On Tumblr, artist Ronald Wimberly wrote a very cogent post on why artists should get paid to do sample pages:
A quick preface: Yesterday a friend of mine told me the story of how she was scouted by DC Comics to participate in their “talent” workshop. My colleague, who worked as a professional for 7 years and had books from Marvel under her belt, made time to meet up with a rookie editor only to subject herself to the editor’s rejection and novice opinion as to how my colleague may one day meet the standards of the DC talent workshop- some other time I’ll talk about how lame this DC Comics talent workshop is in how it is manufacturing the spectacle of demand for their brand by creators and using that to forego the cost and editorial aptitude it takes to curate and build a stable of … but they had the gaul to ask my colleague to do test pages, so here’s my opinion on that.
If you’re Marvel or DC or a company, like BOOM, that profits off large licenses, you should pay for samples from prospective contractors. The hours that an artist spends making a sample are bankable hours; it’s work. By not paying for that sample art, these corporations are offsetting the cost of their R&D on labor. Artists shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of a corporation’s R&D.
It’s pretty common, especially working with licensed characters that need to be strictly on model and will need to get approved, to have artists do a few test pages to show they can draw the characters. I can’t imagine why anyone would have to do do test pages for any character that isn’t on model though, because a good editor should be able to figure out if an artist is skilled enough for a job from looking at their previous work. Wimberly’s main point is that artists should get PAID to do samples, not that they should never do them to get a job, and this is part of the general low working standards of the industry:
I think in order for we artists to get treated more fairly, we are going to have to stick to standards of practice. Companies exploit the lack of communication and solidarity between artists. We can’t really trust corporations, ones with a history of exploiting labor, to have our best interests in mind so we are going to have to keep the lines of communication open and hold corporations to a standard. Hold the line!
Savege Dragon artist Erik Larsen disagreed strongly with Wimberly in an FB post, and I guess they went at it a bit in the comments, but I think Larsen wasn’t really responding to what Wimberly was talking about, as Wimberly pointed out in a follow up, that addresses the main justification for doing free samples: the comics industry is such a marginal business that paying for samples often just isn’t in the budget. (Even Larsen admitted the DC workshop thing was a little weird, though.) It’s pretty obvious that artists SHOULD get paid for test pages, but they rarely will. I know of at least one person who lost a job because they wouldn’t do test pages…and there are plenty of eager art school grads who will. So yeah, the practice continues. “Spec” creation is insanely common everywhere now, from Hollywood where writing spec treatments TOTALLY FOR FREE is SOP on huge film franchises. There are many other examples. Writing doens’t have very much value on the open market, though, and i doubt any of these practices will stop.
I should note here: I’m sure I’ve asked for writing samples in the past at any number of editorial jobs, but usually in one of two situations: a) the writer was new and had no relevant clips or b) the writing had some kind of technical format or content that required specific skills that had to be demonstrated for the assignment.
As far as comics go, there’s a lot of “two people apply for one job, unbeknownst to one another” stuff going on at larger companies these days; for all I know that might be part of what Wimberly is talking about here. It seems pretty creepy, but the sad reality is, good paying jobs in comics are so scarce these days that people will jump through a lot of hoops just to get a chance. Bravo to Wimberly for kicking over that particular stone.
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.