Monday, April 12, 2010

The MoCCA Festival 2010 _ Cartoonists in Search of a Living Wage

Apologies for the lack of more regular posting. I'm proud to say it was partly due to the time I've been dedicating to finishing the coloring and lettering of Issue 1 of my comic Feeding Ground. It's off of my plate and, this week, onto Issue 2...

I'll soon return to talking about the color of the book and please post any inquiries you may have.

Instead, I just came off a comics community weekend with a book launch party at Art Spiegelman's apartment (!?!) and the annual MoCCA festival and thought I'd give some insight into the logistics of making this comic happen.

Based on current reading and my experience at the MoCCA festival, the comics scene is more diverse that I've ever seen it. The tables and bookstores are populated with memoirs and historical work, the literary and the vulgar, art objects and genre fiction of all stripes. There were more women on both sides of the tables than at any comic event I've attended and the number of "fangirls" in the genre market also appears to be growing. All said, the comic community remains strong even as the economy wobbles. And yet, artists that make a grab at living on comics seem to face a low ceiling.

In terms of "Fine Cartoonists" just how much is a customer willing to spend on a photocopied zine or its more expensive cousin, the silkscreened art object, when book publishing has become glossier and more inclusive? Likewise, it was never easy to nail a full-time contract with one of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) but it's become even more difficult with the open pool of international talent now available an e-mail and file server away. And, what about me? What does it mean to work on a creator-owned comic in 2010?

In short, it pays nothing up front and every week is a balancing act of long hours of non-paying comic work alongside searching for and delivering on whatever freelance jobs I can acquire. I have cut my rent in half by moving from an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to the first floor apartment in my family's two family New Jersey home. I've got my dog, cat, and lady but visiting friends has become the occasional outing.

Now, I'm happy with what I'm doing and appreciate the challenge. Comics have long been a love of mine and now I have the chance to develop that skill set and participate as a peer. But, at the end of the day, I can't say that this is a way to make a living.

As a career animation designer, I always looked for the opportunity to pitch my own ideas for series to different networks and studios. In part, I do feel like I have something unique to bring to the table but there's also that brass ring chance of escaping the freelance cycle and getting paid to work on something that is your own.

In the case of this comic, we could have gone the self-publishing route and we have enough faith in the material to do so. But, we were fortunate enough to partner with a publisher, Archaia, who believes in the medium and our work. I'm taking a chance that our book may sell enough to recoup some of my expenses but I also understand the time it will take to do so when divided up among all three creators. Comic purists also decry a perceived money grab at comics that are developed into other media like video games or film but I could only hope that our work is potent enough to capture broader attention.

There is the oft-repeated credo that cartoonists do the work they do out of the love for it and not out of a desire to get rich. But, what about basic compensation for the work done by comic illustrators on work that is not their own? Maybe someone else can shed more light on this, but, in an age when major book publishers all have a comic arm, are their cartoonists making enough to pay the bills? Anecdotally, I can tell you that it's not always the case.

I've had the pleasure to be able to meet with professional cartoonists whose work I admire. I won't pretend to understand the finances of book publishing but something seems to be amiss when these artists work for reputable houses for what amounts to less than a living wage. I'm not saying that there's necessarily anything underhanded at play. Comics are time-intensive, laborious work in which the "love of the game" is factored into the financial model.

In my case, I need to get back to working on Issue 2. And then, after that, along with the good people of Archaia, I'll also need to bust my butt to get out there and sell it.

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