Over Labor Day, Glenn Hauman at ComicMix had a fine post about the actual cost of comics which I’m quoting at length because it’s so true:
That’s about how much it costs for an average page of comic book art, in terms of labor. Figure $100 for the writer, $150 for the penciller, $130 for the inker, $90 for the colorist, and $30 for the letterer. Those numbers go up and down depending on talent and publishers, but that’s a nice round number for us to work with.
Let’s consider another number: 22. That’s the average page count for a monthly comic book story. It’s also the number of pages most average pencillers can produce a month. Neat coincidence.
Now start multiplying. That means a penciller will make $3300 a month, or $39,600 a year. With covers, round that up to $42 grand a year. Not a lot of cash there. And the penciller’s the highest paid talent on the book. A writer will make $2200 a month, and nobody pays him to write covers. He’ll probably have to write two books a month to make his nut. And so on.
But if you’re expecting professionals to create your comics, that’s what you’ll have to spend.
Graphic novels? From scratch? You’re looking at about 120 pages minimum– that’s $60,000 in labor costs. Unless you’re economizing and doing a lot of the work yourself, that’s going to almost insurmountable unless it’s commissioned by somebody– most writers don’t have a spare $48,000 to spend on an outside artist. This, of course, is one reason why many “literary” graphic novels are solo jobs– David Mazzuchelli, Darwyn Cooke, Alison Bechdel, Brian Fies, et cetera– because the economics simply aren’t there to support five hungry mouths.
For those wondering, these are absolutely the economics of comics. Every time I get a job where I have to do a P&L this is the ballpark. In fact, by quoting them, I just put myself out of a few $100/hr consulting jobs. Certainly some creators make a lot more. Some…much less. But it does put all the discussions centering on economic anxiety into perspective…Making comics is not particularly lucrative at the journey(wo)man stage.
Photo: Gus Ariola at his desk, from the Life Magazine Archives.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.