On Business: The Artist's Dilemma

By | Monday, July 14, 2014 8 comments
Mark A. Lester has been working on several webcomics over the past few years. His two most recent ones are Chaos Grimm, about a "blood-soaked homicidal clown", and Altered Ego (just completed) about an artist struggling to find success as a cartoonist. He ended Altered Ego early last month because, "Sadly, even after all these many years, I’m STILL a struggling artist wannabe and as such continuing to create an on-going strip simply takes up too much time. Time I need to be spending flipping burgers and earning money."

Last week, he posted another note saying how Chaos Grimm is also now on hold. Given his (very legitimate) reasoning, and the way he laid it out on his site, I asked if I could run the piece here as an example of what nearly every webcomic creator has to go through from a practical point of view...
It really is “all about the money”. I wish it weren’t. I wish I could be the artist I’ve always dreamed of being; an artist unconcerned about money and creating solely for the love of creating. It’s the kind of artist I’ve always wanted to be and it was the kind of artist I’ve always been. Until I couldn’t any longer. Eventually the time came when I couldn’t give money the finger and keep pushing pen across paper. All my artistic integrity and arrogance couldn’t keep the rent paid or food on the table.

Like it or not the time eventually came for me to lay aside my pencil, work on more immediate things and maybe grow up a little. Let me stress that I’m not “leaving” anything, nor am I stopping work on the projects I’m involved in, but the time has come for me to pause and re-think the WAY I am presenting these projects.

Why now? Why now after so many years? There are several reasons for this seemingly sudden change but the most immediate is that the company I worked for decided some time ago that they didn’t need a graphics department any longer and I was let go without warning or time to prepare. Unfortunately, my savings can only go so far and real life needs to be addressed. Work that produces little or no income must take a backseat to work that does.

I no longer had the luxury of creating for the sake of creating. I have been producing artwork at a furious pace for quite a while now, feeling that this moment would come, and I wanted to be as ready as I could be. The time when I would set artwork and spend my time, and give my attention, to things like keeping a roof over my head has come. I can’t put it off any longer.

Although I will no longer be able to devote my time and energies to creating new artwork as I have been, you will see artwork and projects coming out that will be “new to you”. In the upcoming weeks and months I have more graphic novels that will become available. Most of this work has not been available on-line before. Even the new ALTERED EGO graphic novel will contain stories, artwork and behind the scenes information that will be new to everyone and will only be available through purchasing the books. As much as I love giving away work for free to anyone who would like it, it simply doesn’t pay the bills. Not even well below poverty level bills.

Life changes and this is a good thing. I am positive about the future and excited about what lay ahead even if it’s flipping burgers and sweeping floors. I will be new and it will be different.

Rest assured, I will be back. Heck! I’m not really even going anywhere. I’m still here I’ll just not be posting new work online as often. Still, the dream lives on.

Thanks for the ride. It was a blast.
I’ll keep you updated as time goes on. Things are in the works and new work is coming.

In the meantime, please consider helping me along by purchasing the books I have for sale, the merchandise and sharing, promoting and loving Chaos and Co. Fan work is totally AWESOME too! Just because I personally, haven’t the time to work on Chaos doesn’t mean Chaos has to disappear entirely. It’s really up to all of us. Lets make this hiatus a positive thing!
Be sure to check out Lester's work and, if you're so inclined, buy some print copies of it.
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Britt Reid said...

While I sympathize, I have to ask, did he do anything to promote his work?
(Sometimes you have to spend money to make money)
Plugging his work on related chat boards?
(It's free!)
Convention appearances?
(one of his posts mentions doing the convention circuit..before Chaos Grimm...nothing after.)
Send copies (or at least press releases) to various news sites? And not just comics news sites, but pop culture-oriented ones, as well.
Just putting up a site and hoping people will find it just doesn't do the trick, especially if what you're promoting is quirky and unique, not easily categorized.

Matt K said...

Ah, yes. Today's most popular question when anything ever goes wrong for someone: "how did you bring this upon yourself?" Followed by "let me enumerate all the things you need to be doing."

(Condescending "I mean, really, duh" jibes optional, but recommended!)

Britt Reid said...

It's hardly a case of "how did you bring this upon yourself?"
More like "did you try everything before giving up?"
Were we supposed to just let him cry on our shoulders and offer sympathy?
Why is Matt against suggestions that, if implemented, might keep him from having to flip burgers?

Everything I suggested was implemented during my tenure at Topps Comics with the result that we were, for most of our existence, ahead of Dark Horse in total sales despite having fewer titles per month and only 1/4 the staff to produce them!
(Our art department [editorial and advertising] was only myself and an amazing Production Manager as compared to nine art staffers at Dark Horse.
And, our editorial department had even less people proportionately)
We also had more features in national press like USA Today than anyone else besides the Big Two!
My bad for trying to help instead of offering a shoulder to cry on.

Interesting. I find no offense at the question; Have I done anything to promote my work? The answer is simple ... Yes. Obviously not all as I suspect, or would hope, that if I had I would have found more success financially. I simple check of my website would indicate that I have advertised, participated in social media, speak daily almost non-stop with fans, have my work appearing on other, related, web sites as well as created books and merchandise etc.

That said, there IS a missing piece, I just don't know what it is or else I'd have done it. What I 'haven't' done is as for pity or a "shoulder to cry on". Explaining why a site that has been producing new work for years is suddenly stopping, or slowing down, was a courtesy to those many great people who interact with me daily. I also haven't stopped or "given up". I am looking at the manner in which I present (and promote) my work.

I wouldn't stop. Why would I?

I can't say I've seen a lack of promotion out of Mark Lester, that's for sure. I've wondered why he isn't more successful--it isn't the quality of his art, that's for sure.

Marketing is a tricky thing, and some folks get that side a lot better than others. I do like Britt's suggestion of press releases, for example. News agencies are a great resource for authors in their area. Not having done much in the way of publicity, I know why I don't sell more than a few copies of my written stuff a month. And I understand that even with marketing $$, sometimes it doesn't hit the right audience.

As two writing professors put it, "the difference between a successful author and a failed one is that the successful one kept writing." There is more to it than that, but I imagine Mark's going to do his part.

Britt Reid said...

Until I read this blog post, I didn't know Lester's strip even existed...and I check most of the major comics sites and blogs several times a week (with some on a daily basis)
It's good, and, if quality were the sole criteria, deserves to do better in the marketplace.
But, sometimes, really good material gets lost and forgotten in the marketplace...unless the author/creator toots his/her own horn.
Lester has good product.
Now it's up to him to "sell" it...

Matt K said...

If you don't detect any hint of (entirely needless!) condescension in your effort at "help," Mr. Reid, particularly the initial comments, then clearly you're using a substantively different dialect of English than I am, in which case I will conclude that communication is just a lost cause.

Britt Reid said...

If you don't detect any hint of self-pity projection in your comments, Matt, then clearly you're using a substantively different dialect of English than I am, in which case I will conclude that communication with you just a lost cause.