skullkickers

For some reason, this post from two years ago, Creator says creator-owned comics pay as little as $31.25 a page—if you’re lucky went mildly viral on FB over the last few days. It refers to THIS post by Jim Zub where he laid out the economics of an Image Comic:

Printing varies wildly, but let’s say 80 cents per issue holds true. With the remaining 30 cents per issue, the following has to be paid:
• Advertising/promotion.
• Publisher operation/office expenses.
• Money left over for the creative team to actually get paid anything.
• Profit?

On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?

If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.


While I have no doubt that the numbers are still relevant, I feel that two years later, the rise of Image Comics in general should be noted. The December sales chart shows the #300 book selling just a shade OVER 5000 copies. To pick a random book, The Wicked and the Divine #6 sold 22,159 copies or so. Of course, Gillen and McKelvie have come a long way since the single can of tuna days of Phonogram, but Image Comics are HOT. Readers check out the latest books as they would the latest Big Two titles, and a lot more are selling over the break even point than ever before. Skullkickers may have reached it’s “Standard attrition” level, but Zub’s new book, Wayward, sold  10,009 of issue #5.

I’m sure Jim Zub will be along in the comments with his own observations, and like I said, there’s still a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese to be eaten before—IF—you get to add some pancetta to the dish, but the market has changed a LOT since that post was written, and I wanted to point that out.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Creator-owned comics pay anything from losing-all-the-money-you-have-to-invest to whatever-a-cut-of-the-Waking-Dead is worth. While there are all sorts of ways to tamp reality, to give a sense of what a book that sells X actually generates, in real life X is a pretty major variable.

  2. With the evolving marketplace, there’s some additional math required for any creator to understand. Unless you are with Random House, Scholastic, First Second, Abrams or one of the major publishing houses, you have got to invest in real marketing and publicity. While one of the comics publishers may set aside funds for advertising in The Beat, Previews or CBR, the message really doesnt go beyond that. The best thing to do is steal from the likes of James Patterson. He is a shameless self promoter and he sells a lot of books. There are plenty of comics ‘guys’ out there who are constantly getting the message out about their books-Jim Zub is a perfect example of this.
    You cannot assume or expect that your publisher is going to do all the heavy lifting to promote your book. The best thing to assume is that no one has heard of your work unless you have told them. If you’re shy, get over it. If you dont think you should do your own marketing, get used to that steady diet of ramen.
    Work your tail off like Zub(and write really great stuff!) and you’ll probably eat a lot better.

  3. Weird. I posted a pretty extensive reply earlier and it looks like the internet swallowed it up. Let me try again here…

    Hey Heidi- Yeah, I noticed a spike in traffic on that old blog post. No idea why it bubbled back up to the surface but I think a lot of people are assuming it’s current information. You’ll probably want to link to this article in the old one just to let people know.

    Creator-owned in 2012 and in 2015 are two very different beasts, especially at Image.

    Image has done an incredible job at expanding the market for new creator-owned series. Retailers and readers are actively seeking out new ideas and content thanks to their efforts and the success of series like the Walking Dead, Saga, and Sex Criminals.

    When Steve Cummings (my co-creator on Wayward) and I looked at several different publisher contracts it was clear to us that Image’s deal had the most benefits over the long haul. 100% control, 100% ownership, and the largest possible financial gain if our series was successful. On a low selling series that means you can come up short, but with Image expanding their marketshare and aggressively growing in bookstore and digital sales we felt it was the right move. It would be incredibly difficult for a publisher to offer a deal that can compete with Image and that’s why we’re seeing such a surge of well established professionals taking their dream projects there.

    Strong sales/stability aren’t something I take for granted and with our first TPB and issue 6 arriving in March I’m in the midst of beating the drum about that to boost orders, but we definitely launched strong in August and I’m excited for the possibilities in 2015 and beyond. I’m extremely grateful to the retailers and readers who have helped sell the book and shared it with friends.

    Once I get the financial breakdown for Wayward #5 (the last issue of our first story arc) I’ll put up a new blogpost detailing the sales/profit differences between Skullkickers #1-5 and Wayward #1-5. It’s quite substantial. Creator-owned is always an intense commitment but I see a big difference in the market (and my career) after 5 years of hard work.

  4. It’s important to keep in mind, as Mr. Zub has already pointed out on Twitter, that the comics market in 2010 was a very different place. The big books from Marvel and DC were selling between 30k and 50k in the direct market, and it seemed like the audience for these books was contracting. Something drastic needed to happen, and The New 52 was a bit of a booster shot to direct sales numbers. Follow that with Marvel NOW! and its subsequent waves.

    At the same time, popular Marvel creators like Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction finished their iconic runs on established properties. Having built up their fanbases while at Marvel, fans followed them to their creator-owned books. It certainly helps that their creator-owned books have been fantastic.

    Also around this time, Brian K. Vaughn came out of the Jundland Wastes and paired up with Fiona Staples to put out Saga, which became a sales juggernaut.

    The Walking Dead TV show became a smash hit, driving people who normally didn’t read comics to seek out the trades.

    Now you see a reflection of the new audiences being reached in what the big two are producing. Look at Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the slate of stuff DC just announced this week. Comics are diversifying to reach fans beyond Wednesday warriors. Look at how each new book has its own, distinct aesthetic instead of relying on the standard house style because house style doesn’t cut it anymore.

    Anyway, I guess I’ve rambled long enough. These thoughts, however disorganized, are just pointing out that the comics market has changed pretty dramatically. As a fan, it’s truly an exciting time to be reading comic books.

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