Monday, January 13, 2014

On Webcomics: Being a Working Cartoonist

Who better to discuss getting paid in the world of webcomics than an actual webcomics artist? Ethan Young, the writer/artist on Tails, posted this piece late last week on being a working cartoonist. He has some great points worth sharing and, with his permission, I'm re-running it here. Take it away, Ethan...
I just read a very interesting and sobering article over at The Beat; a mini-expose of what it's like to be a working cartoonist. And it also got me thinking a little; I want to express my feelings about being a comic-centric freelancer. I also wanna discuss money, which is a difficult subject to broach for cartoonists because those who make less become envious and those who make more take a little pity (though not maliciously). But here goes with my rant:

I make a pretty decent living with cartoons and comics...and it makes me feel super guilty. Guilty because I see and/or hear about other cartoonists struggling. Guiltier still, when it comes to comic books, people generally think that a more famous/popular cartoonist makes more -- that fame commands money. It becomes reinforced within the comic culture: you can charge more for your work when you become famous. Well, that's actually complete bullshit.

I'm not famous at all. I have a pretty small but fairly loyal fanbase for Tails, but I'm also an obscure artist to most of the comic-reading public. But I get paid very, VERY well by my clients from the advertising and marketing world. Doing comics.

See, in the real world, clients don't give a shit if you're famous. They don't have that internalized HERO WORSHIP with artists that comic fans have. They just want to see talented work delivered at a reasonable time with professionalism and tact. I've always told aspiring freelancers: Clients don't just pay for talent, they pay largely for experience.

But in the comic book world, well, the old rule applies: you get paid more when you become famous/popular. Most of the COMIC projects I've been offered have been with fairly standard beginners' rates or really low rates. (Sorry, but I've been freelancing for almost 10 years, I'm not a beginner; I'm just unknown because my life goal isn't to draw someone else's creations at a big company.)

Low pay for journeyman cartoonists is the accepted norm in comics.

And yes, before you try to correct me, I know, the comics world is different than the real world. "Stop complaining and shut up, Ethan!" But here's the thing: IT SHOULDN'T BE!

The comic book world, like everywhere else, is inhabited by ADULTS! Adults who should understand that creators deserve a living wage. Not everyone can do what we do. Not only is talent a rare thing, but it takes a LIFETIME of practice and honing to turn that talent into a real SKILL. You can't just take a 6 month course in Human Anatomy and expect to understand anatomy when you leave. (Heck, I still see 40-year-old artists who don't have a grasp on anatomy)

Have you ever had a plumber come to your house? I have. And it cost me $500 for a job they didn't even do right (no offense to all the competent plumbers out there). But guess what, I can go to a convention and get a super talented artist to do a super awesome, professional sketch for $20. Try getting your plumber to come to your house for $20.

You can make the argument that plumbing is more essential than art, especially as a homeowner, but that would be beside the point.

Professional service should always come with a professional rate.

Annnnnnnnd THAT is why I felt bad reading this article on The Beat; reading about super talented comic artists who are struggling. Because (I'll say it again), we have reinforced the idea that low pay for journeyman cartoonists is the accepted norm in comics.

And we have to change that.

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