On Business: Freelance

By | Monday, June 30, 2014 2 comments
Once upon a time (not all that long ago, frankly) I would look out at the comics industry and see all sorts of people making a living in and around comics. Not just the folks at Marvel and DC, but people who wrote about comics, or published magazines about comics... They were making, evidently, enough to earn a living. Now, of course, I couldn't speak to their quality of life, whether they were using food stamps or dining at the Savoy every night, but it was still a damn bit more than I've ever made since I certainly couldn't even pay the meager domain and hosting fees with what I earn on my writing. Nothing I'm bitter about, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jealous.


That's a jealousy that's not really warranted. At least, not for what I thought it was. The past few years -- whether by greater attention on my part or generally more open discussion or what, I don't know -- I've picked up bits and pieces that point me to a different conclusion. The people who I believed were making their living doing comics stuff aren't. Or, at least, not exclusively.

It's come in drips and drabs. A comment from a publisher that they actually run a small graphic design firm. A reference from a writer who's also working on advertising copy. A Tweet from a journalist asking about crowd-funding options. I've heard variations of, "So, what's you day job?" I-don't-know-how-many-times coming from or extended to comics folks.

That's not to say that you can't make a living doing comics or comic journalism, just that it's perhaps a little more rare than you might expect. The ones who are really successful at it often are successful, in part, because they're also doing additional freelance work that you don't really see.

I've talked before about how Dorothy Gambrell is very public with her earnings and, while I was mainly speaking above regarding people not actually doing comcis themselves, I thought checking in on a successful webcomiker might be worthwhile. Her latest update runs through March of this year...
You can see that, over the past two years, about 90% of her income came from freelance work not related to her webcomic, whereas in 2012, freelancing only up a quarter of her work. But look at her year-by-year comparison: prior to 2011, her annual income was mostly in the low $20,000 range. In 2011 and 2012, she hustled and managed to get that into the low $30,000. But in 2012, when she shifted to more freelance work, her income nearly doubled.

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that, individually, we all should try to establish multiple income sources so that, like webcomikers who always have their books/t-shirts/prints for sale, we can keep afloat and not solely rely on the day job. What I'm thinking now is that you can't rely on a single job for an income stream, even if that single job includes multiple income sources utilizing the long tail model. Following the webcomics model was my original idea; maybe it was more spot-on than I realized.
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Matt K said...

"Clients: can't live with 'em… can't live exclusively on unpaid (or poorly paid) personal expressions of creativity."

Jim Shelley said...

In some ways, I think the advent of digital comics has actually made it harder. Yes, it's easier to publish a digital comic now, but there is also a ton more competition. (Same goes for web comics I suppose.)

I look back at the early days of digital comics (when the iPad first arrived) and you think how big something like Atomic Robo got. Now, I see similar comics/projects hit comixology and no one seems to notice them. Heck, even cool umbrella publishers like Monkeybrain seem to have a hard time getting traction now.