I’m late in commenting on the industry rates survey posted by Fair Page Rates an anonymous industry watchdog. But along with the sales softening I was writing about earlier, it’s part of an industry infrastructure that isn’t as strong as it could be. The survey quotes a lot of page rates based on a survey of 60 freelancers and show many of them are pretty low.

As I do whenever I write about this topic, is must be acknowledged that publishing comics is in no way, no how a license to print money. Some of these low fair page rates may actually be totally fair based on what the publisher makes from putting out comics.

UPDATE: I was reminded of this post by Todd Allen that works out the economics of comics that sell 5000 copies, a pretty common metric for many publishers:

Assuming $0.40 to print, the publisher is likely to make $884 after printing and creative costs for an issue selling 4000 copies and $2080 for one selling 5000 copies.  A publisher needs to sell several different 4000-5000 copy titles each month to make payroll and pay the bills.  And this is the new model, publishers with 30+ low circulation titles, making just enough off each one to keep the ship moving.

Even some of the most important small publishers fund their lines with a day job, and almost every company has an outside investor or parent company that funds the publishing in return for expected IP development in Hollywood. Although Oni came out on the low end of the spectrum, Zander Cannon pointed out the figure was an advance against royalties for graphic novels:

This post about page rates at the top comic book publishers is being passed around a fair bit, and some of it confirms what I know to be true (or to have been true 5 or 6 years ago), but when my current publisher, Oni Press, comes in dead last for page rates, I have to step in and point something out. That figure, though correct, is for advances on creator-owned work, not work-for-hire. Writing and drawing one’s own work and getting any page rate at all is extremely rare in the comics world, and if you find a publisher that does it, pays on time, gives you a wide berth creatively, and generally treats you with the respect a professional deserves, god damn it, you hold on to them tight.

The survey was also a small sample as some pointed out.

Valerie D’orazio has a very long post with many, may discussions of the ins and outs of freelancing and editing comics, which can’t be easily summarized so you’ve probabyly alreayd read it if you’re interested. However this line was worth a comment:

Then some young creators will ask me: “but if I turn down this particular gig, I’m afraid they’ll never hire me for anything again!”

Which, in my experience is not true if you’re turning it down because you’re too busy. If you’re too busy fr an editor that usually makes them want you more. My advice is never turn down a gig if you’re too busy to get it done properly. There are reasons for turning down work that can put you on the “do not call” list but usually it’s because it wasn’t a good fit, in which case why would you want to work for that publisher any way?

Janelle Asselin also wrote about it from both sides:

This is all to say that page rates are not the end-all, be-all of what a comic creator should consider when deciding if they want to publish with a particular company. That company’s profile, what they’re offering as support (i.e. full marketing, an editor, etc), and the rights situation are all good things for a creator to keep in mind when negotiating. New creators are often the most eager and the most foolhardy — they either expect too much money or they’re willing to sign away anything for no money just to get into print. Don’t do either of these things. Many of the numbers listed on that survey page match what I’ve heard over the years. It’s a hard time to make a living in comics for pretty much everyone. Imagine you’re a writer and you’re doing one 20-page book a month that pays $25 a page. That’s $500 per issue. You probably spent 20 or so hours — likely more — working on the first draft of that script, and that’s not counting back and forth with the editorial team, revisions, research, etc. Let’s say for 40 hours of work, you’ve made $500. That breaks down to $12.50 an hour. Sure, that’s spread out over a few weeks and you likely can still hold down a day job, but it won’t get you to a place where you might be able to go fully freelance. And because of your day job, you can’t take on more work.

So yeah the numbers are bad, as always. I wrote about this same topic last June used David Harper’s (him again!?!?) own survey on the same topic, which had many of the same responses: Boom! and Dynamite don’t come out very well in either of these surveys, but I know plenty of people who are still craving gigs at both places because it’s a gig.

So I dunno. Maybe this is all wishful thinking for all of us? As always, the book industry is chugging along and while their own advance vs royalties structure hasn’t been subjected to much scrutiny, it does seem that as many people are making a living in that sector as in comics “proper”, at least with the aid of a spouse with a day job and/or a residence in an area where the cost of living is very low. My Facebook feed is filled with more and more cartoonists fleeing New York day by day. The economics of the business are just not great on either end, even though the product is glorious.

Off the top of my head I can think of a handful of publishers who are solvent on the basis of publishing alone: Image, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and NBM and perhaps Dark Horse to a lesser extent. Who am I forgetting? You could throw in Dynamite and Archie, who both seem to have had their own methods of making extra cash, including Dynamite’s bundling strategy. Marvel has been steadily cutting rates in recent years to shore up the bottom line, and DC has also had some reshuffling.

Hm, I see now why I put off writing this post. It’s kind of depressing.


  1. “Except when it isn’t” is probably the most accurate statement I’ve read regarding page rates in the comics industry today. No one ever takes into account how much it actually costs an artist who is trying to make a living at one or more of the professions it takes to produce a comic.

    It does not cost the same overhead (equipment) to be a writer as it does to be a say a colorist. It does not cost the same to be a penciler as it does to be an inker and even that changes if you are working digitally versus traditionally. All of these skills require different tools. Even if some of the tools are the same, the speed requirements of these tools are often different and cost vastly different prices. Software and hardware requirements are different even if everyone needs a desk and chair.

    Page rates today do not take into account the cost of doing business because when the existing rate systems were originally set into place they were based on a playing field that was analog and what was considered top down at the time. It worked at that time., but it’s an old way of thinking.

    What does that mean today? Would the generation growing up with an iPad in their hands at the age of two or younger want a comic without colors? That would be like a video game without color. So does that mean color and lettering should still be at the bottom? The same goes for proper inks and so on. The rate system has never been updated to accommodate the changes in our world to a digital format.

    Isn’t it time to at least start talking about that?

  2. So, do we hear what the page rates actually are? Or is this like trying to decipher how much various actors are paid for movie roles, or how gasoline prices are a complex factor of supply, demand and global economics? Or is it that the comic business is so fragile and competitive, that we will never be party to transparency about this confidential matter?

  3. Man, the fair page rates link has alot of really negative comments about some publishers…especially BlueWater, Zenescope and Boom.

    Is there a way to see some access to the positive comments that some people may have left?

  4. The amount of attention that should be paid to this survey is zero.

    First off, it’s an opt-in survey. You don’t need to be a statistician to know that renders the survey pretty much worthless right off the bat. People love to complain but rarely go out of their way to praise–as is evident by the comments that Scott notes above.

    Second: it’s an absurdly small sample size, even for a rarefied occupation like comics-making.

    Third: as Zander Cannon correctly points out, the survey conflates work-for-hire page rates and an advance on royalties. These are entirely different things.

    Finally, just by way of personal anecdote: I did work-for-hire work for one of the publishers listed in the survey. I received a page rate that was higher than the supposed “highest” page rate listed in the survey.

    None of that’s to say that page rates are wonderful right now, just that this survey is significantly flawed–flawed enough in my opinion that it should probably just be ignored.

  5. First, I would like to say that the article is pretty on target about the industry. I don’t think folks really know how bad the comic industry is right now. Diamond has made a very unfair playing field for the small guy. It isn’t like the late 80’s and 90’s where small press companies had a chance to really make an impact in comic shops. Small publishers, and Indy, folks are all producing comics and losing money to some degree. They keep the books going on sales and their is no profit. Understand that every business is in it to make a profit. Not lose money. And when you can’t even break even then you pretty much have to cash your chips out and go on to some other business.

    Secondly, I am the owner, and editor, of Alpha Dog Studios. We pay all our talent. We do not use page rates though. We pay flat rate. When you first start working for us, and you have no track record, or experience, you get $650 an issue for pencils. You have two months to do one issue. I tell all artist that they should look at this as a part time job. Not a full time gig. They get paid through Paypal on the 15th of the month. Now, this rate goes up to $750 once an artist has been for us a while. We don’t use inkers. Our colorist can get $500 to $600 per issue. They usually have about a month to a month and a half to do the work. Our letterers get about $125 an issue. We do tend to give bonuses too when the work is done on time and the quality deserves it.

    Now on the business end these are rates that I can do that will not break the company and will allow us to keep creating books. It also allows us to start new projects and give new talent a shot at doing comics and making some money on it.

    The biggest issue I have encountered is that a lot of artist over estimate their value. What I mean by this is that someone who is never been published or doesn’t have a fan base demands the same rates as someone who has worked in the industry for 30 years and has a huge fan base. You see the business end is that you are really worth what I can make off you. That is the hard facts that most folks don’t want to hear. The comic book industry is a entertainment industry. It may have aspects of commercial art in it but the facts are comics are produced to entertain.

    Thirdly, if the rates the company is paying doesn’t fit what you want then the simple action to take is that you don’t take the job but this idea that you or anyone else has the power to tell any company what they should pay you is nonsense. You are not going to go into most interviews for any job demanding what they are going to pay you. This industry is no different.

    In conclusion, if you are going to be a part of this industry at least make an effort to know and understand the whole industry and not just what you want to get out of it. I am sure most indy and small press guys would pay more if they could. The fact is the money just isn’t there and if you are all about making money then maybe you should take up another profession. There are a lot more out there that are easier to do and you will make a lot more money.

  6. It’s information like this, whether right or not, that makes one realize that working for any kind of publisher is a crap shoot. Some can make it work while other’s can’t or won’t.

    I remember Charlton Comics having the lowest pages rates in the industry way back in the 1970s. John Byrne’s rate was about $55.ºº for pencils, inks and lettering. Adjusted for inflation that would be about 260 dollars (give or take a few dollars. Looking at the survey, accurate or not, the publishers at Charlton would have loved the rates they are paying now. BTW, I loved Charlton Comics more than Marvel or DC. More diversity in art styles and Nick Cuti was a fantastic writer (still is). Just thought I’d add that.

  7. @Will Caligan

    Sure you pay page rates. They may vary, but there’s a number of pages the artists are expected to do and they’re paid a certain amount. For example, $650 for 22 pages… so your page for that particular book would be $30.

  8. Makes one wish for the days when 55 bucks was a low rate.

    I can understand that people want to do the work and will always cheer on someone with the enthusiasm to do it. As I say some can make the lower rates work, using those low paying books as a stepping stone onto (hopefully) better deals or they’ll decide it’s not worth it.

    Drawing comics is like acting. Too many actors for too few roles. It seems, unfortunately, that there is no incentive for a publisher to really raise rates because there will probably be someone, somewhere who will do the job no matter how little the amount to be paid..

    I do feel bad for the sincere publisher who’s trying to make a go of it. Times are tough but the problem may be that today’s publishers are so focused on the very few comic book shops and it’s customers (as well as superhero comics) that they forget that there are a hell of a lot of other people who may never enter a comic book store who might enjoy reading a comic book. Get the books out of the comic book shops. Just as movies are no longer just seen in theaters, so should comics not be relegated to only comic book shops (yes, there is digital). There must be other outlets. It’s a matter of finding them. For comics to truly survive publishers must serve the unserved (and not just with superheroes. There are other genres).

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