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!