Com­i­cal sit­u­a­tion

Artists speak Gar­rick Web­ster asks in­die comic artists about the in­dus­try and whether they’re able to earn a de­cent crust…

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With artists still ex­pected to paint comics ‘for the love of it’, is it re­ally a vi­able in­dus­try?

With the buzz that sur­rounds su­per­hero movies con­tin­u­ing un­abated, it seems on the sur­face that there’s never been a bet­ter time to draw comics.

Let’s crunch some num­bers. Christo­pher Nolan’s Bat­man tril­ogy brought in nearly $1.2 bil­lion for Warner Broth­ers, owner of DC Comics. The 2012 Avengers film earned $623 mil­lion and in May 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron came out with a tale of $191 mil­lion in its first week.

But how much do the films ac­tu­ally help comic sales? Ac­cord­ing to US sales fig­ures, in the month Age of Ultron came out, the comic Un­canny Avengers Ultron For­ever 1 took $201,331, while Un­canny Avengers 4 made $186,736 in sales. The in­dus­try was boosted with the launch of Se­cret Wars, which sold over 500,000 copies in its first week and sales of the top 300 books were

up 20 per cent com­pared to May 2014. But still, these num­bers are dwarfed by the film rev­enues.

What about the artists – are they see­ing much trick­le­down of funds from these huge films? Not re­ally. A sur­vey on the site in mid-June showed that nearly half of comic artists who re­sponded were earn­ing less than $12,000 a year from comics, and that 28 per cent are on less than $100 per page. That’s bor­der­line poverty.

“I’m new to the in­dus­try, but it does feel like there’s a lot of work for not a huge re­turn in comics,” says Matt Tay­lor, who draws Wolf, pub­lished by Im­age. “A com­mon re­cur­ring phrase I’ve heard is that you do it ‘for the love of comics’. Which may be true, but at the end of the day you still have to put food on the ta­ble.”

The dream of roy­al­ties

Like many other artists, Eng­land-based Matt takes com­mis­sions out­side of comics to bol­ster his in­come. One half-page il­lus­tra­tion for The New Yorker pays as well as 24 comic pages. Be­cause Wolf is pub­lished by Im­age, which al­lows artists and writ­ers to own their work, Tay­lor will earn roy­al­ties from the book, and if it’s snapped up by a film com­pany then he might make a for­tune from it… one day.

The cre­ator-owned in­die model seems to be emerg­ing as a favourite among artists – wit­ness the suc­cess of Saga, drawn by Fiona Sta­ples for in­stance (see page 42). The down­side is that you can end up wait­ing three or four months for your roy­al­ties to come through. Like Matt, New Zealan­der Tim Gib­son be­came a comic artist out of sheer love for the genre. He was a 3D and con­cept artist at Weta, then be­came a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor, but

You do it for ‘the love of comics’, but you still have to put food on the ta­ble

al­ways wanted to do comics. A grant in his home coun­try en­abled him to take a year off to pro­duce Moth City. Luck­ily for Tim, it was snapped up by the sub­scrip­tion­based web comic pub­lisher Thrill­bent, and by comiXol­ogy.

The web comic route

As a pub­lisher of a web comic, you have to­tal con­trol of your cre­ation, but you also take all the risk of get­ting it out there, and mak­ing it hap­pen takes a huge ef­fort. “You might con­trol your own des­tiny a bit more than an artist wait­ing to be com­mis­sioned or as­signed to a comic,” says Tim. “But you also can’t suc­ceed with­out all the as­so­ci­ated tasks of run­ning a web-busi­ness: reg­u­lar blog­ging, site man­age­ment, so­cial media out­reach and store man­age­ment.”

He adds: “There’s no guar­an­tee that you’ll ever see any money from them, and build­ing a site and au­di­ence that will al­low even­tual in­come is a dark art of its own.” And like Matt, Tim finds that a comic page earns him be­tween 10 and 20 per cent of what he would nor­mally re­ceive from an il­lus­tra­tion com­mis­sion.

Dennis Calero is an artist who’s seen comics go from page to screen. He helped Plat­inum Stu­dios to present its prop­erty Cowboys & Aliens to the film com­pa­nies, and saw the fall­out when the man­age­ment and cre­ators wran­gled over the roy­al­ties. To­day he writes and draws The Suit, which he owns and which ap­pears in Dark Horse Presents.

“Pub­lish­ers are reach­ing out to for­eign mar­kets in or­der to save a buck,” Dennis says. “Now, there are some in­cred­i­ble Euro­pean, South Amer­i­can and Asian artists who are kick­ing a lot of ass. But there are a plethora of medi­ocre il­lus­tra­tors who just aren’t cut­ting the mus­tard and are clearly only get­ting work be­cause they’re charg­ing 30 cents on the dol­lar.”

Artists to­day feel un­der­val­ued com­pared to writ­ers. A writer on a comic is paid roughly the same amount as the artist, even though draw­ing it takes a lot longer than

A writer is paid roughly the same amount as the artist, even though the draw­ing takes a lot longer

writ­ing it. A writer can ap­pear in five or six ti­tles a month; an artist only fea­tures in one, or maybe two if they’re work­ing all hours. Yet the writer may walk away with many times what the artist has earned.

Dis­ney has owned Marvel Comics for the past five years, and some fear comic artists could soon be like an­i­ma­tors: face­less work­sta­tion fod­der, toil­ing away, low paid and un­known to the au­di­ence.

hu­man re­sources

“I hope even­tu­ally the idea that char­ac­ters are all that mat­ter in this genre will fall by the way­side and pub­lish­ers will re­alise it’s the peo­ple that make these funny books that count and who are the back­bone of any cre­ative com­pany. A re­source to be grown and nur­tured, not ex­ploited,” says Dennis.”

With all the re­boots we’ve seen from Marvel and DC, and with in­die comics thriv­ing one minute and div­ing the next, it’s hard to tell whether comic in­dus­try bosses re­ally know what’s go­ing on. Online and print pub­lish­ing mod­els con­tinue to shift. Yet huge amounts of money are com­ing in from su­per­hero films at the mo­ment. Hope­fully more of it will be wisely in­vested – in the comic artists who give life to the su­per­heroes in the first place.

Vari­ant art­work by Dennis Calero for Marvel’s X-Men

Noir se­ries. Il­lus­tra­tor Matt Tay­lor has been draw­ing Wolf, a fan­tasy/crime noir comic se­ries pub­lished by Im­age.

In The Woods, drawn by Michael Dia­ly­nas, an en­tire school is ripped from re­al­ity and trans­planted in some woods, on another planet. Tim Gib­son’s web comic Moth City is set dur­ing the Chi­nese civil war dur­ing the 1930s.

Moth City by Tim Gib­son. “It has bio-weapons, the Chi­nese Na­tion­al­ist army, com­mu­nism and a cow­boy,” he says.

A page from Matt Tay­lor’s self-pub­lished graphic novel, The Great Salt Lake.

Wolf fea­tures An­toine Wolfe, a para­nor­mal hard­boiled de­tec­tive.

Tim Gib­son took a year out of his usual

free­lanc­ing to cre­ate Moth City, the

online comic. Dennis Calero helped Marvel rein­vent the X-Men as a group of so­ciopaths hunted by

de­tec­tives, in X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain. Above and left: Paul Dia­ly­nas used shifts in colour pal­ettes to help pace the sto­ry­telling in The Woods from Boom! Stu­dios. Be­low: Dennis Calero drew four chap­ters of the free online comic Devil In­side, writ­ten by ac­tor Todd Stash­wick.

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