Pay Your Artists

Once, I had a vision. I would write an amazing comic book and find an artist to draw it with me. Not for me. With me. You know, a collaboration. Like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Or Ditko and Lee. Or Simon and Schuster. Wait, that last one doesn’t work.

Anyway, the basic idea was that I’d write the script, and the artist would draw/ink/color the comic. Once the comic sold, we’d split the profits. Sounds fair, right?

Actually no. It’s not. To anyone. In fact, I was being an enormous jerk and not even realizing it.

“But William, why wouldn’t an artist agree to split the profits 50/50 once the product sold?”

Because this isn’t 1945 anymore, chubs. Artists get paid. Period. I know it may be hard to hear and harder to accept, but really I was the jerk expecting free work in exchange for the promise of payment someday. Would I have accepted that deal if the roles had been reversed? Absolutely not. How could I expect someone else to accept a deal like that from me? It was wrong of me. Hubris, plain and simple.

“But wait. What about exposure? Don’t ar–“

Lemme stop you there. People die from exposure (cue rimshot).

Now, you notice how I used Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an example of a collaboration team? That was intentional. They created a lot of great art together, sure, but people forget it was Kirby who got screwed. Maybe it was his fault for signing a work-for-hire contract, fair enough. But remember Siegel and Shuster? That was a perfect example of a collaboration that created wonderful art…at the expense of the artist and writer. Both were paid minimal, neither truly compensated for what they contributed.

So what’s the point here? The point is if you want to make it as a comic book writer nowadays, you either have to draw something yourself or hire an artist. Hire. As in “pay somebody.” A sizeable percentage upfront, the rest on completion. Fair? Yes. For both of you.

Why both? Well, it’s fair to the artist because they’re being paid for their creative output, not in the promise of some hypothetical future payment that may never come. It’s also fair to the writer because if you establish yourself as the sort of person who puts their money where their mouth is, your reputation will soar. Artists will WANT to work with you.

If, on the other hand, you insist on paying in exposure or promises, you will build a reputation as an amateur at best, a cad at worst.

“But why should I pay the artist? I slaved over that script and no one paid me!”

You sure did, chuckles, but keep in mind you CHOSE to write that script. It’s your baby. Your passion. You can’t expect that level of passion from a friend, let alone a stranger. I’ve had plenty of artist friends. I hope I haven’t ruined too many relationships by asking for free art. Hopefully, those bridges aren’t burned. (I know at least one is intact. Hey, Joe!)

If you don’t have the money now, start saving. If you have the guts, draw it yourself. I did.

Now for the bad news. Writers are a dime a dozen, especially in comics. In fact, a lot of publishers will tell you upfront that script-only is a no-sell. Must have full-team to play. You wanna run with the wolves, you better have your own pack. No one’s matching you with an artist, slick. And if they hire the artist and tell you to hit the bricks, that’s just show-biz. Here’s where athletes have it a little easier than creatives. If you have the numbers as a pitcher, the MLB doesn’t expect you to bring your own catcher to try-outs. They’ll pick from the best and build the team up from there. Not so in comics.

There are of course, exceptions to this rule. And their names are Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, John Grisham, Richard Donner, and any number of high-profile creators who haven’t hurt for work in decades. Nothing against them. They made it. Most of us don’t.

Sadly, a big reason most of us don’t is that so many publications insist on paying their talent in either exposure or the promise of payment. A lot of us fall for this stupidity and wind up burned and discouraged.

Let me tell you as story. I worked for an online magazine for all of a year. I did three stories for them. They published one and told me they’d pay once the ad revenue came in. That was summer of 2008, and I still haven’t received my $100. Because I was young and stupid, I didn’t insist on a contract up-front, so there was nothing I could do. I’d just worked for free.

Do I remember that guy’s name? Yes, I do.

Will I name him here? No. I’m classier than that. (Besides the online publication doesn’t even exist anymore.)

The point is I’ll never work with that guy — or anyone else — without a contract. Why? Because I deserve to get paid for my work. And so do you. And so does your artist. If we don’t pay our artists, how can we turn around and expect payment from publishers? We must create a culture of compensation for creatives. It’s time for the starving artist archetype to die.

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