Some rambling thoughts on various aspects of making comics and making money.
I alluded earlier to the sudden announcement that Nonplayer #2 by Nate Simpson was finished and would be presumably be coming out later this year. Simpson has written a much longer piece complete with a FAQ confirming that the issue will be in the May solicitations from Image; he’s contacted Image about reprinting issue #1 but no response yet, and Warners—which had optioned the comic—has let their rights lapse, so it’s there for the taking. And then he gets to why it took 3 1/2 years to draw the comic. It’s a long answer but I’ll lift a graph:
When Nonplayer #1 was released, a few things happened. As I have detailed here in the past, there was quite a bit of distracting hoopla (at least by my standards). Between promoting the book, fulfilling poster and comic orders, Googling myself, hanging out with all my new comics friends, talking to Hollywood big shot types, and trying to answer every comment on DeviantArt in a meaningful way (man, that was cray), the amount of time left in a day turned out to be quite small. So regret #1 is not having made more hay while the sun was out, because I had a finite window of full-time access to the comic, and a lot of that time was spent on things other than drawing.
Then came other things—the declining health of his mother was a particularly severe impediment, followed by a shoulder injury, a soul sucking job, a baby, and the other things that life throws at you in a three year period. In my earlier report I joked that he was “staying up every night until 4 am drawing one precious line a night” but it turns out I was pretty close:
Progress was excruciatingly slow for me. An hour or two every morning, just adding a few more lines, a little bit of color, and then off to work. With time at such a premium, my blogging stopped almost completely. Every once in a while, folks would poke at me or wonder where Nonplayer had gone, and there wasn’t really anything I could show or tell them. I was half-done with the book and was literally getting a face drawn one day, a hand the next day, a telephone the day after that. It was like crossing a desert on all fours with no oasis in sight.
Simpson’s guilt and discomfort over not being able to work on his passion project led to him crossing the street when he walked by his comic shop and other distressed behavior. Luckily, the issue is finished now—twitter tells is it looks good, no surprise given his obvious talent.
can’t even tell you how good @NateSonOfSimp‘s NONPLAYER 2 is. it’s just a whole different level of storytelling. dense and glorious.
— Ivan Brandon (@IvanBrandon) December 16, 2014
I don’t mean to make Simpson feel any worse than he did, or to rain on his issue #2 parade, but perhaps there is no shame in admitting that, perhaps, maybe, possibly, a monthly comic is not for you. Or even a bi-monthly comic. Some artists are slow. Most procrastinate (myself included, though I am hardly an “artist”) and a deadline or a bill is often the surest encouragement to work. But some people just don’t have the ability to generate regular work—and that’s okay. They can be amazing talents and nice people. Discipline is another ability entirely. After all, Rafael Grampa is the total bomb, and I interviewed him in 2009 about Furry Water…and it still hasn’t come out.
And you know, just being the bomb doesn’t pay the bills. Although this is the true golden age of comics, TV and Cadbury Highlights, just being awesome is not enough. This link has been going around about how there are way too many comics being published in France and cartoonists are giving up and doing whatever people do in France to make a living. I was told about the French comics glut when I was there earlier in the year for Angouleme, and there was fretting and lip biting about it, but the subtleties of the situation weren’t able to penetrate my amazement at being in a place with so may glorious comics.
Zainab Akhtar has a longer think piece here spinning out of a recent Lizz Hickey comic (since removed but the internet is an elephant) that was expressing frustration over “give me money” campaigns people have for shoes, plane tickets and other stuff. Obviously this is a sore spot for many people, but crowdfunding for creative endeavors is well established by now. Akhtar shares a fundamental mistrust of asking for money but also pooh poohs the idea that art is a sacred calling and people don’t need to be practical:
At the same time,online funding has been freeing for many artists, allowing them to give up the jobs they had and make art full-time, untethered; I’d guess the majority of artists are making a little bit extra from donations that eases their living costs somewhat, or pays for printing and so forth. To return to Hickey, artists are making art in the first instance- there is no petulant, throwing toys out of the pram exercises -‘I’m going to stop making things if you don’t support me financially!’ but that is a reality that many artists are faced with- at some point making art in the spare time you find around jobs and commitments is simply no longer financially sustainable. How many artists has comics in particular lost to that road? If crowd-funding and donations is a way to temporarily supplant that, then why not? There shouldn’t be any shame in that choice. Wanting to be supported and paid for what you do is perfectly valid, and it’s kind of sad that we still have to justify that. Money isn’t required to make art, or even for validation, but as a tool for food and shelter and time and living, it works just fine.
Obviously, I’m no stranger to crowdfunding. A year ago I had a (incredibly generous) donation campaign that helped pay off a lot of debts involving this website, and I launched a Patreon over the summer. The result has been more than I expected, and has absolutely helped keep this site going. At the same time, it’s more than the money raised by a lot of cartoonists who have more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole limbic system. I find that distressing.
And yet, as a mentioned when I launched my Patreon, I consider it analogous to subscribing to a magazine. If you would pay $4 for a magazine about comics every month, then maybe you can pay $1 a month for a barely passable, typo-riddled website about comics. Crowdfunding is the latest iteration of crowdsourcing in a world where we get everything for free that we used to pay for, entertainment wise. You can spend an hour un tumblr and be showered with more majestic art and comics than you would get in a MONTH before the internet. That access, unfortunately, also devalues the worth of all that majestic creativity, yadda yadda. Responsible people with consciences know, deep down, that it isn’t free, and that if you truly love a work of art, throwing a dollar into a hat is a small way to show your appreciation. And despite what we’d all like to think, that is kinda the way things work now.
All that access is also devaluing work that should be paid for. I’ve been seeing some grumbling on FB about artists being asked to work for nothing on spec or for development, and I’ve heard several recent examples of one of the most alarming business models of all: work for hire for a backend only. Even when there are page rates, unless it’s Marvel or DC, they aren’t what anyone in a metropolitan area could live on, or anyone with anything but an extremely spartan living style in a remote forest cabin. It was suggested that artists don’t dare speak out because they fear not getting work from publishers paying the low rates. As one artist told me “It’s SOP for established publishers who realize artists will keep taking worse and worse deals.” It’s also part of the general decline of artists at the Big Two—a decline which is useful for keeping art rates at “salary cap” levels. But, it’s also undeniable that there is a glut of excellent comics artists and and surpluses drive down prices.
I don’t think that publishers that pay low rates are socking away giant Scrooge McDuck like piles of money—in fact, I know they aren’t. Sales are up but it’s still a low margin business for most sectors.
Image Comics is obviously the biggest beneficiary of the current system—and when I say Image Comics I mean the creators at Image and the readers of Image. Image is a seine net for every other business model; it’s a perfect mix of salt-mine hardened veterans and first flush of inspiration newcomers. And readers seem to like it. But, in order to buy in, you still need to save up enough money for that three or four months of waiting for cash to flow in. And that takes a day job, or some big two work or a working spouse. Or a tiny cabin and a patch of kale to live on.
And with Image we circle around once more to Nate Simpson. Obviously, Image isn’t a good model for him. Neither is crowdfunding, whether Kickstarter or Patreon. there is really no model that supports a Nate Simpson, because his work habits are not geared to a self-starting model. Luckily he is a very talented artist (and a nice guy) and he has other work options. His passion project will remain that—and something that others can enjoy when it comes out. For many creators, comics will never be a full time job—but as an industry we need to make sure that there’s still a business model that makes it possible for those who CAN work full time to be able to get a job that pays a living wage,
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.