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.
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.