As we reported over the weekend, cartoonist Ian McGinty passed away at the tragically young age of 38 last week. According to his obituary, he died of natural causes…but as they mourned him, friends and colleagues pointed out that McGinty’s lifestyle, like that of many artists, was one of overwork and underpay. And that led to a twitter hashtag, #comicsbrokeme, introduced in a tweet from Eisner and Ignatz winning cartoonist Shivana Sookdeo.

To say that it touched a nerve would be the understatement of the year, as literally thousands of tweets unloaded years of all nighters, low page rates, bad management, health crises, trauma and burnout.

While initially some saw this as a way to pile on Ian’s tragic death, McGinty’s mother Laura tweeted her support of the movement, in response to Dave Scheidt, who wrote “I’m seeing lots of losers trying to well actually the #ComicsBrokeMe tag but Ian McGinty was the perfect example of how the comic industry takes passionate, loving and excited comic creators and throws them in a meat grinder. He loved to draw and his love and talent was exploited.”

“As Ian’s mother I can say this is true,” Laura McGinty replied. “Our hearts are broken. Ian was incredibly hard working, talented and kind. Please do whatever you can to help others in this industry all. Thank you, Laura McGinty”

There are a mind boggling 10,000 words of #ComicsBrokeMe tweets collected here – and that was just the first day. Among the topics – low pay for colorist, rates that have actually gone down, making entire graphic novels on a small advance, and the lack of royalties when working in licensed comics.

This could be a weekend of tweeting…or the start of real changes in the industry. The trouble with twitter is that it’s of the moment, so I’m going to try to collect some of the later statements and viewpoints here. More analysis is to come.

Dylan Horrocks on Jack Kirby

First, I’d like to turn this over to the words of Ian McGinty. We were Facebook friends (and friends in real life, although I didn’t know him as well as many) so I have access to his friends locked tweets….but this one seems to me to be important to read, from September 22, 2022, he wrote:

I made a final decision I’ve been talking about for years but never had the guts to actually do. I’m gonna finish this final book and then just focus on my own projects for a while. I have over 30 scripts, 10 thumbnailed books, 5 animation pitches, 5 toy designs, etc that have sat on the back burner for years.

I’m unhappy working constantly on licensed properties that aren’t my own, and while I appreciate having the opportunity and have worked with some amazing people, I think it’s time to take a minute and focus on my own stuff to show folks there’s more to me than just being known as a hired gun.

I have a lot of people I look up to that have been successful with doing their own thing, Jorge, Axur, Alejandra, Justin, Aaron, Ahmad, Jarrett, Delilah, just to name a few who are doing incredible stuff and I’d like to get back to these ideas and designs of my own that initially got me into art, comics and animation.


On May 23rd he wrote:

“It’s insane to remember that I drew, inked and lettered over 120+ pages of a comic with the promise of being paid by Zenescope and never saw a dime. 11 years ago. I was dumb.”


The project was called “Suckers Vamp.”

April 27th:

And the same day, some wonderful character designs for one of those new projects he was excited to work on.

What a tragedy that we’ll never see these projects from someone who was so talented and giving.


In reading the #ComicsBrokeMe tweets, they come from every level of the industry, some cartoonists that are incredibly successful now, some who should have been but got broken in some way, some who stayed the course at great personal cost.

Several publishers came in for some open criticism, including Iron Circus (late payments), Boom (perpetually underpaying creators) and Oni Lion Forge, and…well, really, just about everyone else. A couple of people told anecdotes about how creators at Marvel and DC were getting huge page rates which, in a movement aimed at getting people paid more seems kind of ironic, but the point was that huge rates for some meant a barely living wage for others.

Artist Rachel Distler created a survey on working conditions, 

In light of the heartbreak running through the comics community at this time, I decided to create a survey in order to study responses about pay and quality of life for creators and artists.  There are a few surveys already online ranging from years past about average income, what percentage of identities make up the community, etc., but I couldn’t help but remember one that I have difficulty finding now that has specific creator responses about specific publishing companies, as well as if they were late or absent on payment, and possibly none recording whether or not we have been injured in some way, if we are receiving adequate time to rest, what our workload looks like, etc. – There are way too many horror stories about how we’re all burning at both ends in order to make a life telling stories that would have once possibly paid us a decent living. I have had both good and bad experiences, but I can’t help but feel like too many of us are headed down a dangerous route if nothing changes. So, along with us all sharing what we’ve been through, I thought an anonymous survey to gather data on what our workloads and page rates look like might help to gain a broad look at the picture.

And, hopefully some of the questions also help us reflect on how hard we’re busting ourselves up right now. Nobody should burn up in the flame of a dream. I’m sorry it’s already happened. If you have time and would like to participate I would greatly appreciate your input. After about a week or so, I’d like to publish the numbers should there be enough interest, and make it available for us all to look at. Thank you, and get some rest.

Keezy Young, creator of Taproot, had some other practical suggestions:

the non-money things that help me most as a comic artist: recommending my work on social media and to your friends! or just liking or rt-ing it or whatever. requesting it at the library. leaving reviews online. bringing me coffee or food at conventions. being kind in comments
supporting my Patreon or sending a couple bucks to my ko-fi. adding my name or works when people ask for recs or your favorites and stuff! telling me how excited you are for my future things! adding my coming later stuff to your “to read” lists even if they aren’t out yet
publishers care about money/sales, of course, but there are people who have gotten my book from the library once who have done more for me financially than people who have bought it twice! because they talk it up so much, other people notice, editors notice, pubs notice
which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the people who quietly buy me books and don’t say anything, haha. I love you all!! but I totally recognize that it’s not easy for everybody! and word-of-mouth is honestly essential

Matt Wallace, author of the Savage Rebellion trilogy as well as a comics, video game and TV writer had a look at the dismal bigger picture:

As much as it breaks my heart to read all of the comics artist horror stories in my feed right now, every single entertainment/media industry built on the backs of artists needs to have its own reckoning right now. The payment is past due.

Industries built on the work of artists, whether it’s writers or visual/audio creators and performers, have all systematically and intentionally devalued our work to the point of abject poverty while raking in record profits across the board. When I say “reckoning” I mean it.

If you’re an author in the publishing industry you’re basically trying to win the lottery. It’s a joke. If you write movies/TV you’re not right now because you’re on strike for the basic survival of your profession, which studios are 100% trying to eliminate *as* a profession.

If you create comics you’ve watched your heroes literally die penniless and forgotten while their creations are turned into billion-dollar movie, video game, television, and merchandise franchises, and adjusted for inflation you’re possibly making even less than they did.

If you make music you’re being paid a fraction of a penny per stream by Spotify, the thirty-billion-dollar mega corp. Your live events are controlled and price-gouged by Ticketmaster the de facto music industry mafia/concert monopoly and you have no power to opt out.

On and on and on. And it’s only getting worse. Every time the folks in charge of these industries have reduced our money and rights and realized we’ll take it they’ve been emboldened. They absolutely 100% want to pay the people who create the only product they sell NOTHING.

If you’re wondering why the streaming service to which you subscribe seems to be making weird decisions regarding their content/branding, *every one of those decisions* is about paying the creators of their content less so they make more for doing nothing. Every single one.

Each morning, every CEO of a major media corporation wakes up and asks themselves one question: “How can I fuck over the people who create the only product I sell to increase my profits and keep them broke and subservient and devoid of any agency or power or control today?”

They’ve trained their artists to fight and be grateful for the barest scraps of the vast gold and diamond crusted empires we’ve architected, and they’ve trained you to believe if those artists want to be paid they’re greedy sell outs who should feel lucky just to play the game.

You’ll make a TV show your entire personality and buy the t-shirt and toys and video game based on it, but if the person who wrote it complains they still can’t afford groceries you’ll tell them to try harder or eat artistic fulfillment for dinner or some other nonsensical crap.

I’m going to stop typing now before I give myself an aneurysm.

Wallace didn’t mention another major culprit, “shareholders” but you can fill in that blank yourself.

Derf “My Friend Dahmer Backderf had another overview – although some framed #ComicsBrokeMe as an “old timers” vs ‘youngsters” difference in views, I thought he had some good points.

We’re definitely in a down period in this biz.  #ComicsBrokeMe is trending and it’s worth a read. 

There are a LOT of bad actors right now. Every 10 years or so, the comics industry crashes. This is where we are right now.

The major publishers have returned to their bad, old ways. Smaller publishers aren’t paying shit and aren’t selling much either. There are few success stories right now. I have few words of comfort here. We just have to get through this period.

I’m not offering any “woe is me” testimonies here. I’ve been lucky in my 40 years as a pro. I haven’t gotten rich, but I’ve made a decent living doing the work I want to do.

I’m entering the last period of my career. Were I starting out, shit, I don’t know how I’d do it. The paths I took are long gone. But it’s not like those paths were easy either. Few of my contemporaries made it. There were lots of casualties left behind in the ditch.

Now, I largely avoided the corporate publishers, who have always been the exploiters and abusers. I bolted from corporate newspapers, where I began. When corporations forcibly took over altweeklies, I bolted from them, too.

Oh sure, I’ve had a couple indie publishers collapse on me. And don’t get me started on the alt-weeklies! But I haven’t been ripped off, and I’ve consistently made decent money. No, it hasn’t been easy. But then I never had the delusion it would be.

I’m VERY concerned, however, about the sad state of comics retail in the US. I’ve never seen it this bad. The comparison with places like France and Belgium is stark. It’s maddening.

On the positive side, I was at the @CAKEchicago Fest last weekend and it was fabulous. Lots of great work, lots of people buying it. I had record sales, over $4000! People want comics. If you have the goods, and can be a road warrior, the opportunity is there.

Everyone on comics Twitter is buzzing about New York Comicon denying pro badges to established pros. Fuck New York Comicon. Know the comics & fests that are open to the work you do. Granted, my work has nothing in common with people selling cheesecake prints in NYCC Artist Alley

Comics, like most of the arts, is a 2-man operation in this fucking country. We get ZERO support from the govt. No health care, no subsidies, few grants, zilch. I found my wife in college. When I quit my day jobs in newspapers 10 years later, she carried the health care.

That’s the reality for anyone in the arts. It sucks, but understand that going in. If you’re solo, well, you need a day job. Period. Make comics for fun on the side and strive for a breakthrough. I did.

It’s vital you understand this when you enter the comics biz.

And now, not only is their no support, we’re actually facing attacks from the GOP and their goons. It’ll get worse. Culture War is about to become Civil War, I fear, and we’re a soft target. It’s 1954 all over again. Dr. Wertham must be howling with laughter.

One bit of advice. Jesus, DON’T go to art school! Especially don’t go into massive debt to go to art school. Go to a regular college and get a useful degree. You want to make comics? OK, then make comics. You don’t need classes to do that. I didn’t.

OK, I’ve gone on long enough here.

Another thought, from the recent SVA prof meltdown. That schools w/ a “comics major” don’t offer business classes, or even openly mock students concerned about such things, is positively immoral. Especially while saddling kids with $100,000 in debt. Again. Avoid art school.

cropped-logo.pngAs for the younger generation of cartoonists, those coming up in a world where crowdfunding, self-publishing and agents are all viable options (none were 20 years ago), while page rates stagnate, there was a lot of talk about unionizing (legally problematic), and banding together. The most mentioned outlet is Cartoonist Co-Op, an organization founded by Sloane Leong, Zach Hazard Vaupen, Nero Villagallos O’Reilly, Reimena Yee, Joan Zahra Dark, and Aaron Losty in February which aims to “make our creative practice more sustainable and successful.”

The goals:

Functionally, the cooperative is a community of comics-makers who will contribute to:

A curated comics catalogue

The mutual marketing effort of each other’s work. Taking inspiration from Panel Syndicate, Shortbox Comics Fair, and comic collectives, the website will promote new comics on a shared schedule with other members, thereby allowing all to contribute to its promotion. This will be done through a self-reporting system based around shared forms and documents.

The continued development of each other’s comics practice and career

There are more details here on joining but also lots of very cool comics that I want to find out more about here.

Leong tweeted more about their goals and how it can work:

If you’re angry about low pay or predatory publishing practices in the comics industry, I’d encourage you to join the @cartoonistcoop. We can only change things by challenging these institutions and practices TOGETHER as exemplified by our comrades in the WGA and other unions 

Step 1 is always BUILDING NUMBERS so we can collectively exert pressure on these institutions by withholding labor. I keep hearing why no one is challenging these practices… it’s because no ONE person can & no one person can change these things from the inside

Don’t wait for the union to come to you. YOU MAKE THE UNION. That’s how these groups grow into formidable organizations. Also troubling to hear ppl say they’re going to wait until someone else does the organizing work and THEN they’ll support it. That’s not how this works.

The most common excuse for not getting involved is ppl saying they’re sick, tired, poor or they don’t have the experience. Guess what, that’s all of us! And a lot of people, especially freelancers, don’t have this sort of organizing experience. I certainly didn’t!

But if you want a sustainable career, you have to fight for it together. TBH i think this individualistic thinking is especially pervasive in comics bc as freelancers you’re isolated, your social connection to your fellow workers is virtual/tenuous & you have little work autonomy

Obviously this is all by design to keep us disconnected from each other and weak. But I’m excited to see other comic workers fired up about this. I just want ppl to funnel that fire into the Co-op so we can aim it and incinerate our enemies instead of being tiny isolated flamesJust to be clear, we are an organization for mainstream AND indie comics workers. We especially need mainstream comics workers to join because the big publishers practices trickle down to smaller presses and clients. But we offer lots of benefits to anyone going any route.

One big benefit of the Co-op is sharing our current pay rates & pub advances, talking about what is a predatory or reasonable contract, and especially sharing our experiences with problematics publishing workers and clients in order to protect ourselves from future issues.

And this statement:

And a case study from Witchy’s Ariel Reis (the publisher in question is Lion Forge.):

#ComicsBrokeMe feels like a good time to mention that the initial offer I received for the print editions of Witchy was $25k for a five book deal. I’d receive 5k on signing, then 3.5k per book handed in until the final book, which I’d get a special treat of 6k for

Fortunately, even I as a newbie to the industry could tell this was exploitative as fuck. But I did end up taking a single book deal for 5k. At that point Witchy had been running long enough that the book was almost done, so in my mind it was basically free money.

I got a pay boost for the second book, (also almost finished by the time an offer for a new deal rolled around) but I did very much feel that the lack of risk the publisher took by paying me pennies for book 1 directly correlated with the efforts they took to promote the book.

That’s very much an unproven suspicion, so take it with a grain of salt. But seeing how the work of peers who were paid better for their books was treated, it seems within the realm of possibility.

The truth is though, the money I was offered for Witchy was an insult, but not financially devastating. I started making Witchy when it was easier than ever to gain followers for independent webcomics. I’d built up a solid foundation of patreon supporters. But most importantly,

I had parents who I could tolerate, and who were able to let me live with them for 4 years post university. So I didn’t have to worry about losing money to rent and food. Most people working in comics don’t have the privilege.

This gave me the time to work on my craft and develop my portfolio, ride out severe burnout from juggling animation school and and a webcomic, time to recover from a severe panic disorder, and get my mental health in check. And time to work on a big pitch.

The big pitch is what made me financially dependent, on top of patreon and the odd jobs (coughbowuigicough) that I make time for on the side. But the reason I was paid enough money to support me is due, I think, in part to me winning two Ignatzes the month my pitch went out,

Which is such an insane serendipity of circumstance that I’m still reeling from it. I am just so, so exceedingly lucky. I’m lucky and I’m still not even earning the Australian median wage. I am among the most fortunate people working in comics and still not earning median wage.

Anyway don’t worry about me. Australia has subsidised healthcare. My parents have savings so I’m paying off the mortgage on a small apartment instead of rent thanks to them paying the deposit. and “below the median wage” when you don’t have kids is still plenty to live off.

I’m comfortable. so comics hasn’t broken me yet. but only because I have a safety net in mummy and daddy. It’s my friends and peers without that privilege that I’m worried about.

(and at risk of drawing out the thread too long after ending it at a good point: I am still very much tired and working Too Much)

important post script: get yourself an agent. the reason I got a pay bump for witchy 2 and a great contract for bedfellows is because i had someone fighting in the ring for me (love you linda!). not every agent is good but a good agent is worth their weight in gold.

likewise: nurture friendships and professional relationships with peers in the industry. ask them if they’ve heard bad things about an agent or a publisher. I would probably not be where I am without putting effort into being personable and friendly with other industry folks.

It’s 4 am as I write this, because, believe me, I am no stranger to a lack of sleep and low wages. As Reis’s story shows, one of the best resources for being a working cartoonist is having parents or a partner with a steady income at a day job type thing. There are more outlets for comics than ever, and more paying outlets. There are also more cartoonists than ever. There’s a lot of competition. Comics are a chronically underfunded medium at all levels, and if you want to go into a lucrative career, it’s not your first choice. Neither is anything creative, really, although some people hit the jackpot through talent, luck, connections or all three.

You can’t really hit the jackpot without an audience, though. Going direct to your 100 true fans seems like a reliable yet modest way to make a living doing what you love. And there are ways to access that. But it still seems like a tiny drip drip drip of income against long hours and hard work that never really ends. 

We’re at some weird inflection point in society, the economy and how our entertainment is delivered and #ComicsBrokeMe is part of that discussion. We’ll continue to monitor that discussion here at The Beat with the goal of helping it continue  – it’s a moment that’s been needed for a long, long time.

I’ll end this with this comic by Mizuki Shigeru about his argument with all timer Osamu Tezuka about sleep. It’s an anecdote I’ve actually heard manga-ka mention several times. Tezuka never slept and died at age 60 of stomach cancer. His last words were “I’m begging you, let me work!” Mizuki, who lost an arm in WWII, lived to be 93.

I’m going to sleep now.




  1. Great article and summary. Thanks. Finally nudged me to join The Beat patreon. Small step – but a good reminder to support the work that means something to us.

  2. Thanks for the article, your summary, and being one of the few “comics journalism” websites which isn’t interested in reprinting press releases or doing top 10 lists exclusively. Anything creative is being exploited by bigger companies in charge.

    On my end, it was comic reviews for websites. I began writing reviews online on forums and eventually decided, “hey, why not try earning cash for it on the side?” Starting in mid-2009 I started writing for one website which paid me somewhere between 0.01 and half a cent per hit for any article I wrote. Then that website shut down and rebranded itself as music exclusive, so I switched to another website (or was headhunted for it it). In theory it was a bigger site since their parent company was a big entity. In practice, their payments were Byzantine and always seemed to go down, or be paid at longer stretches. After about 4 years amid the pandemic they decided to switch away from reviews to just doing news/gossip about geek stuff, and most shamelessly, only wanted article images to be of live action film or TV shows (even if the articles themselves were not about that) for pure clickbait trickery. I was uncomfortable doing just press release stuff and using images that had little or nothing to do with content, and quietly bowed out once Covid-19 really hit in March-April 2020.

    While I’m no big name, I did used to get review copies from Penguin and was occasionally quoted in Previews or the back covers of some books, like HILO or TALES OF THE NIGHT WATCHMAN.

    Since I have focused on a Patreon. I only have 2 Patrons and despite that, average more money per month than I usually made for either website, at least consistently. And it is for a small, pocket change amount. Websites are always eager to pay writers for “exposure” than actual money and they’re on the periphery of a medium which does it to artists and writers of the content we review. It is all just a way to mass produce content from passionate people who want to share, and exploit them, and it is a shame. And needs to change.

  3. There is no comic artists union because its illegal in North America for independent contractors to form one. If a bunch of artists were actually employed by a publisher they could. That is why the Image staff could make one; they’re employees.

  4. To say that it touched a nerve would be the understatement of the year, as literally thousands of tweets unloaded years of all nighters, low page rates, bad management, health crises, trauma and burnout.

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