Old picture of a man at a drawing board

Seriously, Don’t Be a Comic Book Artist. Just Don’t.

So, you say you want to draw “Spider-Man” for a living?  I have some thoughts on that.

This article isn’t ideological.  It’s practical.

It may not be fun to hear, but I see all the misery and desperation in the comics industry and I think sometimes it’s good to be reminded of some of this stuff.

Career Suicide

The worst decision you can make as a creative is to pursue a career as a “comic book artist.”

There’s very little upside in it.  There’s no money in comics.  The only money is in licensing.  Is that how you wish to pursue your creative agenda?  Dealing with lawyers?

For a select few, there’s superstar status in the comics community and bidding wars over your services that might kick off once you’re a full time employee at Marvel or DC.  That will only last for a few years, at best.

You want that Marvel/DC exclusive contract so you can get health care coverage and whatever other guarantees one of those has.  (Do contracted creatives get a 401(k) or anything like that?  I don’t know.  People usually stop talking about it after health care.)

It still won’t guarantee you credit in a DC television series, though, or a dime from overseas sales. And that’s your best case scenario.

As the artist, you can only work on one book at a time. That limits your opportunities and your chances for success.

So you say you want to be a “comic book artist”?

No. Don’t. Save yourself a world of trouble here.

Timing is Everything

Just before I published this essay, Phil Hester tweeted:

Comic book careers are like musical ones. A vanishingly small number of us can fill arenas, a lucky few get a hit or two and can tour our whole careers, most are gigging at local venues, some just jamming in the garage.

Phil Hester

The thing about the people gigging at local venues and jamming in their garages is that they have day jobs or incredibly supportive and understanding families.

Or rich parents.

The Health Care Thing

Side note:  The reality is, if you’re in America, it is your responsibility to take care of your health care.  This isn’t the place to debate the politics of that.  I’m just talking about reality here.

To each his or her own, but I don’t understand how you can feel comfortable making a living in a career that makes health care unaffordable, and doesn’t offer insurance as part of your employment.

I get it, you can take the afternoon off to go catch a movie.  You can also catch the flu and go bankrupt and/or die.  But, hey, time freedom, am I right?

But the gig economy will be the new norm. Maybe, but nobody’s getting rich doing TaskRabbit chores and Uber rides.  (Uber is a house of cards that’s wildly overvalued and due for a massive collapse someday.  That’s another story for another day, though…)

I’m a diabetic.  This gig economy/freelance lifestyle has never been an option for me. I’ve always made sure I had a job with that as part of the agreement.  When I was between jobs, I paid into COBRA and found a new job ASAP with health care coverage.

This is also the reason I’ve never pursued “comics journalism” as a career.  There’s no package to go along with the minimum wage or so that would pay to cover a matching 401(k) or health care or any of the rest.

I’d be sacrificing my future to have “fun” today.  That’s not worth it. It’s not responsible, even if you don’t have a family to take care of.

Career Suicide, Part 2

What’s the end game with being a freelance comic book artist?  You work until the day you die, if you’re lucky.  If not, you’re hoping for help from ACTOR.

Most likely, you fall out of style, editors stop returning your phone calls or the editors who hire you get shuffled around or leave the industry, your nostalgic fans stop commissioning you after a few years, and you teach local art classes, if you’re lucky.

It’s a never ending treadmill that, if you’re lucky, doesn’t kill you early.

There are certain ways to make this better. I think there are some artists who are beginning to realize that they are actually entrepreneurs and are running their creative life more like a business.  In the long run, those people stand a chance. It involves creator-ownership and building a library and being your own best marketer and several other things (a spouse with a corporate job is always valuable), but it’s do-able.

Very few people can afford to go this way, though.

Far too many young creatives are fanboys or fangirls just happy to get work to get on the treadmill and feel lucky not to fall off.

But everyone falls off.  It’s only a matter of time.  This career path rarely ends well.

The Excuses Are Off the Table

This has been going on for years now. You can’t say you don’t know the deal you’re getting into when you cash a paycheck from Marvel or DC.  This isn’t the 60s or 70s anymore.  We know more now.

Know upfront that the work you do will only get you paid once and that they owe you nothing past that.  It’s in your contract, even if it isn’t rubber stamped on the back of your paycheck anymore.  Don’t expect anything in royalties when the vast majority of comics aren’t selling in any serious numbers.

Don’t be upset when your name isn’t in the credits and you don’t get a royalty from the latest TV show or movie based on your work.  If you’re lucky, they’ll wine and dine you with some movie tickets and maybe an hors d’oeuvre at the opening of the movie. It it helps their marketing, you can get a selfie with their starlet.

And when they cast you aside in favor of the younger, hot up-and-comer who might even be working for exposure and a lower page rate (What?  Page rates can get even lower?!?), realize that that’s how you likely made your door into the industry.

Don’t tell me it’s not fair.

If You Insist…

Be an artist, not a “comic book artist.” Specialize in design or illustration or animation. Don’t specialize in comic books.

Don’t make comic book production your sole source of income. Whatever you do, don’t make that mistake.  Yes, at the beginning, you might need to be heads down drawing to build up a library to capitalize off of in the long term.  That might be in residual sales or just in the reputation that you can do the work.

Have you seen the mess Marvel and DC are in these days?  Do you want to rely on them to pay your mortgage or rent every month?  They can’t responsibly schedule a series to give creatives the time to get the work done. They can’t start a new shiny imprint without backing off it as soon as possible. Their editorial decisions are subject to the whim of their corporate overlords.

You need to be prepared to do other work. It might be “comics adjacent,” like covers for other publishers, commissions for fans, or the design side of things for action figures or statues or something.

But it would also be a good idea to dip your toes into the animation world or the video game world.  See what that’s like.  I’m not saying either of those is very stable, either, (video games are a friggin’ disaster) but at least the animation folks have a union that can help you with health care and other benefits, if you do enough work there.

Drawing comic books and only comic books is a fool’s game.

Backup Plan

Now, if you insist on not listening to my wise advice, there are things you can do to help your cause.

First, make sure losing your biggest client won’t bankrupt you.  Don’t rely on a single source of income.  Build up others.

Second, become your own brand.  Your style, your outreach, your personality…  All of that adds up to a “brand” that you can profit from in multiple ways.

Third, this is a business and not a hobby.  Read your contracts.

Fourth, own your work.  It’s the only long-term play.  If you give it away for the quick paycheck, you’re devaluing your work and hurting your future self.

Fifth, read “The Only Person Who Can Pop a Comic Book Artist.”  I wrote that article last year.  It goes into more depth on this whole subject.

Good luck.  You’re going to need it.

Tough Love

In the end, I can’t tell you what to do.  Maybe you use this article to fire yourself up to prove me wrong and go on to take on the world and win!

Maybe.

Or maybe you pursue a career in animation, movies (storyboarding!), graphic design, commercials/advertising, or one of those venues where there are employment opportunities with full benefits.  I’m not saying those are going to be easy, either.  There are always more people who think of themselves as artists than there are positions to be filled.  But at least the upside is greater once you’re in.

Just don’t act surprised when your life of comic art leads down some dark roads that might have been avoided with another career.  At this point, there are far too many stories out there that back me up.

Nobody wants to have to start an Indie-Go-Go campaign to get through life.

Another Perspective (26 March 2021)

All the discussions on NFTs lately brought up this tweet thread, which is well worth reading and covers many of the same points I just made, coincidentally enough.

Photo Credit

The header image on this article comes from National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

54 Comments

  1. Nice editorial, Augie. Reading about how the Titans creators got snubbed made me think of this too (although I was thinking of it with regards to writers as well). I was just thinking how no industry has had their salaries go backwards as much as comics. Page rates have stagnated (you could even argue they’ve gone backwards if you look at comics heydey in the 90s).

    And what other industry hires folks for a bottom-barrel wage and uses their ideas in perpetuity without the possibility of any residuals? The film industry is now at least a third comic book-based, but are any of the creators actually seeing money?

    I was even thinking more about this after reading this piece on unions and the comic book industry at Bleeding Cool – https://www.bleedingcool.com/2018/10/18/chelsea-cain-chuck-wendig-comic-creators-unionize/

    Why isn’t there some kind of union for comic book creators? I mean, I do know the history of the efforts to unionize and why it hasn’t been successful. I also understand the thin margins that the small publishers work on, but the big two? Aren’t they just using comics as an IP farm? And if so, shouldn’t they have to pay accordingly? Something should be done.

    Couldn’t comic book writers just sign with the WGA? Then the WGA could help them demand fair wages and royalties for use of their ideas. (I know it wouldn’t help artists, unless the WGA wanted to consider pictures as story-telling too.)

    I think about Robert Kirkman’s screed from a while back. The one where he argued that the “big name” creators should only be working for themselves. The ones that listened – Remender, Fraction, Brubaker, Vaughan – are really doing well now. And I’m glad about that. But I also wished they’d have used their influence in a way that could’ve changed the industry. Like when the Image founders left Marvel to form their own shop and stole sales. What if the most popular artists and writers told one another that no one works for Marvel or DC until they agree to union-type conditions?

    Yes, I know the big two would use the thousands of fanboys and wannabes in their books, but if these known artists and writers were using their talents to put out Image books at the same time? It might steal enough of the big two’s sales to warrant some action. After all, the start of Image did cause Marvel and DC to reevaluate their treatment of talent.

    I also think about Neil Gaiman and a time he was considering coming back to Sandman. He looked at DC’s offer and couldn’t bring himself to do it. The terms were so backwards and unfair, he decided to just write a book instead because it paid exponentially more than anything comics had to offer (although I believe he decided to come back Overture after they reworked some points).

    I know I’m just rambling at this point. It’s hard to throw all my ideas and notions in a comment box, and I’m not here to debate anyone. But, like you, I’d love to see change come to an industry that I love so much.

    1. If bottom tier “talent” like ethan van sciver can raise 3/4 of a mil from a crowdfunding campaign for ONE comic, and take 2 yrs to make it & spend a good chunk of the money first, the bar for success is set pretty low in the industry. And even though this overly pessimistic and defeatist attitude blog is 2 yrs old, the “big two” in case you didn’t notice, became the “rock bottom two” about five yrs ago in the comic industry. You can use the word “superstar” in the context of marvel & dc’s franchise library, but it’s laughable to use that word when referring to their paid artists & writers. There isn’t one “superstar” among any of them, half of them are hired deviant art fanboys w/no prior experience. You really have an archaic view of what equated with success in the industry even in 2018, and especially today, because working for marvel or dc means you have an insane level of ideological fanaticism on par w/theirs
      and negligible talent.

      1. Ready for me to really piss you off? Van Sciver is actually a decent example of something I wrote about in this article that you missed entirely. The job of being an artist involves business and marketing. Van Sciver was very popular during his time at DC, and he brought that following forward. He also pushed an ideological agenda that attracted people to his cause. Those people are incredibly sticky for his business and willing to spend lots of money in pursuit of that agenda.

        Funny enough, your comments would put you in his fanbase. They think DC and Marvel are creative backwaters, too, pursuing the wrong agenda with a bunch of hired “fanboys” to do the work instead of anyone with vision or talent. Congrats!

  2. Hi George – I was keeping notes for a future piece on the union issue, though I’m not sure it’s ever going to go anywhere, so I’ll do my hand-waving best here. 😉

    That second BleedingCool piece best describes some of the issues involved. For starters, I’m not sure how possible it is to organize a freelance community. Usually, it’s employees who become a union. Gawker writers unionized through the WGA, but they were employees. Gothamist employees unionized, and then the whole site got shut down.

    I’m not sure what the process is for unionizing a disparate group of freelancers, and what the difference is between collusion and collective bargaining.

    And, yeah, it would be WAY too easy for a Marvel or a DC to find non-union writers willing to work for them. These aren’t serious writers; they’re fanboys. It’s tough to explain long term economics to them. That’s why they all want to write for Marvel/DC to begin with….

    The best thing for comics creators to do isn’t to unionize, but to not work at Marvel and DC. Own their own works. If the best talent is not at Marvel/DC and they’re making money and owning their work and so keeping their future interests viable, then the market will change for the better for creators.

    A lot of it is still in convincing comics readers that they want more than just the Big Two superhero stuff. So show them more of that good stuff. Suffocate the superheroes out of them…

    This is where I have to point out that the publishers don’t own the books published in France. The creators do. It’s much closer to the novel market in France than the American comics market, as far as rights goes. Now, some of that might be dictated by French law, I don’t know. But they’re all complaining over there, too, that they’re underpaid.

    There’s one other possibility: Comics just isn’t a big enough market to afford generous creator rates. Nobody reads anymore, and all kids today want to grow up to be YouTubers or professional FortNite players.

    If Marvel or DC suddenly had to start providing 401(k)s and health care plans and Social Security and unemployment money for every creator they hired for books that barely break even as it is, where would that money be coming from? Hollywood? Hell, no, they already have 80 years of back issues to draw stories from.

    The Direct Market would need a radical shift to make those economics possible for the publisher, as much as the retailer.

    And, also, the best place, financially, to write superhero material these days is already in Hollywood, where it’s all unionized already. (Except animation, which is another silly thing…) I think it was Remender or maybe Antony Johnston who pointed out that there are more superhero writers working in Hollywood these days for various TV shows and movies, than there are in comics working at Marvel/DC. And I bet they all have better benefits, too.

    This would be a good time for another Image-like defection from the Big Two, but I’m not sure the creators are there. The Image situation is likely a once in a lifetime event. There’s not a similar class of creators today who so overpower the market. There’s no McFarlane/Lee/Liefeld tri-fecta… The economy of comics has already changed. Those kinds of creators already wander off to creator-owned works here and there, and then come back. Only Kirkman has been strong enough to plant his flag in the sand and stick with it. I backed him them, and continue to back that decision now. It’s worked out pretty well for him, I’d say…

    OK, now I’m the one who’s rambling. There’s about six articles seeded in what I just wrote there, each one of which would likely get me in a world of flames. 😉

    1. I really appreciate your article and definitely agree on how the comic industry has grown in many ways, negatively… Im curious to know why you said “Except animation, which is another silly thing…)?” Im a 20 year old, animation major and honestly at the start felt stuck between animation and illustration because I wanted to choose the lesser of two evils when it came to having a decent income. My whole dream like every fanboy/girl/weeb, is making my own graphic novel and animated series but for now Im looking into storyboarding, and illustrating for comic writers. (How I passed by your article) Im interested in knowing your thoughts of the animation industry of today. I think art is really not seen as admirable as I thought it was before and also hear my classmates complain about finding decent opportunities, it makes me a very concern. I am from New York City and the chances is small, since this is the graphic design/fashion capital more like it. Webcomics is the thing nowadays, however again it isn’t a decent income nor does it stop majority of manga/comic readers in my generation from reading illegal scans. They dont even buy real coins… You said a good point, which is just creating your own platform/business and explore other interests to secure yourself because thats what Im looking into at this point. Like you said; times have changed, people dont read, the young ones would rather be youtubers LOL and with the pandemic everyones type of work has drastically shifted. I look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂

  3. Not a month goes by that an article laments how hard it is to make a living in the European publishing industry now that the book is dying, nobody reads anymore blah blah blah.
    It’s been going on for decades, it’s mostly whining and moping and nothing positive ever comes of it. Cursing the nanny state is one thing, taking action is another. The posture of victim is so comfortable, people take sympathy on you and for a little while you’re the center of attention. Lawyers have unions/associations, Doctors, plumbers, electricians too; heck, even actors do, so… About a month ago I had a heated discussion on one of those French sites and some called me an odious capitalist when I said that any activity that doesn’t feed you is not a job, it’s a hobby. Considering that here authors retain intellectual property for their creations, what more is there to complain about?

  4. I enjoy your insights into the art and business of comics, but this article almost borders on clickbait to me. It’s all good and fine to offer some considerable cautions into attempting a comic book artist career (i.e. healthcare, job security, working hours), but it’s a bit absurd to say don’t even think about it. You never address the fact that original artwork provides an extra source of income, especially from Big 2 comics. If you sell all your 20 pages at an average of $150 a piece, that comes out to $3,000 which is nothing to sneeze at. That does not even include covers. Also, many new artists are eschewing traditional pencil and inks divisions in favor of inking–perhaps digitally–their own work. It seems to me that this arrangement would increase page rates. I am sure many artists in comics survive on modest salaries, but let’s scale back the doom and gloom, Augie!

    1. Yup, there are definitely ways to make it work. And I do outline some ideas in the article. But I look at the number of people who are lamenting at how tough their lives are because they chose this path and– well, someone needs to give them the tough love.

      Original art sales are a huge boon, but more and more artists don’t have them anymore. Many find it impossible to meet their deadlines without doing things digitally, in which case you have nothing to sell. (And many digital artists have started drawing their splash pages traditionally so that they have something to sell.) None of this matters, of course, unless they can land a monthly book, anyway…

      But, in the end, yes, I’m more realistic than idealistic. I just hate seeing so many very talented people flailing around and not doing the work they could like that still make them a somewhat comfortable living.

  5. Was waiting, hoping to see someone in the comics industry weigh in on this. From where I sit, it’s tough to argue with any of your points, but need to hear from someone who’s lived it.

    Freelance is the only option — for reasons spiritual or practical — for many of us; it’s wise to offer cautionary advice, but as you note, this is the way it’s going, and we need to learn.

    1. The other thing that needs to change eventually are governmental policies, all of which are directed at the average job from 50 years ago — expecting a person to work full time for one company for their whole lives before retiring with a full pension and dying ten years later. That’s not the way the economy works anymore, but (as usual) governments are way behind on changing to match it.

      Still, like I said above, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. when things do change, my advice might change accordingly…

  6. All due respect to Augie (and I don’t mean that flippantly; I have much respect for Augie) this reads to me like less a list of reasons to not be a comic book artist and more self-justifications for why he never pursued the profession. It’s evident he has a love of drawing, but chose to never give making it his living a go. I can’t imagine someone who never considered it could write such a thorough treatise on why art’s not a dream worth pursuing.

    I also don’t understand why the comics industry continues to distance the medium/industry from the other creative arts, especially in the greater cultural context. The truth is, sure, most artists (whether it’s comics, fine art, sign-making, etc.) and writers (whether it’s comics, prose, poetry, screenwriting, technical writing, etc.) don’t make much money, if they do at all. Most fail by the capitalist standard of success.

    And yes, successful people often have privileges, advantages, and certainly blind luck. JK Rowling was on welfare until she received grant money enabling her to write the book she pitched over a dozen times until it was picked up. Kafka had a desk job. Ursula K LeGuin spun many plates. F. Scott Fitzgerald never saw success in his lifetime. Hemingway and Picasso had benefactors. Most actors aren’t stars. Best-selling books end up in the remainder pile. In comics, the most financially successful creator of the modern age, Robert Kirkman, took out tens of thousands of dollars of loans/credit to make his early attempts at self-publishing work.

    You’re also right that most people in the arts have supplemental income – if not primary income outside of their pursuit – than don’t. But wealth’s not the point. The point is a desire and bravery to pursue the impractical, because the pursuit is the end goal.

    However, the truth is you get one pass at this life and the stability of a day job is a complete fallacy. People of all professions are laid off every day. People age out of most businesses as much as they do the comic book business. Even professions with tenure, like high school teachers, run the risk of a loss of funding and cutbacks. There is no truth to “stability,” not by any means, whether judged by financial renumeration or even healthcare (there’s a good chance the requirements for businesses to provide the latter for full-time employees will be rolled back in the next few years).

    I feel the only truth your argument reflects is when you don’t act on your creative passions, you achieve as much as if you tried and failed.

    1. I completely agree with the anonymous poster above. And to add to it, the pursuit of an artistic endeavor should never be about the financial gain. If you need to work a couple of jobs to find your passions, who can tell you what to do otherwise? Sure, there are tons of people who have tried their hand at making a comic with laudable expectations of fame and fortune and failed miserably, but isn’t it better to take the risk, try it, fail, and not have regrets than be stuck in that stable 9-5 that is supposedly giving you the life that you’ve always wanted? And in the end, being an artist is something you know in your bones. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about drawing, creating, painting. I truly love it enough to put my all into it. Sure, it’s not the most stable career. Yes, you are probably going to need a day job for support, and odds are you will be underpaid, misunderstood, and frowned upon by your friends that have become doctors, lawyers, computer engineers, whatever. But the intrinsic satisfaction of working for years to master your anatomy, perspective, storytelling ability, etc and to see how you have grown and can now create what’s in your head is priceless. I’d rather be poor and joyful than rich and depressed.

  7. Very good points. Rich parents and a stable financial support is the culprit hiding behind most of the successful artists. When you are young, it is really hard to see what’s going on. Most youngsters think when they do good art, they will be rich and famous. But, generally, most successfull artists have a stable financial support in the first place even before their career started.

  8. JUST WHO IN THE HELL ARE YOU? What kind of Peru are you? Of course we all have mirrors to look into and with that said that’s exactly what you need to do. Trying to discourage people especially young generation too as well. AND TELLING PEOPLE THAT IT IS REQUIRED TO PROVIDE THEIR EMAIL IS INVALID BUT I POSTED IT THERE JUST TO GET THIS COMMENT PUSTED. No newsletters is needed from you. “Required “ is NOT required. Who the hell are you people? Just who AND what are you in for?

    1. Good news — you’re not being subscribed to anything. This site asks for an email address in comments to help weed out the robots and spammers. Once your email address is in the system, you’ll be pre-approved to post whatever you want (unless you run afoul of the spam filter for other reasons). It’s only there to establish that I’ve approved you in the past and that you’re “real.” I’m not using it or even looking at it for any other reason.

  9. ” I think there are some artists who are beginning to realize that they are actually entrepreneurs and are running their creative life more like a business.”
    This. I’m a comic book veteran artist AND an author, working non-stop for U.S. publisher over a decade and making a living solely as an artist. When I work for publishers, you also can find me working on my creator-owner projects. I’ve just started licensing my IP (multiple products related to my IP). You’re right. A creator has to hold the IP rights or they’re screwed. I don’t sell rights, I sell the permission to publish/IP usage.

    For newcomers, what Augie said is sad, but true. And like he said, if you start to see your career like a business, you’ll do well. Don’t forget, it’s the entertainment industry. Expand your IP, licensing to games, animation, etc. Be flexible. If you fell in love with a genre or style and the audience doesn’t accept it in comics, remember that there are other media to try. Don’t limit yourself to one media, as a writer, an artist or writer-artist (visual storyteller doing both like Joëlle Jones or Dan Panosian). Talk with your audience, pay attention to their reactions. It applies to publishers or the audience. LISTEN to the people you have the honor of serving as their entertainer/artist/crazy-person-with-a-unique-vision-to-share. You a creator? So you’re an entrepreneur. Listen to your clients, and know how to discern the problem to the symptom to improve your creation.

    (Note: Geez, man. There are more publishers than Marvel and DC around, you know. You can make money, better, a career, without them. Right now, I’m working for an indie publisher and they paid only 20 bucks less than a DC page rate. Plus, with smaller publishers, you can see the whole process and learn how to launch your product later AND help them to improve their production).

    1. Thanks, Amelia, for your perspective. It’s a whole mindset shift that’s coming, I think, with this generation. Those who shift will have tremendous upside. Those who don’t will be locked into an old system, unfortunately, that’s broken.

      And, yes, there are a lot of other publishers. The avatar I had in mind while writing this was the up-and-coming comics fan who thinks that their destiny in life is to draw Batman, but they haven’t learned how to draw a city in proper perspective yet. Those are the ones I hear most talk in this way. I think the upcoming artists whose work appeals more to audiences at other publishers are more likely to have seen this message already, if only because they had to live it more to even get started.

      As always, the biggest trick is to implement suggestions, and not just read up on them while still working the old way. Hopefully, if enough people drill it into their minds, it’ll stick and activate. There’s a lot to be said for learning the ropes from every angle, and you’re right — you’ll likely get that more at a smaller publisher, too.

      1. “The avatar I had in mind while writing this was the up-and-coming comics fan who thinks that their destiny in life is to draw Batman…”
        That’s the reason I decided to join this conversation. I want to say to the newcomers it will be possible if they focus on their passion when they learn drawing and, the most important element, the visual storytelling. The hardest part is, they shouldn’t take rejections personally. Many times, publishers have other reasons than just the drawing quality or storytelling skills. The artistic production (visual and writing) has to be compatible with their brand and products. I saw many creative artists forcing themselves to be a studio/production artist and failing. Compatibility and flexibility are important elements. It reminds of that famous quote: “be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods”.

        “As always, the biggest trick is to implement suggestions, and not just read up on them while still working the old way. ”
        Totally true. And, to reinforce this idea, I have to say the comic industry is a forgiven industry. You can fail, a lot. Nobody will lose a million-buck deal because of a bad reception. The consequences aren’t that bad, so a comic title has room for experimentation. Implement suggestions is a way to experiment. (But, please, new authors, don’t make the same mistake I did. Use a MVP – minimum viable product – to test your ideas, not a fugging 272-page graphic novel like I did XD)

        1. Ha! I’ll co-sign everything you just wrote, PARTICULARLY the 272 page graphic novel part. But, then, sometimes it can work out for the best. There are exceptions to every rule. And you’re in good company — “Bone” was Jeff Smith’s first comic, though at least he did that 22 pages at a time. =)

          1. I like your positive thinking 🙂
            Bone is great! Oh, yeah! I’ve created my graphic novel to be flexible. It can be “sliced” to a 10-issue monthly series if necessary. I’ve signed with a publisher already, but I don’t know if Diamond will accept our submission due to the length of this mature series/GN. If Diamond likes the proposal but rejects it because of the length, I have shorter scripts. They’re the gatekeepers, but I want to get as many readers as possible. So, I have to follow the rules (and break them when I get more attention XD).

  10. Some of what you guys are saying makes sense, but I don’t think that “guys who want to draw Batman” don’t necessarily see that as a be-all-end-all situation, it’s simply common sense to realize that drawing Batman is a formidable spotlight after which you have more freedom and more options to do your own things. It’s like a comedian being featured on Colbert or on Kimmel. It can be a childhood dream, to be part of a club of very select people, but mostly it gets you recognized and opens doors.

    1. Hi JC – I would LIKE to believe that they have bigger ambitions than just drawing Batman and Superman, but I’m not so sure. So many of them grew up on superheroes, only ever dreamed of drawing superheroes, and don’t want to do anything else. The smart ones will use the high profile superhero gigs to broaden their audience, you’re right.

  11. It’s definitely food for thought.

    However, I think anyone going into this expecting to work for the Big Two, let alone any kind of continuing work therein and a pension plan, is a little nuts to begin with.

    1. Mark and I share a birthday. Different years, but same day and month, at least. Obviously, that’s why we agree so much on this topic. 😉

      He’s lived the life for 50 years, though, so his word carries more weight. I hope people click through and read this one. Thanks for adding the link in here.

  12. So, I agree with you about the “Don’t be a comic book artist… ” but our reasoning is probably a little different.
    I’m an older guy, but I’ve been a Writer/Narrative Director for Video Games for over 15 years now. When I started, there were no art program or design schools to attend to get a degree in comic art or game design. There was the Kubert school which wasnt really a college just art lessons.
    No one ever told me that writing/drawing comics or making video games were viable jobs. I spent 8 or 9 years of my video game career bouncing from QA to Production to Design and Writing. The entire time I was chasing gigs writing for comics. No matter how well I was paid or how good my benefits were… for a time Inwould have given it all to write got Captain America or Batman. I wanted to write for the characters I loved. In my mind, Comics were like valuable, collectable, historical objects… Long before the Google and internet, the only way to find out what happened in a comic you missed was to locate a copy. In my head, Comics were like Movies and TV. The same level of celebritism, so of course I assumed they were millionaires. Likewise, even though the game industry pays more than I could have ever imagined, I still pinned for this status of being a Comic Writer. Video games had given me everything, including a writing gig in a major Hollywood film, got me interviews on gaming websites, and even gave me the chance to run my own DC MMO game universe that was officially recognized by DC as canonical. We had our own Earth designation and everything. The games I’ve worked on have made more money than DC and Marvel’s comics division makes in 10 Years of sales. I got to write for Valliant / Acclaim comics, as a ghost writer. Now my contracting rates as a writer are way too high for Comics and every artist I know that tried to be in comics is either in gaming or teaching now.
    And now, the quality bar for both art and writing in comics is so low and honestly unqualified to be entrusted the fate and reputations of 50 years of iconic characters.
    But unfortunately, comic fans who also happen to be qualified writers don’t want to make $15 and hour for their work. Which eliminates most except for the single, forever 21, 20 and 30 somethings who somehow can survive the lifestyle of a comic artist/writer. After writing for DCUO MMO and hearing comic fans praise the work and stories… and being able to work with Kevin Conroy, James Marster, Mark Hamil. Jensen Ackles and others in the studio and head them perform my dialogue and tKe my direction.

  13. Also, one thing you’ll notice is most big comic artists and writers hate fucking comic books, especially American comics. Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Brian Bendis, all hate superheroes, violently, even though their fame comes from subverting iconic superhero stories making heroes bad guys or goodies two shoes. People who hate the medium are forced to do it to get ahead.

  14. Articles like this should never be written!!! When people want to do something don’t try turn them off of it bcuz u had a bad time or u heard about it being tough. All things are difficult in thier own ways, but other people should never be discouraging about it. I think about the young artist that loves to draw and wants to do it, believes they can do it and burns to do it, then finds this article and doubt starts creeping in. It’s the worst thing u can do to creative people. If u wanna say it’s difficult and warn about pitfalls that’s fine, but saying to not do it is just plain wrong. I was crushed as a young artist and changed what and how I enjoyed drawing to meet what others wanted to be drawn “guidelines” and burned years until finally I just went back to drawing what I loved and how I had fun doing it.

    NO I didn’t read the article bcuz the title in itself immediately turned me off, so maybe there’s a silver lining to the story, but damn if it sounds like the title I’m scared to read it. I’m alot older now & I know to not listen to what other folk think, but man that young artist who maybe has some doubt already and needs encouragement finds this and it discourages even a bit more. Im sick some one would write this killing the spirit of creative hearts. I always tell other artist that inspire me, it’s the best gift u can give another artist…to inspire them. With this article u did the exact opposite. This crap should be taken down and a rewrite should be done. Either way I can’t figure why anything like this would be put out and if ur in the industry, shame on u, trying to keep people out. Imagine everyone wrote crap like this…nobody would ever go into the art field.

  15. As a cartoonist myself, I see both sides of it. I don’t agree that this type article shouldn’t be written, but I do agree that you shouldn’t tell someone NOT TO DO IT AT ALL, that’s a bit drastic! When I was a boy, I saw JACK KIRBY’S ART and that was it, my young mind was ABSOLUTELY BLOWN and I knew I wanted to draw! Not for MONEY, FAME, BENEFITS, HEALTHCARE, ROYALTIES, WHATEVER! I wanted to draw just because I FREAKING LOVE TO DRAW!
    I was never really interested in pursuing a professional comic book career. I have had some cartoons published, but that’s it.
    Aspiring artist should know the facts of the industry, and that way they can make an INTELLIGENT, INFORMED DECISION for their futures!

  16. I’m not sure who this article is for. For someone who doesn’t know medical bills, mortgage and so on, are expensive? Someone who thinks they’ll just bankrupt themselves hoping they’ll be noticed by Marvel or DC, and then think they’ll be on easy street for the rest of their lives? Yes, people like that exist. Yes, I’ve heard of people losing their teeth (literally) pursuing comic book writing. The catch 22 is, that someone THAT passionate isn’t going to listen to you anyway.

  17. Wow, you are one miserable son of a gun. Why even expend the effort if you hate it so much? Aren’t there more productive things you could be doing?

  18. This article was I think, in his own way trying to be helpful, but it’s misplaced and I feel a little sad for you. I think if you had titled it , “What aspiring comic book artists need to know if they want to make REAL money: the hard truth,” that would probably have found you a more specific audience and it would have come off a little less pretentious. You did mention you’re a practical thinker. I wonder when you lost that ability to dream, assuming you had it at all. Dreamers aren’t practical, and money and fame is never really the end goal for most people who grow up wanting to be comic book artists. You mentioned you were diabetic and this made you even more practical. Hey I’m diabetic. I’m not exactly young either, but when it comes to being an artist…a would-be comic book artist, practicality has never been a part of it. Everyone has a right to their opinion of course, but this came off a little too “preachy” (did I spell that right) for me. Hey give advice if you want, but it was written more like a reprimand. Especially the “Good luck you’re going to need it” and “Drawing comic books is a fool’s game.” Like aspiring comic book artists don’t already know this? Yet we keep trying, we keep drawing, we keep creating…You go on to say, if we insist on doing this we should market ourselves…like we also don’t already know this? We’re dreamers but we’re not stupid. We get there eventually if we’re so inclined, I’m just saying most of us would-be comic book artists don’t think about that at first because that’s not really what’s important. It’s drawing, it’s creating art in sequential form, or drawing Spider-man just because you think he’s cool. Maybe somebody someday will think it’s cool too. You just want to share it, you just want people to see it, not for money, not for fame, you just want it to be out there sharing your creativity. I just feel this article was slightly discouraging to artists who are just about to try and swing for the fences. So you miss? So what…that’s what it’s all about. You in my opinion, should stop writing about comic book artists, because a true artist never questions another artists motivation for picking up that pencil and wasting hours on a drawing board on a piece that may never see the light of day. We do it cause we love it. The money…maybe it will take care of itself, maybe it won’t. Honestly, we don’t care. Only a true artist would understand why we don’t care, and you can scream your new “mindset” as long as you want, nobody, at least no “true” would-be comic book artist will listen, and that’s just not “practical” writing. if you’re trying to point out reality, clearly you have not really seen the reality of a “true” aspiring comic book artist, so maybe you should do some more research or do a few interviews before you tell us how “impractical” we’re behaving. That’s why I was compelled to comment even if this article is months old because maybe you can focus on writing about something that might inspire, not dissuade. But I don’t think you will. but hey, I can dream right? I’m good at that.

  19. Looking back,your article resonates loudly with me.
    I am glad I did not become a comic artist.

    In the mid 60’s I wrote an application letter (complete with 20 pages of original pencil art) to Marvel Comics for the post of Comic Artist when my idol, Jack Kirby, left for DC to start his Fourth World epic. Marvel did not treat Kirby very well did they? 2 months later Stan the Man actually sent the art back with a very encouraging rejection letter written by hand explaining that though he likes my work, I was too young, and Marvel only worked with locals then. Those days not everybody could fly. But time does. It is now 2018.

    How the world has changed.
    I spent my early years working as a Book Illustrator, Visualizer, Storyboard Artist, Cartoonist, in what can be described today as a “Blue Ocean” environment. The market for illustration was just emerging by virtue of the proliferation of International Advertising Agencies in Kuala Lumpur. With no art education and no cert, I was practically the only one working the freelance market because all the qualified artists were safely under employment in the nice big offices. Freelancing and working from home was a new thing back then. My neighbors often asked why I was not working because I hung around the house the whole day. It was when I discovered the Airbrush in 1982 that my Freelance career literally took off with flying colours. A decade later I started hand drawing Architectural perspectives for housing developers to help them market their properties. Hand painted perspectives were fun, but not efficient as there was so much to be done. I embraced the computer when it came on the scene and it took me into a whole new world of 3 D, computer walkthroughs, animation.

    I left for Canada with my wife and sons in 2010 and returned with my wife, in 2014.

    When I was in Toronto, I competed in Artbattle where 12 artists are pitted against each other in a speed painting contest in a raucous arena-like environment complete with loud music, Emcee, flashing disco lights, and audience members milling around the “ring” where the artists furiously painted to beat the clock. Champion of the night was decided by audience voting through 3 rounds of elimination. It was an amazing feeling for someone like me who has painted alone in the studio my whole life to suddenly be thrusted into a public domain while painting.

    When I got back to Malaysia, I joined Sketchwalk to sketch on the streets. I have finally succeeded in escaping the confines of the box that was my studio and am now happily drawing inspiration from the urban environment.

    Though I now describe myself as “Artist at large”, I am not averse to the occasional commissions.

    Hit me.

    Recently, I was asked to draw a poster consisting of Marvel Super heroes. But with faces of my clients who wanted to have their faces remembered by their boss who is leaving. Having said that, it is heartening to see that some of my young artist friends living in Malaysia who are making a good living doing comic and other art for DC and Marvel.

    Getting paid in US$ and spending it in Malaysia or other cheaper countries used to be the dream of retirees.

    How the world has changed.

    I used to carry the name StanLee.

    Now it is KULit

  20. Great read. As an aspiring comic writer/inker (who is limited in abilities due to a disability), I used to think hopefully. This piece, along with a few others, are helping to fully kill my last dream of achieving some measure of independence and self-sufficiency.
    I guess what I am saying is thank you, thank you sincerely for reminding us to never try.

  21. My significant other makes around 40k a year by selling fanzines and royalties from independent comics books published in the last ten years. Her fanzines are printed in runs of 300 to 400. And while some of those fanzines are still taking space in our apartment, sales for her old fanzines keep coming. And this is for a French speaking audience! It takes a long time, but can definitely make a career as a comic book artist. Just don’t expect to be making 6 figures or getting hired by a big publishing house. But doing your own thing independently, at a smaller local scale, can be profitable.

  22. While I find some of the information here helpful, a better title could have been, “How to Brand Yourself Beyond Comics,” and took a more constructive view instead of begrudgingly admitting you can be successful with art. I think telling people to not even try to pursue their dreams is dangerous, and very common. Personally I did poorly in school my whole life, and spent 8 years working in food service and going to school for teaching never making more than 15K a year. I went to one comic convention and got enough feedback to make a decent portfolio. My first year doing freelance comic art I made about 24k. Not much, but almost double what I ever made before. I did that three years before taking those skills to an advetising artist job. Now I make six figures in advertising, plus another 30-40k in comic freelance a year, and I still don’t work at Marvel or DC and may never do it. I know that may not be much money to some, but it’s a lot to me, and still feels easier than working in restaurants. I know the author suggests to perhaps try advertising art jobs, while at the same time swiping at it, by saying it’s not stable, I disagree, I think it’s important to note I never could have developed those skills for advertising without that experience in comics. I say take all the work, see what you like, ask them their budget, keep on drawing and being nice. I had a lot of people tell me not to try at comics, so I am a bit sensitive to it. The main thing is that if you came to this site to find another reason why not to try at creating something you feel will turn into something amazing, then he’s given you more than enough, and on the other hand, if you’re an artist then you’ve had to ignore these kind of people your whole life anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Create art, see what happens. What’s that old saying? “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t you’re probably right.”

  23. You’re not wrong. I am 67 years old next month and was always interested in doing comics–but for whatever reasons; life, marriage, a child born and responsibilities, perhaps even not enough raw talent, I never made it in comics as a career. In a way, I’m glad of it. Had I actually managed to get into comics in the late 80s, it would have been a piecemeal existence, always thinking ahead for the next gig, the next comic, and healthcare? Working potentially 50-60 hours a week until my skills allowed me to relax a bit and do the work in something like 40 hours? Be able to take a vacation? No, very astute article. Now I’m still drawing comics in retirement…from living in retirement overseas in the Philippines. Drawing for my own edification, as its always been, but now getting my stuff out there. Relaxed. Do comics for your own sake, because you enjoy it. Seeking a career in that field…not sure it was right then, it certainly isn’t any better now.

  24. Me. Kind of stupid and boxed in, like someone doesn’t know anyone in the industry.

    Might as well write: Why not to eat mean: because you have to cook it.

    See? Just as stupid.

  25. Geez, I’m just a 79 year old Grandpa browsing for a cpl of gifts for my Grandkids. One happens to be 9 and quite creative in writing and drawing. Lately, she’s been communicating with me via email using her current preferred genre, comic panels. I don’t envision her as another Al Capp-I just want a cpl of ideas that might help her advance in her vivid world-that’s all. I know I got more than I bargained for, but if you don’t mind, I’ll ask my question: Any thoughts on a gift? She’s only 9 and thus, thankfully, only interested in fun. Thanks for tolerating this. I’m Jack Tracey at jack.tracey@gmail.com

    1. I’ll send an email to make sure you get this, but the first book that comes to mind is Raina Telgemeier’s “Share Your Smile.” Your granddaughter may already have it, so check with her parents first. (The usual age range for her books starts in third grade, so it sounds like she’s on the younger side of it.) Telgemeier is the most popular comic book artist for kids these days, and “Share Your Smile” is her How To book on telling autobiographical stories through comics.

      Is your daughter a dancer, by any chance? Mine is, and she really enjoyed the “Dance Class” series from Papercutz at that age.

      When I was that age, I loved a PBS show called “Secret City.” It taught me a lot about art and drawing. Today, the star of the show, Mark Kistler, has his own YouTube channel and a couple of How To books on drawing. (“Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad” is the one I know of off the top of my head.) She might like those, too.

      Good luck!

  26. Well, a hard reading, for sure. But I think that it brought me more benefits than harm. I also dream of being a comic book artist, but fortunately my maturity and the fact of having a steady job gives me a more realistic perspective. The article for some will be like a punch in the stomach. Obviously, there will be more dislikes than likes. Ironically, those who pay attention to your words and absorb the teaching behind them will have a 100x greater chance of success in the industry than those who don’t like it.
    If your site will be here five years from now, I’ll be back to make further considerations and find out what was really consistent and what wasn’t.

    1. And today the Twittersphere is lit up with talk of a prominent writer who stiffed the artist on the first issue of their series after the artist had to stop working for a hospital visit. It’s getting ugly out there today. (It’s doubly ironic because said writer once prominently spoke out against a fellow writer who he said had stiffed the co-creator and artist on their book. Can’t make this stuff up!)

  27. Expecting comic book professionals to have more morality or ethics than any other profession seems vain. Personal interest is equally prevalent amongst humans.
    You would imagine that people raised on Heroes like Superman or Batman stories would do right by others…

  28. Totally agree. I finished a comic book project made by me, actually i see this project like a real business. Many artists don’t understand that this industry (comic books, specifically) it’s not a hobby. As an artist, I can tell it’s a very tough way BUT if you make a sustainable business plan, you will earn what you want. Social media, showing your portfolio, working on animation, storyboard too, would help you out.

  29. I’ll be happy if I can muster up the will and determination to make an 8 page short story akin to Batman Black & White and post it on Deviant Art before I die.

    1. That sounds like a noble goal to me!

      I used to get asked quite often about my own comic making ambitions. I didn’t have any serious ones, which always threw people off, because 90% of the people writing for comic book websites in the 2000s were just doing it as a stepping stone to their comics writing careers. It worked for some people, so I guess I shouldn’t judge. 😉

      Still, I want to publish “Augie De Blieck’s Comics & Stories” before I die, too. Just one issue. And every character will likely look suspiciously like a Smurf…