Okay, maybe I’m crying sour grapes here, but it’s always struck me as hugely unfair that aspiring comic book artists expect to be paid upfront for their artwork whereas the writer doesn’t get any compensation unless it’s on the back-end. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about industry professionals at this level, we’re taking about the wannabes; just like me. Why shouldn’t they donate their time and talent and take their chances for success just like the rest of us starting out in the business.
In the example of my webcomic, Queeroes, I’m paying the hosting and advertising costs every month so I can’t afford an artist. And, even if I could, I’m doing the webcomic strictly for the massive exposure the Internet provides. I’m not making money from the site. In fact, I’m losing money on it. However, I consider it an investment. Once the webcomic builds up a following and people (hopefully) enjoy my writing, it will lead to better opportunities…and possibly increased ad revenue and merchandising sales. Of course, if I ever start making a profit off the webcomic I’ll be happy to share it with the artists that help make it possible…but it’s too early at this stage to predict when that will happen.
But, why do comic book artists always expect to get paid upfront? It’s not unheard of for creators of all sorts to take on “gigs” strictly for good exposure. Don’t Bloggers do it all the time? Don’t they polish their talent writing every day so they’ll build up a following and get some ad clicks? Don’t actors spend hours doing auditions for the hope of landing a role? And, there are a lot of musicians that donate the rights to their songs for movies and such just to get their work out there. It’s not unheard of to have to do “pro-bono” work to get your name out there so you CAN move on to the higher-paying jobs. Everybody has to start somewhere.
I recently had an artist, who answered one of my ads looking to be paid – despite the fact that I very clearly stated it’s a non-paying job – say to me, “I’m trying to make money drawing and I haven’t time to draw for free.”
Well, my friend, I’m trying to make money writing and I HAVE to write for free in order to hone my craft and build some name recognition. That’s just the way it is. You have to put in some kind of investment in to get the rewards you want out of your ventures.
Unless you’re so talented and popular that you can immediately land enough paying jobs to put food on the table; sometimes you’re going to have to take one for the team. Of course, creators of that caliber usually don’t have to answer many online ads because they have their work lined up in advance.
And, keep in mind, just because a writer may not offer upfront payment, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to gain. In my case, my site is now averaging over 500 hits a day. That’s a lot of exposure. Not to mention that fact that in my fledgling writing career – and my association with Prism Comics – I’ve made a few acquaintances in the industry. And, they do keep tabs on my projects.
Of course, artists that want to prove themselves have the options of launching their own webcomic and trying to make a buck or two off of it. But, it takes time to build up a following. Why not do a short story or two for an established webcomic and earn yourself some reputation points. Wouldn’t it be smart to get your artwork in front as wide an audience as possible?
There’s also the trite argument that it’s the artist’s art that sells a comic book because it’s a highly visual medium. Well, that’s only half true. The other half is the writer. You can have a gorgeously illustrated comic book, but if the story is boring or cliché, people will lose interest quickly. Ask any professional comic book editor/publisher and they’ll tell you that. Great art my get one issue off the shelves, but it’s strong writing that brings back loyal readers. Yes, writers do need artists to produce webcomics or comic books, but I seriously think a lot of artists are underestimating how much they need talented writers as well.
At the self-publishing level, most writers are spending a lot more than we’re making. If we’re not getting an upfront page rate, why should the artist? Our time, talent – and most importantly our ideas – are equally as valuable to the success of the comic book – or webcomic – as the artist’s. So, if success is a 50/50 proposition, then why is it writers are expected to bear all the costs and risks? Yet, the artists can walk away to the bank laughing because they’re still getting paid whether the project does well or not.