THE COMPLETE VERY BAD PUBLISHERS, now in one handy linkpalooza HERE.
Many professional artists – including cartoonists whose names you know well – have day jobs. And this post will give you some idea why.
Commercial artists don’t get a lot of commerce. Last time I looked, the average income for a professional artist was only about $15,000.
These events happened between 1986 and 1989. First posted about ten years ago, I’ve tried to edit for clarity and spelling.
I pondered weak and weary whether to dredge all this stuff up again, but I am frequently contacted by creators who have signed contracts that had the same clauses in them that mine did 20 years ago.
“Creator owned” contracts and the companies that tout them may leave with you a copyright (or a portion thereof) and nothing else. “Creator owned” for many is not about fairness, or making good books; it’s a marketing tool. And you, the creator, are buying it.
The comics industry is everything you ever heard about Motown, only without the glitter
The good news: remember, these sad events took place 20 years ago. Now I have great work, good friends, terrific publishers, a comfortable studio, wonderful books to work on, and sometimes…every once in awhile…OK, there’s even a little glitter after all.
Look out for yourself, and don’t give up hope.
Now, on to today’s nitty gritty.
In the old days of comics, the work for hire contract was simple. Working for Marvel meant you got a little stamp on your check that stated Marvel’s rights to your work, or you got a payment voucher that you signed when you turned in your pages. Two weeks later, you got a check.
Beyond your initial page rate you were unlikely to see any more money on your book, nor did you expect any. A decent page rate at a major publisher could be solid money for an illustrator. At the time, The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines stated that the average American illustrator pulled in less than $10,000 a year. So a decent comic book artist who could pull in $40,000 or more a year was doing better than OK. And $40,000 went a lot farther in the 1980′s than it does now.
The simplicity of comic book agreements that reserved all publishing rights for the publisher in exchange for a guarantee of upfront income left most comic artists unprepared for the complexity of the retail trade publishing paradigm. When I got into comics, publishers were only just starting to pay royalty rates!
In standard book publishing, no page rates were paid. Instead, an advance fee was paid against royalties; the author/artist gets a flat amount of money up front that is deducted from later book sales.
Say you agree to do a book for $3,000. If the book sells a lot of copies, whee! You get more money. If not, $3,000 is all you will ever see. If you spent six months working on your book baby, you just worked six months for $3,000.