Nix Artist Survey

By | Monday, July 13, 2020 Leave a Comment
Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics recently ran a survey of comic artists to look at their identity as artists and their relationship with nonprofit organizations (like CBLDF and Hero Initiative). He posted the results almost two weeks ago but I haven't heard much chatter about it, so I thought I'd try to bring up some points here. Particularly in light of Eppstein's survey of non-artists, which I'll also get to in a bit.

First off, Eppstein does note that his results are somewhat skewed by virtue of how he got respondents in the first place. Namely, the vast majority of them came from his personal contacts. He had one question that asked if they identified as member of a frequently/historically marginalized group and, with over 57% answering "no", that implies that most of his respondents were able-bodied, cis hetero, white men. (Eppstein also acknowledges this is a failure of outreach on his part.) And while this demographic may be more reflective of "mainstream" comics (i.e. Marvel and DC) it certainly does not encompass comics writ large.

That caveat out of the way, there are some numbers that I find particularly interesting. Of the 240 respondents, over half included "full time job" as one of their sources of income and another fifth included "part time job." "Freelance art" was called out as a separate category response, suggesting that those first two categories do not include making comics for most people. However, half of respondents did also say their day job was "comics related" but this could obviously include working in comic shops, in the marketing department of a publisher, on the line at a printing company, etc. But it seems like we're looking at roughly three-quarters of these artists that seem to be unable to make a living solely through making comics. The average was a little shy of three separate sources of income per respondent.

weekly Hours Chart
This is supported by a question on the number of hours worked on comics per week. While the pandemic has skewed the numbers a bit, as much of this survey was conducted while Diamond was shut down entirely, both the average and the median number of hours devoted to making comics per week topped out around 20. Basically the equivalent of a part-time job. Which either means that artists can't afford the time to put a "typical" 40-hour work week towards comics, or they can't afford the financial hit from the opportunity cost of not working another part- or full-time job. Either way, they're basically making the decision to limit the amount of time they work on comics because they simply can't afford to devote more time to them.

Honestly, I have trouble reading much of substance out of the responses on the questions bout nonprofit organizations. Eppstein calls out, "one respondent commented that all of the services, functions and values were framed as positives and wondered why they wouldn’t select all in every category" and I have to agree. It looks like over half liked seven or more of the ten values presented. There were no questions about assigning priorities, which I think may have helped to parse the data better.

I mentioned the non-artist survey earlier, too. These questions were more of a "Family Feud" type where non-artists were asked to guess how they thought artists would respond. Overall, non-artists guessed a little got a little more than third accurately. The very best score, however, came in at still under two-thirds accurate. Considering that, here again, Eppstein's respondents largely came from his social circle, it would suggest that these people did have more than a typical knowledge and/or familiarity with the comics industry. This is backed up by only five respondents identifying themselves as "not a fan" of comics.

It strikes me that there is a pretty massive gap between what comic artists actually do and how comics fit into their lives versus how they're perceived by others. I mean, I like to think I know a fair amount about comics. I'm friends with Eisner winners, I've chatted with Marvel Editors-in-Chief, I've had lunch with nationally syndicated cartoonists... And I scored less than fifty percent. Eppstein does claim a respondent trying to answer these accurately is "actually a fairly difficult task" but it does point to how people might rely on stereotypes and broad assumptions in lieu of any real (even anecdotal) data. He also promises a longer essay on how these stereotypes can cause problems in making positive social changes in the industry. Particularly in light of the recent spate of sexual misconduct issues that have been in the news the past few weeks, I am definitely looking forward to that! (Read Asher Elbein's excellent Daily Beast article for how the economic exploitation inherent in the comics industry encourages this sexual misconduct!)

One of the issues we have in the United States more generally is simply an unwillingness to openly discuss our finances. Even the friends I have who are most open about their finances still tend to shy away from specific numbers when it comes to their income. The two creators I've heard really talk about it at all have been Dorothy Gambrell and Ryan Estrada, and I don't think I've seen anything concrete (with regard to finances) from either of them in several years. It's an almost completely taboo subject. Does simply opening up that conversation a first step towards changing the whole financial model of comics? I don't know. But it seems to me that even these unprecedented times, it's unlikely that we'll start really opening up about how much comic creators get paid.
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