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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Professional Comic Artist -Work Just Not Out There? Here Is WHY

There are a lot of very high calibre comic creators out there who have been working away for many years -John Erasmus, Tom Elmes, Jim Ritchey et al. And despite the quality of their work and the years they have put into the industry they struggle to get work.

Why?

The answer is quite simple: the wannabe.

You see, years ago you had to schlepp your projects or portfolios around to publishers and talk to them, find out what they were looking for and even amend projects to suit their needs. I seem to have spent much of the 1980s-1990s doing this and it paid off for a few creators.  Editors responded to letters as well which helped.

But then came the internet. People who could only contribute to small press comics put out by friends now had a new tool -web pages where they could post their art and even publish web comics and charge people to see their work (that died a death when people realised they were not exactly paying to see a great comic strip. Do not get me wrong -there were some nice online comics but, seriously, why pay every time you wanted to read a comic online when you could buy others and pay once and it was yours to peruse whenever you wanted?

As a creators agent I used to get between 60-100 packages a week and whatever was popular at the time was copied and became an "original concept".  The movie Blade Runner -the number of strips sent to me that were just simply that movie -or part of it- was incredible.  Then writers would send you their own personal 'Blade Runner' scripts.  The same applied to The Evil Dead and when the Watchmen comic was published...oy!

I keep notes and out of around 600 or so  "I am going to make comics my career -this is what I've allways wanted to do" most vanished pretty quickly having discovered that you needed to keep to deadlines and could not just change someones script or characters to how they wanted them.

I had this problem with a number of artists who worked on scripts of mine to submit to publishers. I got ten pages of comic work in the post one day, read them and wrote back: "It looks nice but you could have completed ten pages of my story that could have been submitted."  And in reply I got: "This is based on your script. I thought I'd change the character names and some of the scenes."

Now, we had talked about this at length, given all the reference material that would be needed and even explained why certain characters had specific names. And the artist had nodded and understood but when he got home he "decided to change things as I think they will sell better with these changes".  I explained that this is not how comics work.  An editor does not give you a script written by someone and you decide you need to re-write it all or make major changes -some writers plan story-lines and incidents that are designed to be added to issue by issue until it all comes to a head.  Besides, you start playing that game the writer is going to tell you where to stick your guillot nib.  And the editor is not going to use you.

This happened several times to be on joint projects but when it happened professionally I just exploded. I wrote a series of scripts for Fleetway/Egmont (Revolver in particular).  The editor told me at a meeting that the title and theme of the scripts was so liked by his co-editor (who was an utter ass) that they would use different titles for my scripts.  Why? Well, the co-editor wanted to use the titles. We bite the bullet in this job and since I was being paid...phah!

The editor then decided to use a "new hot talent" to draw one of the scripts.  When it was published I missed it in the relevant issue until someone pointed to my name as scripter.  Thew artist had quite literally re-written the script while drawing it that it made no sense.  I pointed out to everyone I could that this was not really my work!  Then the editor used my scripts vastly altered so I was never paid. That happens a lot.

But back to the wannabees. I have had writers who have -seriously- told me: "I dig your art. I have a shit hot project for you!"  My response: "Is it for a publisher -what is the pay rate?"  Silence. I have now, between 2012-2014 had six offers to draw "sure hit" graphic novels of between 120-200 pages for nothing. I have even had the "It's 120 pages and once that's done we can put something together for a publisher"....so what -WHAT- is the 120 pages graphic novel for?  Oh, I can tell you that because I have seen this on a number of occasions happen to other artists.

Comics, probably because of the TV series The Big Bang Theory and even the Watchmen film and republished book, have become "hip".  You see it in most fields -Crop Circles are hip and cool -Timmy is a Crop Circle investigator. UFOs are "popular" so suddenly Timmy sets up his own UFO group and gets in touch with newspapers/TV about his 'professional work' (based on a subject which he's read up on quickly -which is why Timmies spout such inaccurate crap).  Oh, "mystery big cats" are hip -Timmy is now a Big Cat investigator of the same quality.  All these ghost hunting TV programmes....you guessed it.

So, people who really cannot draw or are of a lesser standard than you might expect from a pro, jump in and publish their own comics or graphic novels (Print On Demand is a cruel thing, baby).  Now, if they do this as a hobby or for fun then okay.  Sell copies to their mates. No problem.  BUT it becomes a problem when these people decide they are now "comic book professionals".  I have heard on four occasions such people state: "My mother says I've become as good as those other artists in comics"...oh...my...gods.  How do you respond to that?

But then these people put their art online to sell at very high prices and you have to ask if they are selling anything?

There is another problem, and this is another first hand experience.  An American artist asked for a script set in the 1960s -he was a big Silver Age fan. The art pages he was selling on a well known comic site looked fantastic.  I outlined the idea and he said "Perfect. You write it and I'll draw it" -fair enough.  A few days later the guy got in touch as he had a problem "You say the villain is human on one side but the other part of his body is robotic/mechanical...what do you mean?"  I thought it was quite straight forward. I explained. No, he didn't get it. Eventually I had to draw a sketch and he understood. Next: "You say a huge tower block in the centre of the city and at the top on all four sides are huge clocks -I don't understand?"  Four sides to a building and a clock on each side. "I'm having trouble visualising this..." So, off went another sketch.

A few weeks later an email: "Attached are the pencils for the first five pages..." WHOOPEE!  I opened the files. Ah, he'd sent me...well, something but not pages of art. You could not even call them "roughs" so I wrote back pointing out what he had sent.  He wrote back that these were the finished art pages --a demolished skyscraper was a squiggly line at the bottem of a white page.  WTF???????  I showed these pages to two people -a gorilla character on a page was so bad we all thought it had six deformed fingers and then I realised it was a banana it was holding!  These were the finished pencils. THAT was his art and he wrote "If we could muster together $2000 I know an artist who'll ink the pages though we might be able to sell this based on the pencils!"

I was speechless but then I found something out from someone who knew the man.  This 'artist' did these 'pencils' but then paid another artist to ink the pages.  The other artist was actually drawing the pages and deserved every penny he got!!

We have the writers who want to be hip and say "Yes, I've written a graphic novel" and show their freebie drawn book.  The artist is insignificant because, as Alan Moore 'proved' it is the writer who makes and sells the book.  And the amateur artists fall for it all the time. Nothing happens with the book.

Then the artists who say they are pro and want money up front.  They have NEVER had anything published before and most of their work is amateurish but some of them are so full of themselves that they do get paid in advance.  It is interesting to note that out of 25 writers I've read the 'woes' of, only two ever got any pages for their money.  Some were told their books were two pages short of being finished...then nothing.  That has happened to me a LOT.

I have been begged for scripts to help artists out  "because you have a good reputation" and I have written short scripts of 5, 10, 15 or 20 pages and how many have ever been completed? Zero.  As one 'artist' put it to me when I asked how he was getting on with the script -"Aww, man, I am so hung over. Basically I've been going to gigs and clubs and getting wasted."  My reply: "We agreed on five pages drawn in three weeks -it's been over a month?" (If you CANNOT draw 5 comic strip pages in three weeks then go away. THAT is simple work) and I get "Well, you aren't paying me are you?"  My response is usually **** off.

But then artists who DO draw a full story disappear. They do not respond to letters or messages.  Then a year later you find they have changed some names in the story and been trying to sell it as their own work -I found this out in one case when an editor told me "I've seen this but with different names -it was drawn by ___ _____ -is this your work really?"  Too ******** right. Response from the artist ...well, he never did respond.

Now, as working for a paying comic company -there are only a few around and the glut of wannabe artists means they feel they'll pay you what they want and you'll like it- is not likely I publish my own books. These days I rarely if ever work with another artist but if I do the deal is simple:

(1) it is a joint project (neither of us get paid up front)
(2) Money to promote or push books at possible other publishers comes out of my pocket. There is NO financial input by the artist (yes, I know, drawing materials)
(3) Any money made is split 50-50 (in the past on more than one occasion I've let my percentage go to the artist)
(4) Although characters are mine the art is wholly the artists. I never ever lay claim to any art. The artist can try to sell this as extra income if he wants so long as a (c) characters/story is written on the reverse side of the art.
(5) if another (paying) publisher is interested then unless there is a set rate for writer and artist it's a 50-50 deal.

So, on one occasion when an artist I knew said he really wanted to work on a specific character and could I write a 20 pages story for him I did. I liked his work even if it had a few rough edges.  He liked the script!  "How much are you paying me per page? When do I get the first payment?" Again, WTF??? I sent him copies of his emails where he agreed to a joint project because HE had asked me to write for him repeatedly.  "Well, I don't see why I should work for free!" But I wrote the script for free -should I bill him?

There are now literally THOUSANDS of small pressers who publish their own books for fun and have no interest in comics -in fact they know nothing about comics. Good for them. Long may they continue and grow in strength.

Sadly, there are equally a great many comic wannabe types out there and the writers want their books drawn for free with no rights to the artist.  And there are artists who really cannot draw a pencil who want large payments per page for their "professional time".  These are the people screwing up the real comic artists and writers and some actually get published in high quality printed books by big companies!

A little aside here. I've been asked over and over again ad nauseum what I do in comics? I reply that I write, pencil, ink and rarely colour, oh, and letter (by computer). I get giggles or screwed up faces in response:"No, seriously -what is it you do?"  The skill levels of some artists (I'm being polite) are such that they have to use a computer tablet to draw and a lot use programs designed to do a lot of the work for them. The very idea of someone pencilling AND inking art is freakish to them, or as they say to me "old school" or "Retro". Their computers crash and they have nervous breakdowns. I have physical pages.

Someone who can write or draw well I used to encourage (I still do privately) but 95% of those out there labelling themselves as "professional comic writers/artists" are no such thing.  And for the real pros it means a loss of paying work. We DO have to pay bills and eat you know....or try to.

And what have any of the various comic "community" groups set up to promote and stand up for creators rights achieved? They have pulled in more wannabes as members.

Just a few thoughts.

Oh, I do have a bullet proof vest.



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