he only need draw 5 pages for a sample. Five pages of awesome art sings a lot better than 22 pages of shit. So to argue that anyone is getting a favor out of an independent deal as opposed to trying to get into Marvel is bologne. The artist has a better chance on his own, then slaving over anyone else's script.

    So form a relationship. Make a comic series for the craft. Put it on the web. Self publish it. Grow a fan base. If it's worth it's salt you'll find a home for it and it'll earn money. Now you're both invested. But i hear people say that it's hard to find people that are in it for the craft only. More bull crap. I've met a good handful of writers. Real damn talent. Just by being in social situations. These guys are bartenders. Bouncers. Clerks. People are out there.

    At the end of the day, indie comics is not a livelihood. It's a hobby. A very low fraction of the artistic community (both writers and artists) make a living creating comics.

    A lot of scripts have come across my desk with minimal monetary gain attached. They're usually trite crap. The best writers I've worked with have been those with the passion just to create. Those who I've slow burned a creative relationship with. That's what makes comic production worth it. Make money doing something else. Make comics because you love it.

  3. Nice! Point/Counter-Point. Both points are great, and well made, but everyone needs to decide for him/herself what they want, what they need and what they're willing to pay/get paid for their efforts. Making mistakes is a huge part of the learning process. Let's all go get a beer.

  4. Yes, writers are a dime a dozen, but a good sequential artist? That is not nearly as easy to find. When you're just getting started everything is a little intimidating especially from the point of view of the writer. You don't know what's insulting, what's fair, or if you're paying to much. I had a women cuss me up one side and down the other for not offering her $2,000 for a commission once. Cause after all, the price of art will always be subjective. And people by nature, will always eventually think they're worth more than whatever they're getting paid.

    I'm just saying $500.00 is an estimate of what I think is a fair starting point. I don't think it's insulting offer to start out with.

    I think it's significantly easier for you or I to form relationships and collaborations with with other artists and writers. We're in the loop and we know what we're looking for. Also we have work out there that speaks for us.

    Agreed though, it should never be strictly about money. Lord knows I have spent way more than I will ever get back. However, I think some mutual monetary respect isn't out of the question either.

    P.S. picked up Labor days last year at NYCC... good stuff!


  5. Glad you enjoyed the book, Sam! Volume 2 will be available at SDCC and NYCCC this year.

    I just recently had a wholesome chap contact me about redesigning his cartoon pilot. A silly bit of business, but a decent gig nonetheless. He outlined his project and stated he found me through my other work which he's a fan of. He then asked for my rates for a project like this and its turn around time. Which I gave in honest and let him know there was room for negotiation because I figured my standard rates were going to be too high for the work he really wanted done.
    Well the fucker came back with "if you redo our character designs we could throw 50 bucks at you for your time."

    For. My. Time?!

    If the guy is a fan of my work, then he should realize that my resume expects a certain degree of professional rates. No artist's time is worth 50 dollars. That's degrading and cheapening of any persons craft. Perhaps if he hadn't said "for my time." Thus making an assumption that my time is actually his cheap time. And I'm sitting around waiting for other people's money. No one should think they're doing someone else a favor. If people want to work like professionals they need to act, pay and conduct business like professionals.

    But in the case of independent writers working with independent artists, there certainly needs to be a more outlined guide for work. Let all rates hit the table. Let negotiation take over. Agreements be had. And like Tim says, chose your battles or walk away. I still believe that isn't the way to go about publishing creator owned work though.... But there might not actually be a right answer. Definitely though, the rate at wish Josh outlined is a good one. Expectations just need to match it, ya know?
    This is essentially the epitome of my arguments about anything like the above topic. All points are valid and I try to understand each side, but when someone believes that any artist's time is worth 50 bucks, it's down right insulting. It's an industry of bad taste and unrealized goals. There's so much muck in comics.

  6. Wow that really chaps my hide and it didn't even happen to me. That's the point I was trying to make above. When you're new to the game, price is always awkward and fluid $500 isn't insulting it's fair at least a fair place to start. But when you've made a cartoon pilot you know what the rates are.

    By the way I am josh (the writer above). Sorry I was having a real whore of a time making an open id for some reason.


  7. The slow burn is what works for me. Here I am in my ninth year of writing comic scripts, and I have two pretty high profile artists I'm working with currently, and at least one more that's just waiting for the moment to work on a creator owned project.

    I met Chris Chua at a networking comics panel at WizardWorld Philly in 2001, hosted by Buddy Scalera. Great idea that sadly didn't really stick at the cons. But with him, developing our graphic novel Liquid Fury, we met other artists and writers, made friendships, and now those friends trust me enough to spend time on artwork for a project that we can develop together.

    It may've taken me nearly a decade, but in that time I've self-published four versions of the frist chapter of Liquid Fury and met and spoke with all manner of creators who gave me feedback. I can now say that I am absolutely ready to write scripts professionally.

    To say that writers are a dime a dozen, well I guess that's true, but how many are actually good at writing a comic script? I guess about the same percentage of wannabe artists that are good at storytelling. Also, how many writers have potential and are so bitter and jaded that they think the way to break in is to pester professionals, especially freelancers?

    Everybody's got their own way in, and all ways work to various degrees, depending on what you want to achieve. Like Rick said, I'm in it for the craft, and I do it because I can't NOT do it. I just want to create something with an artist, and I write my scripts as love letters to the artists I work with, knowing what they want to draw, and playing to their strengths. But that's the kind of thing that goes beyond a paying relationship and knowing the artist well enough.

    Also, I don't think writers really understand how much time and effort goes into art, and how little money people get from even Marvel for the hours that they put in. That's why you gotta find them disgruntled semi-professionals that are out to show Marvel that they can make a name for themselves in the indie market.

    Then you just gotta be patient and let it come together. At least that's my method.

    Thanks for the articles! Can't wait to have you on the show.