Overview: Should Writers Pay Artists Upfront?

This weekend saw a bit of discussion going on regarding the status of writers and artists. There’s already an ongoing debate about the way in which comic reviewers talk about the role of artists, and now the attention is moving more towards the relationship between a writer and an artist. When a new project starts off, should it fall on the writer to pay the artist – and does the artist being ‘work for hire’ as a result change the way they approach working on the comic?

After the jump I’m going to offer a basic (you could probably say ‘simplistic’) overview of what people have been saying, and how the discussion has moved around over the last few weeks.

art alley

The discussion here is of where the money should come from when starting a project. Leaving aside projects like Kickstarter, the tendency has been that writers have had to track down an artist, pitch a story, and then pay for their story to be made. The writer, if you look at things from this perspective, is taking on a lot of risk (and debt) in order to get their project made. It’s a little rough!

On the other hand, it’s not as though artists should be expected to work for free. As has been mentioned numerous times, two of the most dreaded words in comics are “for exposure”. Artists, especially at the top tier, are constantly being asked if they’ll work for free on projects which can offer them nothing but ‘exposure’. If they decide to work for free, then they’re not only taking on a huge workload – they’re doing it without any guarantee of getting paid back for those hours. A comic takes a very long time to draw, and an artist has to focus solely on that one project for the entire time. Writers, on the other hand, can (theoretically!) complete a new script in a much shorter time.

Writers can have several projects going on at once. Artists can only focus on one.

This has led to some discussion, all of it worthwhile in my eyes, about the role which writers and artists have to play in relation to each other. What’s the best way to manage a project? Does the writer have to take the first financial hit – and if so, should the writer be given a majority share of profits raised from the book. Does the artist agreeing to a flat rate mean they aren’t entitled to any further payment?

There’s also the matter of artistic respect. A comic can take a long time to draw, and certainly a longer time than it takes to write. As a result, some writers have been asking if people place a higher level of artistic respect on the people who are drawing comics, rather than writing them. In a situation where the writer has to pitch their comic, the artist is the one listening to and judging whether a project is suitable for them. That would appear, perhaps, to suggest that artists have all the control in this relationship, as they get to pick and choose between a variety of scripts offered them.

This has speculated outwards into many different directions this year – if I could pinpoint THE talking point of 2013, it’d be “the role occupied by artists”. From Jordie Bellaire’s post about colourists at conventions through to this ongoing debate about the perception of artists (chronicled best by David Brothers here); artists have been discussed very heavily throughout the past few months.

This most recent discussion about the financing of new projects comes about mainly because of comments made by writer Jeremy Holt, who brought the topic up on Twitter recently. His points were summed up for this post on Robot 6, although I do want to immediately point out that he has offered apology and clarification regarding his thoughts within the comments section. Regardless, the comments section immediately turned into a debate about if writers should ask artists to share the financial burden, and how the two should work with each other.

Writer and editor Paul Allor summed up his thoughts in an excellent post on his Tumblr which attempts to look at the situation from both sides. On the one hand, his experience funding new comics projects has put him in debt due to the expenses incurred. On the other hand, the idea that artists getting paid upfront means they’re just ‘doing it for the money’ seems very troubling indeed.

A number of comics writers, artists and editors showed up on the Robot6 article to share their own opinions on the matter, including Justin Jordan and Jamal Igle. And beyond the typical anonymous comments trying to stir up trouble, one thing that does ring out from the comments section is that there is a disagreement between several well-respected creators on the best way to move forward.

Jordan’s thoughts, especially, hit hard:

Let’s say I give the artist 200 dollars for pencils and inks per page. 50 to the colorist. 10 to the letterer. That’s, for a 22 page issue plus cover, just shy of 6,000. So 36,000 for a fairly typical six issue mini series.

That’d be my break even. Without me getting a page rate. And none of those are good rates. But hell, let’s say I can get the whole thing done for 100 a page for everything (and somehow, the quality is good enough to have a chance at selling) AND that I only go in the hole for three issues (pretty much a minimum if you want a book to come out in a timely manner) well, that’s still 6,000. And, for me, that’d also be six grand of paying work I didn’t do to do this thing.

Comments

  1. This is the tough, tough reality of creator-owned and independently produced comics.

    I’m very much in Jeremy’s boat, and I’ve experienced the ups and downs of paying talent and of not paying them.

    The comic that first got me noticed was drawn for free by a very good friend of mine. This comic literally got me the opportunity to write for DC, which has subsequently helped me get a lot more paying work-for-hire. However, the comic we were producing was…ambitious, and my friend clearly never quite had the same level of ambition for it that I did. His interest in the project eventually petered out, we only ever completed two issues of twelve, and we only ever printed the one. We’ve agreed that I now own the rights, but who knows if that’ll ever really get done.

    My webcomic, Hunter Black, is also being done with a friend, and that is going strong. It’s clearly a labor of love for us both, because we’re not making any money at it. We’re almost at the point of trying to print of a collection and we’re debating the merits of doing a Kickstarter to fund it…but I’m not in a producer’s role.

    I AM in the producer’s role for the comic I’ve got coming out on Comixology Submit. (Rocket Queen and The Wrench! Buy it!!!) I’m paying the artist, the colorist, and the letterer out of pocket. I’ve shelled out THOUSANDS so far, and I’ve yet to see a dime. My terms are fair, I think. I pay the team, I hopefully recoup my losses, I pay myself a page rate, and then we share in the profits…although I get a larger percentage for assuming the risk. The art is coming out slowly but surely, but there is definitely a sense that I’m more invested than my collaborator.

    On the other hand, I’m beginning ANOTHER comic we hope to publish. My Hunter Black collaborator and I have hired a third party to do the art, and so far, that’s going very well. We’re paying half the page rate upfront and half upon completion of each issue. Our collaborator has been up front with us about HIS passion project, which he’s working on concurrently, and we’ve been flexible about scheduling and stuff, and it seems as though he’s pretty dialed in. He gets the same terms as my Rocket Queen collaborator in terms of back-end ownership…he gets a sizable chunk but we get more.

    They way, I see it, comics creators are PEOPLE and different people will be motivated by different things. I would love it if I had more collaborators sharing more of the risk with me. (So would my wife and my landlord.) But I also know that while my collaborators are working on my books, I’m also working a day job and doing work-for-hire for mainstream comics and animation.

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to this dilemma, except in hindsight, and even then, the rightness of a choice is tied directly to the completion and success of a project.

  2. Individual writers and artists should make whatever deals they’re OK with on a case-by-case basis (and put it in writing, so there’s no confusion about what that deal is). There isn’t one “correct” way to do it.

    When I’ve worked with other artists I’ve usually paid them as WFH, because they were projects that I wanted to own (e.g. a sprawling bio that will eventually have dozens of artists). I paid an advance to get started (because I don’t think an artist should have to take all the risk in a new relationship, and time spent = risk) and the rest on completion. They’ve all been OK with that, and all put good effort into it.

    I’ve also worked as an artist with another writer, and in that case we agreed to a 100% back-end deal (weighted in my favor), that has yet to pay anything. But it was a deal I’m comfortable with, in part because the writer’s promise of “exposure” is something he (as a published “name”) can legitimately deliver.

    Different scenarios. Different deals. All good.

  3. It does seem a little unbalanced to ask the writer to work for free, as well put themselves thousands of dollars into the hole to pay the artist. “But it’s the writer’s story and they have the passion for it!” Which is exactly what Holt is saying about what he’s looking for in artists. Plus, artists can possibly get paid work at major companies by showing their portfolios. Writers literally CANNOT get paid work until they produce their own comics. Almost no publishers take unsolicited pitches, and even those that do won’t give anyone work who cannot show they can write a comic. Writers write “for exposure” all the time– it is basically all they CAN do. Most people aren’t self-publishing because of some profound DIY ethos, they’re doing it because there’s no other way to get published, no publishers that take query letters and script drafts and pay advances like there are in prose publishing.

    Artists’ work is to be valued of course, but these writers aren’t exactly deadbeats either. Copyright stake seems fair, as well as nominal/token payment when the writer can afford it. Of course, this does mean only getting the artists willing to work for free/cheap, which probably won’t be the best art out there, but I think there’s a nice sort of symbiosis to the process of an amateur writer and an amateur artist helping each other polish their craft.

  4. The bottom line is, it’s your dream (writer); and producing your work is the only way it’s going to get the readers and publishers, to notice. The self-produced work is then your portfolio, and investment is required in building a strong portfolio.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have artist friends who have no issue earning on back-end (in manga-style no less, where they’re expected to pencil, ink, and tone on their own), –but to be honest, I strongly feel you should never go into debt to produce a title. It’s one of the reasons I no longer write graphic novels, because it’s extremely rare to find an artist that loves your story enough to say ‘hey I’ll do it for free’ – that’s like winning the lottery. 0_0

    The artist is an essential part of the process, just like the printer, the ISBN number, and the barcode you have to buy. If you can’t afford to pay the artist, then you can’t afford produce yourself.

  5. I always pay my guys as they turn in the work. We agree to a deal and rate and go from there. I am capable of making more income then them, being able to work on a few projects at once , so this is how I do it. It may not work for everyone because of a number of reasons.

  6. Writers have paid me hundreds of dollars to produce art that while it has gotten published never earns them a dime on the back end. I feel bad in a way, but it’s the nature of the bizness. If you can’t write draw and color yourself then you have to find an artist to help you out. As an artist my time is valuable so I need to be reimbursed.

  7. Mike Keener says:

    Artists have to eat and keep a roof over their heads, and produce the work in a timely fashion at the same time. Either pay a substantial deposit, or as the pages come in (or, for some reasonable form of compensation. In a legally binding contract). If I had an idea for a book, but for whatever reason did not wish to write the script myself, I would need to hire a writer. I would expect to have to pay said writer for their services, and certainly some sort of advance. If I didn’t have the money to do so, I would have to raise it, either by taking on extra work and saving, or raising it by some other (legal!) means.

  8. Here’s the problem, no self published, creator owned project, can ever pay enough to keep an up and coming artist from dumping you the second a better gig comes along. Even if you’re paying $500/pg and Marvel comes calling and asks you to “try out” you’re getting dumped instantly. If an A or B list creator comes along and asks you to work on their pitch that has a backdoor into being considered by Image, you’re getting dumped in seconds. The only thing that will keep someone invested in a project is creative ownership. Own the project, make it your own instead of working a gig where you punch a clock. The work will be much better when you have a creative investment.

    This discussion is disturbing on several fronts.

    1. The abusive and disrespectful attitude toward the craft of writing. All i’m seeing is artists constantly imply or flat out say that writing has no real value, and they are the only ones that deserve compensation for their work. Up and coming creators are being taught a very dysfunctional lesson from pros.

    2. Time: Every argument hinges on time spent sitting in a chair. Its never about the quality of the work, or the creative control. No one ever talks about the value of creating something on your own terms without an editor. No one ever talks about paying your dues, or earning your way in through hard work. No one talks about the value of collaborating and creating something….Buliding a creative relationship. Its just about punching a clock and demanding pro rates the minute you set up a DA profile. That’s disturbing.

    3. When is a writer allowed to get paid for their work and time and not be considered “greedy?” Ever?

    Everyone gets paid or no one does. everyone contributes creatively and everyone shares the risks and rewards equally. Writers have bills and families too. They invest significant amounts of time and money into putting together a project, managing it, printing, pitching and selling it. How bout some respect for their contributions? When only one member of the creative team is getting paid, you don’t have a healthy team dynamic. Every artist has to sacrifice and suffer for their art. You have to earn your check through the work, not just by showing up.

  9. i would say that up and coming writers should focus more on collaboration with artists than pumping out scripts and looking to find an artist to draw them…unless you have a bottomless checkbook.

    Create something together.

  10. Dean Haspiel says:

    Broker whatever deal you want but…if the writer didn’t draw the comic, then the artist is the co-creator. Image is text, too. No ifs, ands or buts.

  11. @joey Re: your second comment, I totally agree. I mean, there’s about eight different permutations for this issue, but the most common situation is the new writer trying to get their first work out there. In this day and age, it should not be that difficult for a writer to find an artist with similar taste in stories to craft something together. Loads of great webcomics are built on this model.

  12. Chris Hero says:

    I have very little respect/empathy/etc for any writer not willing to draw their own work. (I mean, if someone has drawn a few books and just doesn’t have a taste for it, like Alan Moore or Ed Brubaker, and they just want to write, that’s cool.) A large part of making comics is figuring out the visual language and if you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and really get into that part, then just write prose. Artists have their own stories to tell. I think it’s kinda pretentious of writers to think artists need them to tell a story. There are very few people who only write and have never drawn whose stories are worth a damn. (Off the top of my head, that list would be Neil Gaiman, Brian K Vaughn, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, end of list.)

  13. The writer should have a casting couch instead.

  14. @chrishero — i do agree with that point to. I mean technology and social media has really fragmented creative people in a way. Made people feel a bit helpless that they can only do one thing. Even on the creator owned side, stuff is starting to blend together into a bit of a Big 2 wannabe style. I’d love to see some more punk rock energy and “whoa that’s kinda weird-cool” from the self publishing crowd. We’re sophisticated enough, that we’re open to “bad art” i.e. stuff that doesn’t look big 2 ready. Stylize it, create something interesting even if it has stick figures or is mostly fumetti. I dunno, don’t be so helpless right?

    Bendis made his funky crime comics before he ever got an artist to draw something for him. Hickman did all that cool stuff before he blew up. I mean you have to find a way. I mean there are so many other examples.

  15. @Chris Hero, That’s a rather simplistic view to take. Plenty of artists are terrible writers, and writers are still capable of understanding and directing visual storytelling. Do you disrespect screenwriters who don’t direct? Or directors who don’t write? And I haven’t seen any writer say that artists “need” them, that’s a straw man that you’ve set up.

    And @joey, not all writer and artist books are “Big 2 wannabes”, and the writers you mentioned had art styles that suited the stories they wanted to tell. I can’t imagine subjecting anyone in the world to my art if I ever decide to write a comic, and by extension, I wouldn’t waste my best writing on my own shitty art. Some “bad” art is actually just shitty, and that doesn’t make for good comics. I’d rather see two people collaborate on an amazing comic than one person write a great story with weak art or a great artist write a weak story.

  16. Wow.

    Nobody is disrespecting the craft of writing!! But a lot of you are disrespecting the fact that the type of comics you’re asking after do not get made for free. And if they do, they don’t get made quickly. Comic art of this sort costs money because a person (or people) has to work on it exclusively for however many months you want your series to run. That artist simply does not have the TIME to work other jobs, it IS a time issue. And time is money. So if you want an artist working on your book instead of at Home Depot or a data entry job or freelance illustration–you have to pay money. Because artists can’t complete two pages per night after a 9-5 job. It isn’t possible. Drawing comics is a slower way to transmit ideas than typing. I know, I do both.

  17. Good article. I did want to note, though, that I don’t feel that paying artists have ever “left (me) in financial trouble,” much less “repeatedly.” I’ve had to make sacrifices and live very frugally and forgo many things in life that my peers enjoy. And I’ve used debt financing for my projects, but I don’t see that as significantly different than an upstart that takes out a small business loan.

    Anyway. Just wanted to clarify.

  18. So here’s a question for the writers….
    You’re approached by some one you “kind of” know who thinks his memoir would be brilliant, but he needs a writer. He’s had an interesting life. Has piles of note and letters. Is willing to be interviewed and has a list of contacts to interview. It’s a six month job at least, and there’s no money attached…. It’s for exposure and maybe some money from the publisher, once he makes a deal….. Would you take it?

  19. Though looking over the post, I did describe my finances in fairly grim terms, so fully admit that I might just be arguing semantics. To me, I guess it’s the difference between being reckless and leaving yourself in financial trouble, versus making tough choices that you know will make things financially difficult until or unless your career starts to take off.

  20. Rich Harvey says:

    I think The Beat’s comment above says a great deal:

    “There’s also the matter of artistic respect. A comic can take a long time to draw, and certainly a longer time than it takes to write.”

    Really? Writing comics is very difficult … especially since the writer crafts the characters, the plots, the dialogue, the pacing. Then, it’s the writer that often rewrites to get as much as possible to fit. Not an easy task in this day of comics featuring multiple splash-pages.

    Artists gotta eat? So do writers. You’re probably best off pursuing prose fiction … novels, short stories, etc … Then hire an illustrator to do a few spot illustrations. Six illustrations for the entire story. Then the “artist” gets a quick paycheck, can crank out their half-assed, half-hearted illustrations and be done with it. And then the writer can claim to be the sole creator of the property — which they are — and bring it to comics in a better position.

    I don’t refer to them as “artists” either … “Illustrators” yes, since they’re basically just drawing the writer’s ideas.

  21. @Carolyn and @Ayo, I’m wondering where you’re getting the impression that asking an artist to draw a book for no upfront money would mean the writer would still expect them to make it their priority/full-time job? To me it seems only natural that the trade-off for free art means a longer turn-around time. I would never ask someone to turn down paying work for non-paying work, but since I would be writing it during my weekends and evenings, is that too much to ask of an artist? I wouldn’t be looking for two pages a day, I’d be looking for like, 5 pages a month.

  22. Yeah, it’s tough, but I find it interesting that you “put aside Kickstarter,” since that’s pretty much the only way to do it these days and not go into debt (and besides, what a boon to a creative project! Why out it aside? It’s a God-send!) As a writer who just had his Kickstarter approved today, I say pay the artist his rate, and then it’s yours. If it sells, you keep the profits (and kick the artist a little if you become the next Kirkman.) If it doesn’t sell, it’s on you because you didn’t try hard enough. The artist did his job.

  23. Lynell says:

    As an ‘illustrator’ I have been approached many times to work for free for writers. It’s a sticky situation that needs to be scrutinized on a case-by-case basis. Would you ask a plumber to come and work on your home for free? No. But I would do my own plumbing work if I could for free, so the question is can I really feel like I have or even want ownership of your project enough to make it my own project too. It’s a pretty big deal to take on hundreds of hours of work for free when I am, like many creators, including writers, struggling to make ends meet. So not only do I need to love your creation enough to want to also make it my own, but I need to know that it’s a sound investment, that you’ve done your homework and know how you are going to produce and promote it.

  24. Remember the name of “Rich Harvey” who doesn’t think comic artists or artists, nor does he think that illustrators are artists. Commit this name to memory.

  25. james says:

    Alexa: I can’t speak for Carolyn or Ayo, but I get that impression from first hand experience. Because the kind of person who expects an artist to work for free– with no other kind of participation, like co-ownership, for instance- is usually pretty selfish and has no idea what kind of effort it takes.

  26. As much as I appreciate the conversation, I feel like we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels here. The only absolute in the comics making business, is that there are no absolutes in the comics making business. Keep arguing about who’s more important all you’d like, but you’re never going to figure it out.

    Writing is hard. Creating the visuals is hard.

    Different creators, of different skill levels, will take a different amount of time to complete their books.

    If you’re collaborating with someone, you’re equals. If you’re not equals, you’re not really reaping the benefits of a collaboration.

  27. I’ve shared thoughts on Twitter and have had many respectful conversations with peers, friends and readers, but I want to say one thing: I hate, hate the mentality of “it’s your dream writer, now go pay for it.”

    No.

    Comics is a collaborative art. Therefore, an agreed upon project is OUR dream. Here’s the thing: that claim, of it all being the writer’s dream, makes it seem like the artist ultimately doesn’t need the writer. In and of itself, that point makes absolutely no sense. None. Because if this were the case, why do writers exist at all in comics? Why isn’t every single comic on the shelf written by the same people who illustrate them?

    Because writing is a craft, that’s why. One that takes years and years and countless hours to refine and bring to a level that, on best days, is “acceptable.” Artists need writers as much as writers need artists. The attitude that because the germ of the idea begins with the writer means the writer should be punished financially for having said idea is both silly and offensive. I wish to never hear it again.

  28. Synsidar says:

    A large part of making comics is figuring out the visual language and if you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and really get into that part, then just write prose. Artists have their own stories to tell.

    Artwork in a piece can be an artist’s self-expression, but in a conventional narrative, with a plot, theme, settings, character development, etc., the artwork doesn’t have that function. The story as a whole is an abstraction, separate from the sum of the artwork’s panels, and the success of the story depends on the various parts meshing. One has to assume a basic level of competence, so that expressions match what the characters are saying, action sequences make sense, and plot developments can be gleaned from the artwork, even if they don’t involve words. Given that basic level of competence, equivalent to assuming that a writer is literate, then the artwork in that narrative largely has the function of descriptive text. If the artist supplies his own plot developments, hints at subplots, or takes any variable approach to scene-setting, he’s not doing something novel; he’s just doing what the writer would.

    I want to emphasize that artwork can be entirely personal in nature, just as concrete poetry uses words in ways that conventional stories don’t, but words are adequate for conveying a sense of what’s happening in any given sequence, in any given story; prose fiction wouldn’t be readable otherwise. If a prose writer wants to do a comics story, a reason might be that he wants the artwork to establish moods for the events that would be superior to what he can construct using words.

    SRS

  29. Everything that could be said about this has already been said above.

    I’ll just say this:
    @Rich Harvey has no idea what he’s speaking about, and has made it very clear his opinion matters not at all. God help any ARTIST who he tricks into working with him.

  30. gianni says:

    To whomever it may concern: just avoid wannabe-ism. Dont be a wannabe nor deal with one; usually a simple written contract will expose a guy who will loose your time. Most of this discussion, disrespect for writer or artist, is because of wannabes. Not to imply that there are not some amateurs whom given the chance will get the job done, but lets face it: wherever there’s hype there’s wannabes and there’s lots of hype in comics.

  31. KarolinaJones says:

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of my favorite comic writers (Bendis, Moore, Miller, et cetera) all started out drawing their own comics. It’s not dissimilar from playwrights who direct plays.

    Unless you’ve studied your entire life to be a great visual artist, you’re probably not going to be able to match visuals with whatever complex, intricate story you’ve got brewing in your head. But that shouldn’t prevent you from picking up a pencil and writing something that plays to the strengths and weaknesses of whatever you can produce.

    Don’t let fear and a lack of perfection keep you from getting your words in front of people.

  32. If a writer asks an artist to work “for free” that means that the artist is legally the co-owner of the material, and entitled to equal money if it ever turns a profit. In order for the artist to give up the legal rights to his art, the writer has to pay him for it, and there has to be a contract saying that it’s “work for hire”.

    Anything’s fair between consenting adults, but there are several scenarios that are generally considered legit:
    1) Writer and artist develop the project together, no money changes hands, and they both own it, and split any backend profits (maybe 50/50, 60/40, etc).
    2) Writer and artist develop the project together, writer gives artist an advance on those backend profits in recognition of his greater commitment of labor during development, and they both own it.
    3) Writer develops the story, contracts to pay an artist to illustrate it “for hire”, and the writer owns it and gets whatever profits.
    4) Writer develops the story, contracts to pay an artist to illustrate it “for hire” on the cheap, and the writer owns it, but owes the artist money if it’s profitable on the backend.
    And so on.

    Some people will find options 3&4 unacceptable; OK, they can turn those down. Others will consider 1 and 4 exploitative of artists; so, stick with 2&3. And so on. If you’re an artist, and someone offers you a deal you find unacceptable … turn it down. If you’re a writer, and an artist asks for a deal you find unacceptable … turn it down. Kind of like how several states give you the option to get gay-married, but you aren’t required to if that isn’t your thing. Don’t be offended just because someone proposed it. Just hold out and keep looking until you find someone who wants to hook up on the terms you want. :)

  33. Not directed at KarolinaJones, exactly, but why do people keep bringing up Bendis as if he writes visually? The most persistent complaint about Bendis is that his comics feature far too many talking heads sequences, and don’t always seem like they’d be great fun for another artist to draw.. Bryan Hitch complained about how stifling he found Bendis’s scripts on Age of Ultron. And I would say many things about Frank Miller. Calling him a great writer is not one of them.

  34. I generally offer co-ownership and splitting profits (with the artists getting a larger split of $$$) for creator-owned work. I don’t just stockpile and pitch stories. We don’t start working on a project until the artist and I agree that this is what we all want to do and we work up a loose plot or idea together. In addition to writing, I also handle the contacts, shopping it around, marketing, etc. Sadly, even with all parties agreed, this doesn’t always work and I end up having spent time writing something that never gets finished. It is frustrating at times, which is part of the reason I write very few comics these days. Some of these have languished for years and may or may not ever be completed.

    Not all project ideas are started by the writer. I’ve had artists come to me wanting me to write the story he or she wants to tell or just saying they would love to work with me. Every time, I have done this as a partnership, co-owning it as opposed to asking the artist to pay me to write it for them. Sometimes these projects never see the light of day because the art doesn’t get finished. I spent time writing that I was then not paid for and have a script I cannot use elsewhere because I only co-own the property.

    Funny aside (or not so funny, depending on your POV): I had an artist pitch me his idea and asked me to write his idea into a graphic novel script. The artist then told me his page rate so I could pay him to draw his idea because he thought paying for the book was the writer’s responsibility. Suffice it to say, I declined the offer.

    I can definitely sympathize with both sides. I like to form creative partnerships. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Ah, comics.

    Bobby

  35. alistair says:

    Well, it’s the writers what have the ideas…never had an artist after a writer to get it righ. Generally you end up with a bunch of Liefeld clones, a lot more prevelant than really good artist/wrters.

  36. Writers get most of the credit in comics these days, so the reward is greater for them. Most reviewers stress the writing because most reviewers are writers and have trouble talking about the art side credibly. Most editors are writers and have stronger relationships with the writers. And writers have more time to blog and develop a web presence than an artist who is beating out deadlines–often with a late script. So writers get the bulk of the non-monetary part of comics–plus they get half the royalties. (Pencilers and inkers share royalties.)
    How can you tell there’s a disparity between writers and artists? Marvel is slashing artists rates but keeping writer’s rates the same. They know writers will complain, but artists just don’t have time. That tells me who’s more valued over all.

  37. >> There are very few people who only write and have never drawn whose stories are worth a damn. (Off the top of my head, that list would be Neil Gaiman, Brian K Vaughn, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, end of list.)>>

    Just to toss it in, here: Neil’s drawn stuff here and there, including a 24-hour comic. I’ve drawn some comics for my own amusement in high school and college, and did loose layouts for much of my second year on CONAN, for Cary Nord to work from. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark and Brian had done some comics storytelling of their own, even if it wasn’t for publication.

    Knowing how to tell a story visually doesn’t require drawing professionally, but it probably does require a certain amount of sketching and thought, so the writer is feeding the process, not mucking it up.

    On the payment front, there’s all kinds of things to weigh, from issues of risk to pragmatism to sweat equity and more. In general, I try to make sure people can get paid if I want the project to come out regularly (I used my MARVELS royalties to pay Brent, Alex and crew for ASTRO CITY, and mortgaged my house to get SHOCKROCKETS and SUPERSTAR done) and I share ownership because we co-created the project so we should both benefit.

    But I’ve occasionally done a project where no one gets paid upfront. Those mean that writer, artist, everyone involved has to have a source of income other than that particular project, and generating that income will demand much of their time; so it goes. But that’s a pragmatic concern. There’s no one right way to do all comics projects. Sometimes you’re engaged in a business, sometimes your uncle has a barn and c’mon, kids, let’s put on a show.

    And it’s all voluntary, too. Whether artist and writer are both going to take a risk as partners to try to attract a publisher who can cover costs, or one of them is going to hire the other one under pre-set terms involving up-front payment and back-end participation, it’s really up to those individual creators to decide what’ll work best for them. For my part, I think creators should always share in the success of their creation, which is why even on projects where I pay the artists and don’t get paid up front, once I get my investment back we share in the income. That’s largely because I figure up-front money is about practicality — it’s about how you get the book done — and back-end money is about ethics, and about everyone being incentivized to do their best because they benefit from success.

    But that doesn’t mean everyone else is going to agree with me. So I’ll wind up working with collaborators who like my system, and people who like other systems can work with people they can find who like those, if there are any.

    But if you want to be working with someone two years later, they’d better have a deal that makes them want to keep going. That’s true for those doing the paying and for those getting paid.

  38. >> So writers get the bulk of the non-monetary part of comics–plus they get half the royalties. (Pencilers and inkers share royalties.)>>

    I’m not sure I agree on your first assumption there, and I definitely don’t agree on the second.

    Whether art or writing is valued most in comics is subject to taste and the pendulum swing of style — I became a fan during a time writers were ascendant, did a lot of work during an era artists were ascendant, and now writers seem to be ascendant against, at least at the big companies. But it’ll change it, always does.

    But the whole time I’ve been working in comics, writers haven’t gotten half the royalties — not at Marvel or DC, anyway. The royalty pool splits favor the artist, for what seem to me to be sane and practical reasons. I know there are creator-owned books where writer and artist split the take 50-50, but that’s not true of all of ‘em — the artist or art team gets a larger share on all the creator-owned books I’ve done, for instance.

    If anyone’s telling you that the writer gets half the royalties on a Marvel or DC title, and the penciler and inker split the other half, I think they’re shining you on.

  39. >> Well, it’s the writers what have the ideas…>>

    Just ask Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

    Or Mart Nodell, who worked up Green Lantern and then DC brought in Bill Finger to write it. Or Stuart Immonen, who has brought ideas to all of our collaborations. Or Alex Ross, or Carlos Pacheco, or…

  40. In reply to the post – have not read the threads

    “Should”? No.

    Writers should treat it as a viable way to help get things done if they can. No one is obligated to do anything. But it’s one rout that helps a hell of a lot.

    I’d say DON”T put aside crowdfunding. Readers could and that’s how.

    And publishers should consider it when they can.

    The questions of engagement in collaboration are NOT intrinsically tied to finances. But time and time and time is.

    Meanwhile some scripts don’t pan out, some stories die on the page. Some lives don’t go as you’d like, and you don’t have the freedom to work for free. And often the collaborations are not so collaborative. Milage may vary, but platitudes will fail.

  41. Tom Williams says:

    There really needs to be a kill fee in indie comics. In all other illustration or design projects, there is but weirdly not in comics. Doesn’t have to be much, just something. If a publisher can’t swing $500 kill fee for a graphic novel project, there’s something wrong. If an artist completed a cover and 25 pages of a 130 page project, that would be a lame $19.23 per page including cover. That barely covers supplies, time, and or some sort of computer issue (bad hard drive, wacom tablet craps out, new software update, etc.) The artist isn’t really winning on this deal but it’s something.

  42. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    It all really depends where you stand as a cartoonist.

    A student just out of art school really has no clout to demand a price, cause they have no inherent value aka your going to do mostly free work whether it’s making fan art on your Tumblr or submitting to an anthology. Your main priority is getting known and developing a track record. get a day job, cut your teeth anywhere you can, and demand credit or a copy of the work. Not every job is not a billion dollar franchise waiting to be discovered, stop speculating on potential revenue and just draw.

    When you’re semi-pro you’ll be getting work, but it’s not your bread and butter or it’s only partially. i call my pay from freelance work “movie ticket money”, cause that’s what i mostly spend it one while i teach as my day job. your going to be doing your own projects and here’s is where your more valued because of not pay but time. if i’m going to work with a writer and pay is nebulous these are my three criteria to take on a project:

    1.I love the story
    2.I like the writer
    3.It’s short(30pg or less)

    Anything beyond 30pgs is taking up my time from personal projects and my day job. my time is more valuable than any amount of money a writer can pay me, if there is gonna be a kickstarter or something i’m not going to ask for compensation because the project’s success(your pay=higher goal) is the return on investment of my time. I think cartoonists should create a climate where they only take jobs for one shot stories; it would change the writers goal of writing a pilot for a series to writing a self contained story. both parties will get something out of it(a completed project and experience) and we won’t be having this discussion conflated by horror stories of people getting screwed over.

    As a full blown professional, I think pro-bono work is not bad also, but in a particular climate. Free sketches at conventions are a good alternative, instead of printing glossy postcards with your info; doing a sketch on these cards(with your contact info on the back) is a personal touch for the fans(and potential employers) and a foot in the door to an actual purchase. this could be general convention practice and add to the experiences of everyone collecting the sketches of artists.

    The cynicism of collaboration is clouded by money, knowing when to take a pro-bono gig, having parameters to these free gigs and not letting the idea of being screwed over scare you.

  43. johnrobiethecat says:

    Good stuff!!!… Have to say, I like these kind of articles more than the Meet Neal Adams contests. The nitty gritty and even possible ugliness of what the business relationship should be is something that needs to be discussed more in the open and worked out in comics. Ultimately , that will lead to more voices, better livings and perhaps even better comics . Artists and writers should keep discussing business & process like they are doing here so everybody can form a better template on how establish a beginning business relationship. To do that , people need to respect the importance of being adults about business and proportion of roles, not just wishing for a Medici-style patron of creativity whether it be the big companies or that dream sweetheart movie/TV deal that lingers in so many fantasies (it’s like the big score isn’t it?). Also what is the deal is for the colorist,letterer and designer of the books. Even the people who can do it all still need that team.

    My own humble suggestion to add to the mix is that starting projects can all be contained to a 10-12 page story that can be sold for 99 cent digitally either via pdf or if you’re lucky enough, to get on Comixology. Like a pilot episode for TV…. That way the teams on the books could hone out their relationships and the creative direction with less stress on their financial & creative existence . And its enough for the public to see if they like it or not to ask for more. If its a winning idea, a good writer and artist can make something worthwhile in 10-12 pages and be totally satisfying. Comics tend to be to verbose and overwrought these days anyways.

    p.s.
    It’s a good exercise in discipline too. Alan Moore has spoken in length about how his early days writing and drawing a 3 panel cartoon strip focused his writing and how hard that was, forming his discipline to the craft. Doing long several issue epics to achieve a “vision” is not the best way to start, That will stress everybody financially an creatively. Something to consider, better process often leads to better work.

  44. johnrobiethecat says:

    It might be worth examining what happened to Steve Ditko and Stan Lee on Spider-Man when considering this topic. Heard through the grapevine Ditko has health troubles and struggling now while even the lowest SAG paid player on those movies made more than Ditko ever has on those properties. That ain’t right. That guy’s design genius , even aside from the great run, made Spiderman’s costume lovable to kids and unique in a way even Jack Kirby couldn’t pull off. That dude should be well taken care off.

    Listening to an old podcast, heard Sam Raimi wouldn’t sign on to direct the Spider-Man movies unless Ditko was given a clear screen credit in the film for helping to create Spider-man. Now that’s an interesting detail about integrity over profit,. It looks like more than a few directors passed on that option lately in the movies.

  45. Oh…kay.
    So, I’m coming at the discussion from a different angle – I’ve spent my life oscillating from art to writing and back again and finally settled on both, which brings me to telling my stories through graphic narrative and learning *that* whole process. I had thought that getting someone else to do the art might be faster, but now I’m pretty certain that it wouldn’t be.
    Comics creation seems to be in a little bubble of its own, where all the things a freelance short story/article writer would see as red flags are accepted as the norm, and all the things a freelance illustrator/fine artist would see as a waste of time and materials are considered necessary. And all this is for the sake of getting the book done, and the only way anyone agrees it’s possible to get the book done is through some alchemy of partnership and passion that propels the project to completion.
    A certain level of professionalism – or maybe just standardization – is missing from the entire process, from creation to distribution. So here’s my attempt to set the discussion on a different foundation that might hold up better:
    1. People are trying to rush a slow (glacial) process. Learn to write the barest prose possible, with each and every word pulling its own weight and propelling the story forward. This is hard. Also, proofread. Learn to draw correct perspective and proportion, with the least embellishment possible. Your lovely ornate breastplate is going to look stupid if you don’t understand perspective. Study a bit of theater craft for scenes, expressions, dramatic impact.
    2. No one is entitled to anything – not money, not respect, not publication, nothing. Zip. You put it out there because you believe these things will come, but let it be a nice surprise if it does. So maybe you don’t find that perfect collaborator who’s in love with the project and will pour their soul into it in exchange for a piece of ownership. Find the competent one you can pay in cash. Hire a proofreader while you’re at it, if your spelling isn’t awesome.
    3. Say something. Really, truly, *say* something. Somewhere, deep down in your story, there is something you believe is Truth. If there isn’t, your story is broken beyond repair, and it’s nothing but a shiny veneer over a pile of garbage. Your mom might buy a copy of your shiny garbage to offer you some moral support, but that’s because she loves you. You need people who love the story, and nobody loves anything that doesn’t have any Truth in it. If you really want to make waves, say something other people aren’t saying, but that you believe to be true.
    Now, if we can all assume these are good stories and solid craft and nobody’s grasping at respect they don’t deserve, we might possibly come to a conclusion. :)

  46. Kate Willaert says:

    Rather than write a whole blog entry here in the comments, I decided to post my thoughts on my Tumblr:

    http://katewillaert.tumblr.com/post/57481096035/should-writers-pay-artists-up-front

    The short version: I think it largely depends on what sort of writer/artist relationship it is, because there are several different types (a topic that I don’t see being addressed often enough in this discussion).

  47. I picture an aspiring artist who hopes to make a splash in the prose novel industry. He’s worked hard on finishing a cover and a half dozen interior illustrations; now all he needs is a decent writer who shares his passion and is willing to produce the 300 pages of text necessary to help bring his dream to life.

    But is there anyone committed enough to partner with him in achieving this goal? And will his dream collaborator accept a gentlemanly back-end split? Or will they demand money up front, like some grasping contractor? If only such questions didn’t plague the earnest dreamer.

  48. Rich Harvey says:

    Adam Szym says:
    “Rich Harvey has no idea what he’s speaking about, and has made it very clear his opinion matters not at all. God help any ARTIST who he tricks into working with him.”

    Ooops. Sorry, I forgot I was posting this on the Beat. Intelligent comments need not apply. In the unlikely event I write a comic, please commit it to memory so you dont waste my time, either.

  49. I probably should’ve done that myself, Kate :) Didn’t realize how long mine was getting.
    You make excellent points in your post, btw. :)

  50. KAROLINA JONES says:

    Ha! It’s fuckin Kurt Busiek.

    Today Internet, you and me? We’re okay.

  51. Writers. Are. Amazing, you guys.
    They work their butts off every moment to create worlds and characters and stories. You know when you’re sitting on a bus, looking out the window thinking about nothing? Writer’s don’t. They are working. You know when you lie in bed, thinking about what you’ll have for breakfast? Writer’s don’t. They are moving around plot points and redeveloping characters. It’s a job that takes up all your time, whether you want it to or not, even though many people only consider the time spent at the keyboard transcribing those years of work into a formatted page to be work.

    It’s hard for great writers to get the respect they deserve. While someone can look at visual art and immediately know if they like it, critiquing someone’s writing takes work. And many people don’t put in the work. But great writers find a way to shine through.

    Writers are artists. Writers are amazing. Why does this even need to be said?

    Here’s why- There’s been a lot of talk in comics circles lately about paying artists. And because I edit @forexposure_txt, a twitter account the quotes humorous lines from people looking for artists to work for free, I end up in a lot of the conversations. And too often, the conversation gets pulled into writers vs artists. Someone who’s looking for artists to work for free who also happens to be a comics writer will phrase it that way, someone will take the bait, and a war of words begins.

    I have worked in comics as both an artist and a writer. I have been paid for both, and done both for free. Please permit me to share my thoughts.

    Dudes, ladies, everyone who makes art is an artist. Artists can make their art however and for whoever they want. Artists do make art for free. Every moment of every day. But if YOU want an artist to make art FOR YOU, you should pay them.

    No one is advocating that writing is not work and that writers have to pay for everything. People are saying that if you are the one who wants a project to exist, having written it is not your “get out of paying an artist free” card.

    Chefs are important to a restaurant. A restaurant literally cannot function without a chef. Yes, chefs cook free all the time. They make dinner for themselves and their families, they have BBQs, and they practice recipes. But because they need practice does not mean you can call them up and be all “I feel like steak tonight. Come over at 7, bring your knives. No pay.” They get paid. BUT. Just because a chef has worked hard and made amazing recipes and wants to open a restaurant does not mean someone is going to build that restaurant for them for free.

    Yes, sometimes artists and writers have a mutual passion for a project and work toward a common goal. That is great. That is amazing. That is like a marriage. But when you marry someone, you get to know them first. You gain mutual respect. You both know long before the question is asked that a partnership is something you’d both like. You both know the potential for the relationship. You are both passionate. You ask at the right time, in a respectful way. You don’t go to a forum full of strangers and say “Wanna marry somebody. Can’t tell you much about myself, or someone will steal my identity. Who’s in?” and expect to be taken seriously.

    Yes, writing comics is hard to break into. Every aspect of creative expression is. But if part of your plan is to have a finished book, you need to pay for it. Just as an artist who wants to show off their chops but can’t write a script would have to pay you. As Tom Spurgeon said, “Getting people on board to execute your work or to partner with you at a professional standard for a few thousand dollars is a price point that thousands of playwrights and screenwriters would kill for.”

    It’s all an investment. To get projects made, people invest money. They invest in concept art so they can do kickstarters. They take out loans. It’s a risk, but they are the ones who want the movie to exist. Why do comics need to be a sure thing before people will pay? If you don’t think your project has a shot at making back your investment, or don’t think a Kickstarter has a chance of being funded, then you have no right wasting someone else’s time with false promises over something you yourself don’t believe in.

    If all of that sounds to scary, write short stories. Write a novel. Show what you can do when it’s just you on the page. Then, keep fighting for the job you want, just like all artists do. Because you are awesome, and great work gets noticed. It just takes hard work and investment.

  52. Tanya Horie says:

    I wish I had seen this a few days ago but I’ve been offline crunching on a last minute project that came in.

    I have been working on some real costs/overhead for colorists and in truth paying any colorist $50 per page doesn’t even start to cover our costs much less pay bills. I think somewhere along the line people started looking in some very wrong places for rates for color that didn’t budget any real world numbers. Colorists/digital painters actually have the highest overhead before we ever touch a page. Back in the silver age when they were cutting up film, yeah $50 per page would be reasonable but not for a digitally colored comic.

    We are all in this business because we love it first and foremost but we also have to start looking at a living wage. There’s a reason we lost our home last year, it’s tough out here.

  53. Hello,

    this is a most interesting discussion and I’ll add my 2cents as a professional illustrator.

    Writers should, like every other client, pay the artist for the work. What fraction to pay when can be negotiated. Here in Germany, I just send an invoice and the client pays within 30 days, and they’re rarely late. For larger sums I take a 50% upfront.

    The only other alternative would be to find an artist who’s so passionate about your script that he or she will do the work for free or low pay.
    I understand that writers are looking for a creative collaboration, a comic as a team effort.
    I have seen some great creative collaborations before where both artists have worked for free – but these were usually nonprofit fan projects where two or more fanboys or fangirls indulged their common passion for something that already existed. In really big fandoms like Harry Potter, LotR or Game of Thrones it’s easy to find other fans to make something together.

    But when it comes to your script, writer, you are currently the only one fan. You’re the only person passionate about your script. And it is not a finished product and it has no audience yet. To find an artist who gets passionate enough about _your_ idea to make it a finished product takes a lot of luck and perseverance.

    The best option is to find a professional artist (or team of inkers and colorists) and pay them to realize your idea.
    As an illustrator most of what I do is _other people’s_ ideas. It’s my job.

    It sucks when artists flake out, especially with a paid project. This should not happen with professionals. A professional will be able to quote you a price at which he or she can afford to finish the entire project in a certain timeframe, and put other opportunities on the back burner.
    Perhaps you can also include a clause in your agreement where the artist agrees to finish the entire thing and not to flake out.
    A professional will be able to tell what amount of work she(he can do in what time, and whether they’ll be able to make a living from it. If they can do that, there’s no reason for them not to finish the job.

    I don’t work for free, because I could just as well do my own personal work that’s unpaid also. A love for painting and the excitement about creating is what got me into illustration in the first place. It is very unlikely that your idea is going to be more attractive to me than my own. So far I haven’t encountered such a request yet. I have a long list and sooo many sketches of personal paintings I could do if there were 48 hours in a day! But for that reason I also understand fully how passionate you are about your project. :)

  54. Chris Drury says:

    Well, okay, I’ve decided to make my comic on my own because every artist I come across either is a master at slacking or is a mercenary asking for cash. And I use the word “mercenary” for a reason, perhaps you’ve found nice artists, but the ones I’ve found are the biggest fucking assholes, expecting you not only to pay, but telling you how you should tell your story and even saying “I won’t draw that, that’s too hard. Oh, by the way, pay me upfront, because without a professional artist, your project won’t ever work” (that’s an actual quote).

    Is it fair for writers to assume all the risk and pay large amounts of money to just “get out there”? That’s not only ignoring the hard work that is writing, but also speaking from a pedestal where you, the almighty artist, get to decide who gets your magic touch or not.

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