This post comes out of the many times I scan places that aspiring comic artists and writers congregate like CBR forums
and the like
. It’s great that the Internet can bring disparate parties together with the possibility of making comics and who knows- sell to a publisher even. I’ve worked with and become friends with some awesome fellow creators. Camaraderie, banter, critique and so on all because of the great opportunity that is the web. What is really aggravating is seeing posts like this:
“Writer seeks artist for really cool comic project! I don’t have money to pay for the art/designs but It will be a “great opportunity” to be seen by all the readers who buy copies/hit my webcomic site/download my app-comic! Not too mention the “back end money” that will pour in from the sales of collected trades. Please reply to email@example.com.”
Now look, I am not myself naive to the ways of the wannabe creative artist/writer type. I WAS ONE. Yes Virginia, I was a virgin once or twice too- and although I am by no means a seasoned semi-pro in comics(other design and commissioned art etc. is another matter), I am one who listens to one’s elders a bit- I read about the industry I want to participate in. I’ve made some astounding blunders in assessing my abilities and I’ve blown some professional relationships with some folks who’ve moved on to be names in comics. Everyone who is in any creative business can share “what was I thinking when I did that?!?” stories around a few drinks. It’s the phase we all go through on the way to growing up in whatever profession we engage in frankly. So what I am going to try get across to all of the semi-pro, amateur, DIY, indy (or whatever monicker that means “I am not a paid professional”)comic creators who have posted or are about to post the above paraphrased morsel indented above is that you may want to re-think your approach and philosophy to this thing I’ll call “offering an opportunity”.
Let me start by saying that giving art away to writers/publishers occurs frequently- as long as the parties agree to the terms without coercion or fraudulent claims of any kind- the exchange in good faith I can’t say much either way about whether it’s a bad practice in any specific occasion of that exchange. It is up to any artist to give away their work according to how they can justify the effort- even if it’s just to have fun doing it. But let’s also look at the reality of the situation offered too. I think it leads to allot of bad practices that permeate all creative industries, i.e., creatives being ripped off, undervalued, etc. by big industry entertainment companies, agencies- but in specific? No it’s not necessarily a rip-off scenario; if the parties know what they are giving and getting out of the partnering. Keyword here- PARTNERING.
Many inexperienced creators; often but not always writers- don’t understand that they’re not offering opportunities at all. The print and electronic comics industry is overloaded with titles. Most of these books will sell or be read by less than 1-3000 people – some a tenth of that number or none. We all create our ideas and so on with great aspirations and intentions, but REALITY tells us that only a few comics will gain sufficient readership (no matter format) to net out any real exposure or back end monies. Not every small publisher or vanity press is capable of promoting a book- many have no business/marketing experience or are willing to learn.
Many of these books are not publishing-worthy by any professional or semi-professional standards. This is not being mean or being blind to the brilliance of the book- it’s just a fact. It’s the same set of issues that affect DIY/Indy filmmakers, musicians, playwrights, etc.- The largest part of the pyramid is the bottom not the top. Most of the non-pro work, no matter how well intentioned or energetically made is likely to be inferior. It is not the source of exposure for anyone involved.
The point I’d like to make to unknown, indy vanity, DIY, creators- You really have to stop offering “exposure” and later financial compensation/back end riches to entice people to work really really hard on your project. You have to be evaluate your idea, with true critical eye, as to whether your book is going to be reader-worthy. You have to get real about your budget(time more important than money!) and what this comic really will represent in the careers of those who work on it so you can move forward with an honest offer to an artist. The people who can legitimately offer back end money as a reasonable possibility are those indy writers(often) who have a track record with publishers and readers for sales; either as pamphlet comics, TPBs or both. For instance, those creators who sell books and are getting TPB collections sold in bookstores and on Amazon. they publish through Image Comics for instance or Archaia or what have you- they can’t pull in a publisher that can afford a page rate, but they can with fair certainty have a decent shot of selling books, getting real website hits, ebook downloads etc. to then make the gamble worth it for an unknown artist to take the risk. If that isn’t who is offering an opportunity to an artist- then it’s not an opportunity at all. It’s a whole other relationship with a whole other set of expectations as to who is offering what opportunity to whom.
Example? An unknown playwright wants to put on a local production of his/her play- she doesn’t call on actors with promises of money or exposure. Those involved contribute their talents and effort with the intention of entertaining the local audience, to have the experience of practicing their craft and for their passion of the art-form- not for money or fame. Most of these works are portfolio pieces; that MAY lead to future work that pays or is more challenging or more critically recognized. When directors, publishers, musicians etc, ask for others to be involved in their fledgling projects, they do so understanding with humility hat they’re receiving a gift- that the exchange isn’t equitable but that together they are making a great thing for its own sake. If the same theory was applied to small press comic projects a far more realistic and equitable relationship would be formed. Writer gets to have his vision realized, artist finally can have some long form portfolio work to show; win-win.
So all you unpublished writers- stop with the using hyperbole about “exiting opportunities” and “exposure” already and just be real. Say that you are a vanity publisher or an “indy label” or a lone gunman and just ask if some one wants to be part of your creative vision! Be honest about your enthusiasm but also about your experience and abilities, too. No dreamy dreams of “back-end deals”, “if it sells”, “ comp copies” and the rest of the false promises naive writers/publishers fall in the trap of using as enticements to coerce equally naive artists to give away valuable work. Then we can create some great stuff together as equal participants rather than being unrealistic and unintentional hucksters. Reality and true partnerships make for an equitable experience for all.