On Business: Comics Report(ing)

By | Monday, July 27, 2015 2 comments
One of the bigger news items in comics last week was Tom Spurgeon launching a Patreon campaign. He's not the first comics journalist to do so -- Heidi MacDonald launched one last year. (I launched one myself around the beginning of the year, too, but I don't consider myself a journalist. I only mention it in this context as a shameless plug!) The big reason that I think Spurgeon's project is news is, well, because of who it is. Despite his often self-deprecating approach to writing, he really does have an excellent grasp on the comics industry and provides more insights than pretty much anyone else. Judging from his comments surrounding the campaign, though, he feels that there isn't enough depth and insights from him, or anyone else.

I can't say I disagree with him on that point, and I can tell you why I think that is and why his Patreon may be they key to helping to correct that.

I'm not privvy to the finances of anyone out there doing anything resembling comics reporting. But I've heard both Spurgeon and MacDonald note that their incomes from comics writing isn't nearly enough to live on. That was a few years ago, so it's possible MacDonald's Patreon has had enough of an impact to change that, but she's not exactly making life-changing money through that campaign. She's turning in a respectable amount, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't cover her rent.

Let me reframe that a bit. Two of the biggest, most respected journalists in comics today aren't making enough money doing comics journalism to earn a living. In order to make ends meet, they have to do other work outside the industry. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it means that their time and energy simply can't be focused on comics enough to do what Spurgeon seems to be saying needs to be done.

So then you get other people writing about comics to varying degrees. Myself, Brigid Alverson, Rob Salkowitz, Zainab Akhtar, Noah Berlatsky... That "to varying degrees" is because they have to worry about paying the bills. They end up writing about comics because they love the medium, but they don't earn nearly enough money to put all their focus on it. I can't speak to everyone, but I'm usually lucky if I get more than an hour per day to think/write about comics. That's because I have a day job that I need to keep a roof over my head and my fridge from going empty.

With most writers-about-comics focusing on something other than comics, combined with the broad output of actual comics, it's little wonder comics journalism is where it is today. No one can afford to devote that kind of time and headspace to following the medium as a whole, writing about it, and then doing some other activities to help pay the bills. The result is that you get lots of niche pieces that don't get to the depth that you might hope.

Is Spurgeon and his Patreon campaign going to change that? It's too early to tell, but he's alluded to actually paying additional writers to cover what he can't. Which, in itself, is not a unique concept; I believe both MacDonald and Jonah Weiland over at CBR pay their writers. But if Spurgeon is able to pay writers, who are also able to get some work from MacDonald and other comics-related outlets, maybe we'll develop a cadre of thinkers who can focus on comics all the time. And the insights that can come out of that might really change the way we think about comics and comics journalism.
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Anonymous said...

I don't think the Beat pays its writers, but I might be wrong...

Matt Badham

Superlime said...

To clarify, I pay writers a token fee when I have the money to do so. Which is distressingly not very often. I live in New York City and just going to the movies (which I think I did twice this year) is $18 for 3D.

Finding a model to afford to pay writers is something I've been looking for for years.

I do hire writers at PW which is one of the few paying venues. As far as I can tell the comics outlets that regularly pay are CBR, CA and Comicbook.com.