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Productivity is up, wages are down.  Good jobs are being replaced with low-wage jobs.  It's the same in pretty much every industry, everywhere.  Comic books are no exception.  
Follow me below the gorgeous squiggle and learn more about this problem, as well as what a new outfit that I'm involved with (Imaginos Workshop) is trying to do about it.

Comic book artists have always been an under-appreciated lot.  It was the job of last resort for artists in the 40s and 50s, something you'd take when there were no advertising art gigs to be had.  The profession gained respectability as the artists gained skill and comic books came into their own as an art form.  It didn't pay well, still, but things got a bit better.  

The great boom of the early 90s and the speculator market drove wages up.  Things were good for awhile.  A robust market hungry for material combined with a drop in the price of printing led to lots of small press publishers entering the market, hoping to strike gold.  When the market fizzled, the bottom dropped out, and it was back to the unheated garret room for a lot of artists.  

As in any industry, there are the superstars who make tons of dosh.  Then there are the blue-collar artists.  An established pro at a big company on a mid-selling title will make something on the order of $65-$85 a page these days... which seems like a bit of cash for a 20-28 page comic, but when you consider how many hours are needed, plus deadline pressure, plus constant tweaks and revisions being called in by the editors, it's actually a pretty stressful job.  Not to mention that you rarely get any benefits and are little more than glorified freelance, no matter how long you've been around.  Still, it's possible to make a living at this level.  Not so with most publishers, a lot of whom are, frankly, pretty shady.  The number of talented artists far exceeds the number of good jobs, and the page price has been driven down further and further.  I know talented people who work for $15 - $20 per page, which means that unless you're living at home or have about a dozen roommates, it's strictly a second or third job on the side for some pocket money.  A lot of artists are also exploited, being roped into doing jobs on spec because the money to print the project never seems to materialize.  

I've recently become involved with Imaginos Workshop, an outfit in my native Detroit headed by my old friend Mark Dudley.  The philosophy is simple:  Quality work, unique visions, nurturing creativity, and fair pay.  Even though we're small and are just getting the ball rolling, we pay a ballpark of $75 per page, same as the big boys.  We're funding our first anthology (Imaginos Plus) through Kickstarter and I wanted to invite any fellow Kossacks out there interested in comic art to check out our stuff and follow what we do.  I'm a writer and this is my contribution to the first issue:  Hatrax's Erin Tarn Project

I won't ask for contributions to the Kickstarter itself, since I know money is tight and as you can see we're either very close to our goal or over the top, so we're fine... though we do have some neat stuff to give away to our backers.  Wish us luck, as the first issue of the anthology goes to press in March, and come see us at conventions throughout the U.S. in 2014.  Hopefully I can keep you all updated on our vision of providing a nurturing environment for creativity as well as a fair and honest wage.  Call us the Costco of Comics... though that doesn't exactly sing as an ad line.  

Thanks for reading!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)

    Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

    by Hatrax on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 04:51:05 AM PST

  •  I'm surprised the pay is that crappy. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hatrax

    A lot of guys sell what amounts to single frame artwork via commission online for prices that would add up to more than publishers pay per page.  I would think artists would want royalties linked to sales as well, not just flat fees.  Pay low for initial art, but with a percentage of sales, and if you do popular stuff, you actually get a piece of the pie, not just sitting there fuming while the publisher takes all the loot.

    Sadly, I sold my set of original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first editions back when they were only first starting to get big.  Mad about $150 in profit off them, but if I'd held a few years longer, it would have been a lot more.  I really didn't even care for them, only bought them as they came out because I was exploring the indie stuff at the time.  I suppose artists could try that route as well - demand 5 or 10 original issue copies of each issue they work on, then sell them in mint, signed, to collectors if they hit it big.

    •  One of the problems is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN

      that a lot of contracts, especially for large publishing houses, specify that you get no royalties- straight work for hire.  Some even have clauses that anything you create becomes their property and that you cannot work for anyone else for a period of, say, five years.  
      There are writers and artists out there who can call their own shots and get royalties, but they are pretty elite.  The self-published guys who sell their prints, etc. are like all small business people- great advantages in making your own schedule and calling your own shots, but the risk is huge, cuz if you don't sell, you don't eat... or drive, or go to the doctor, or anything else that requires money.

      Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

      by Hatrax on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 05:16:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Being an artist is fun. (0+ / 0-)

    I didn't study art.

    I studied Business and Mathematics. I worked for mind-numbing years in cubicles, doing spreadsheets, wearing a suit and tie. My job did not involve music, storytelling, adventure, or imaginary hot chicks like Power Girl.

    I did these jobs because they paid the bills.

    An artist or musician has a more fulfilling job, that's why they get paid less. They also have the possibility of Making It Big. Then their paintings sell for thousands and their music sells for millions.

    Not to be a wet blanket (I am actually being a wet blanket) but the janitor who sweeps the floor of printers is probably more in need of help than the artist who drew the book. The janitor, no matter how good a janitor he is, will never sell his autograph for $500.

    If you think you are underpaid, demand higher wages. But don't demand them from me because I think you have a cool job. A really cool job. I'm jealous. I'm jealous because your job involves Power Girl.

    Remember that the cubicles are always looking for educated, imaginative, talented people to do spreadsheets and powerpoints...

    •  But why should that be the case? (0+ / 0-)

      In my view, a good artist contributes more to our culture and our society than, say, a bond trader.  So why shouldn't a good artist make at least as much as a bond trader?  

      To me, it's a reflection of what we, as a society, consider valuable.  

  •  Now if I could just get mine published. :\ (0+ / 0-)

    Flexia and Merv and me could use some love too. :(

    "If this Studebaker had anymore Atomic Space-Age Style, you'd have to be an astronaut with a geiger counter!"

    by Stude Dude on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 06:38:00 AM PST

  •  $85 a page for full pencils? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hatrax

    That's shocking. I attended John Buscema's comic book artist school in the mid - 70s. JB told the class that he made $100 a page for full pencils and $50 a page for breakdowns. Of course John was probably the highest paid guy at Marvel back then, but its insane that the page rate is lower almost 40 years later. An inflation calculator web site says that $100 in 1976 is equal to over $400 in 2013.  

    •  Sadly, it's true (0+ / 0-)

      The figures I quoted were averages, and some might make more, but there's no way to emphasize how much the bottom dropped out of the art market.  Part of the problem has been the artists themselves- fresh from school, desperate to get a toehold in the industry, they work for peanuts with the goal of getting better jobs later.  The problem is that everyone does it, so the companies know they can always find new and more desperate artists coming up fro below to replace them... which seems to be the model for our entire economy now.  

      As someone else suggested above, the artists themselves need to push and demand to be paid what they're worth.

      Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

      by Hatrax on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 01:42:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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