Okay, so it took a bit longer than anticipated to continue this article. Which kind of makes the point I began discussing last Sunday evening (it is now 7:15 am Saturday). Since that time I had a two and a half hour online meeting, had an emergency call at 12:45am Sunday night which took an hour and a half, exchanged 20 or 30 emails, wrote a contract, reviewed and approved a marketing postcard, made sure the last of some revised pages made it to the person making up a dummy book, plotted an entirely separate story for another person, tried to contact an artist (again without results), was yet again aggressed against by a hanger-on for no apparent reason other than that person’s own personal issues (but that worked itself out, because before I even saw it and had to once again calm this person’s insecurity and paranoia down, another party/parties saw it, called him/her on his/her unprovoked arrogance and stupidity, and put that person in his/her place. His/Her backtracking was either hilarious or pathetic, I can’t decide which.), and oh yeah, went to work for 42 hours and did my daily exercise. But my lord I was tired Monday.
This, in a nutshell, is part and parcel of why comics are such tough work. Not because the work itself is all that difficult, but because most people in comics work a minimum of two jobs and because in any comic project you have to deal with a group and group dynamics.
First, there is the two job issue. Most people who make their living exclusively from comics are working on staff as bullpenners or editors. And it really isn’t a great living. I had the privilege of working as a Marvel intern six years ago (2003) and I was told that a new, starting out assistant editor made 28,000 a year. And remember, this is in New York City. That is enough to make it, but make no mistake, that’s also just above subsistence pay.
But at least staff get health benefits. Freelancers don’t even get that. Freelancers almost always work two jobs, or are writing 3 to 5 books for the major companies, so they can collect 3 to 5 pay rates. The reason why the pay is so low is because H.R. knows job applicants will accept that because we are all artists doing this for love. And it’s always been that way; if you don’t believe me, I refer you to the very existence of A.C.T.O.R.
Comics become difficult because for the majority of us working in it, it is a side gig. It is something you do after your eight hours standing on your feet or sitting behind your desk doing a day (or night) job that, in most cases, you don’t care for very much because you are an artist and your day/night job isn’t artistic in the least. It’s hard to sit down to work again after coming home, or on the weekends, especially after a bad day at work and when you don’t know when or if you will ever see any money from your efforts.
I myself have been putting in a large amount of effort editing a Comicbook Artist Guild project these past eight months, and I know full well I’ll never see a single penny from it. But what I will get in the end is a fully produced and published book that I can (mostly) be proud of. That is why I do it, out of love, and the urge to create something. Other professions say this, but only the artistic professions (writing, acting, drawing, directing, etc.) really mean it when they say no one’s in this for the money.
Comic work is also difficult because it is, by necessity, a group endeavor and in any group there will be difference of opinion. This facet of comics can also be a blessing, but I’ll get to that in time.
One of the beauties of comics is that it is a hybrid art form. It isn’t just art, and it isn’t just writing. It is a blend of both, and that blend must be just right, or else the book won’t be very good. And most good writers or artists are dedicated to their particular craft so have studied it a long time. A result of that long study is that most writers aren’t good artists and most artists aren’t good writers. So each needs the other to put out a comic.
Even if there is someone talented enough like Will Eisner, Bill Willingham, or Darwyn Cooke who can both write and draw a book (though Willingham doesn’t draw much anymore, but anyway), you still have, at minimum, a letterer, colorist, and editor. This isn’t to say one person can write, draw, letter and color their work, but quite frankly, who would want to? That’s a lot of work friends and it’s best when shared. More on that next week.