As mentioned in a previous item, this week’s Village Voice is the Cartoon Issue, and the centerpiece is a longish article called If Cartoons Are So Big, Why Don’t They Pay?; it’s one of several recent prominent articles — like the recent Marvel profile in the NY Times — that focus on the rather frugal level of profits one can expect from publishing comic books in America.
If our bedazzled nerd friend found his way to the MoCCA Fest in New York this weekend, he’d see hundreds of comics artists giving classes, selling comics, and signing autographs, just like movie stars. Truly, he would think, this is the Golden Age.
But after a while, a different kind of thought might cross his mind:
If comics are so big, how come so few of these people are making a living at it?
The piece interviews a colorful swath of comics types from Jules Feiffer to Ted Rall to Jason Yungbluth to Dorothy Gambrell. The findings are all pretty similar: it’s hard to make money making comics. Along the way we learn things like the fact that Fantagraphics does $6 million in sales a year, which Gary Groth helpfully puts into a grim perspective:
By “substantial and sustainable readership,” Groth means “the first printing of [a Woodring] book will sell 10,000 copies.” And that’s after more than 20 years of nurturing. It works for Woodring and Fantagraphics because, says Groth, “we’re a private company, we don’t need to satisfy investors, and we keep our overhead relatively low.” (Fantagraphics does about $6 million in sales a year.) But it’s no get-rich-quick scheme, nor even a get-solvent-quick scheme.
There’s also this jaw-dropper:
“I’m not sure how much you’ll be allowed to write about this,” says Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow), “but of course the Village Voice Media chain is one of the major culprits in this—their decision to ‘suspend’ cartoons [in 15 papers in 2009] dealt a serious blow to the struggling subgenre of alt-weekly cartoons.” [Tom Tomorrow returned to the pages of the Voice within a few months. Also, many of the artists in this issue aren’t getting paid, but have contributed work for the exposure.]
Do you year that? Because they get “exposure” in the Village Voice, artists are asked to draw for free. Wow, so generous! Seriously, does this make any sense for ANYONE?
Above illo by Mitch O’Connell.
Despite all the hassles and ramen, cartoonists continue to flood the streets and we’ll see them all at MoCCA and decide that comics is the best industry ever once again.
UPDATE: As we wrote in the comments, the real news here is that the Village Voice USED to pay cartoonists and other contributors. The fact that now it’s all for “exposure” is the real comment on our times. While it’s obvious that doing anything creative for pay has always been a tenuous move money-wise, the continuing erosion of paying outlets is even more problematic.
Other features in the Comics package at the Voice:The gossip column La Dolce Musto is rendered to comic by Dominic Bugatto
A cartoon review of V-Nam Café, as illustrated by Adam Kidder.
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.