What Comic Book Artists Need to Know About the Writers They Work With

8 Apr

Comic book artists deserve to be paid.

But here’s the hard truth nobody wants to ever deal with—so do comic book writers.

Lately I’ve watched as the conversation about paying comics book artists has shifted into a dangerous direction, with artists essentially declaring that they’re most important member of the team while simultaneously dismissing the contributions that writers bring to the table.

And as much as it bothers me, I understand why it’s gotten to this point, because I think artists get the wrong impression about what comic book writers actually do and what we have to go through to work in this industry.

This is in no way my counterattack against artists (though ya’ll have done plenty of attacking on writers lately) instead it’s me doing my thing—writing about the world the way I see it. And I hope that by sharing my perspective with my fellow comic book creators, we can all get back to making comics together like the badass super teams we are, instead of the divided front we’ve created recently.

my-so-called-comic-book-writer-lifeA little about my perspective

So I don’t know how other comic book writers do it and I don’t even know if I’m doing this right. All I can do is share with you my story thus far to give you a better understanding of what I’ve had to go through to work in this industry. I’m not saying my story is typical, just that it’s mine.

For starters, I have nothing but empathy for the process that artists go through, because I used to be an artist myself. I’ve always been a visual storyteller, so I used to draw my own comics and characters and if you don’t believe me I will invite you into my house and show you the boxes of embarrassing sketchbooks that prove it.

I was really heavily involved in a digital storytelling program called kamishibai way back in the day and I used it to illustrate my own stories for years. Not just illustrate—animate too, all by hand, using a mouse because I didn’t have a tablet. Also—and I’m not even making this up—the program was limited to pictures that were 200 x 112 pixels in size. It wasn’t actually all that bad when monitor resolution was like—800 x 600, but it was still the tiniest canvas you could imagine telling a story within.


Pictured: an embarrassing example of my kamishibai work. Full size.

What I’m saying is that I’ve been there my friends; I have suffered for my love of sequential storytelling. I have put the work in and it hasn’t been easy. I know this ain’t child’s play— it’s why I got my hairy butt out of doing art and started leaving it up to the professionals.

If I’m putting all the cards on the table, then I should also mention that in my comic writing career I’ve worked with artists both ways—I’ve paid for art and I’ve worked with artists as equal collaborators, both splitting the profits (of which there have been none.)

Not everybody can write comics

The first myth that I want to tackle is this insulting idea that anybody can write comics. That’s a slippery slope to go down, but I can at least understand where people come from when they get this notion buzzing in their brain. We all learn how to write in school, it’s not rocket science.

But it is an art form.

Anybody can write, but not everybody can tell a story. And on top of that not everybody can tell a story in a visual medium.

I’ve been writing stories since kindergarten, but when I decided to become a comic book writer I had to learn how to tell stories within a certain framework—and that framework is crazy as hell, ya’ll.

First and foremost, I have to translate my ideas to the artist. This is why I have nothing but love for my comic book artists, because when you people reach into my brain and show me exactly what I was thinking of, I am convinced that witchcraft is involved.  If it were in my ability, I would give my artists a straight up pirate’s treasure chest worth of precious jewels, gold doubloons, crowns and like—spell components, so that they may better their witchcraft.

For you.

For my artists.

When I write a comic book script I have to figure out how to break down my story idea and fit it into whatever the page constraints may be. Then I have to break those ideas down into panels. Every panel has to move into the next, every page break has to compel you to want to turn the page and see what happens. Every character has to have their own unique voice and that voice has to be sharp and punchy enough to fit within the size constraints of the panel. I have to worry about the economy of letters and the length of words. All while juggling a story that people actually want to read, with a discernable beginning, middle and end.

This isn’t a skill I learned overnight and it certainly isn’t one that I learned in high school English class. And I take umbrage by the idea that anybody can do what I do, because if that’s the case I have wasted my entire goddamn existence thus far.

In high school I doubled up on English classes my junior and senior year. I served on the staff of the school’s literary magazine, then ran the damn thing my senior year. I took acting classes to learn about character and voice, went and took out all sorts of student loans so I could get a bachelor’s degree in English with a creative writing concentration. I even took my advanced fiction class in college a second time just to get more workshop opportunities, even though the credit didn’t count towards my degree in any way.

I pushed myself to do all of these things because I am the special type of insane person who wants to write in the comic book industry and I want to, you know—be good at what I do.

Writers have fewer opportunities

The comic book industry has a weird relationship with writers and artists. It’s like a parent who claims they love their children equally, than totally has a favorite anyway.

Writers have no opportunities to really have our work be seen by a comic book company unless there’s some form of art to go with it. Nobody wants to read your script, so we are entirely dependent on talented artists to even get the conversation started. We don’t have portfolio reviews at conventions or things of that nature.

In fact, to put together anything even resembling a portfolio as a comic book writer means relying on artists to draw your work for you.  I see artists always scoffing at the idea of doing work for exposure or for the sake of their portfolio—comic book writers have to pay for their exposure and pay for their portfolios.

Pictured: My thousand dollar portfolio.

My thousand dollar portfolio ladies and gentlemen. 

It’s basically a pay-to-play game for writers, if you can’t afford to do this, the industry doesn’t seem to want you. I’m lucky that I’ve always been prepared to live as a starving artist. My partner is supportive and since we’re gay there are no kids to worry about, so we’re able to squeeze by living paycheck to paycheck all so that I can do this stupid, insane, almost reckless thing with my life.

Comic book writers have fewer opportunities to make money off of their craft, other than selling the finished books. We can’t provide original art or prints or sketch cards for people. Artists can literally sell sketches of other people’s characters or draw on other people’s comic books. My craft is essentially invisible unless you crack open a comic book.

Setting up at conventions is a nightmare for writers. We pay the same amount of money for our tables and have fewer chances to make that money back.  And that’s not to mention the fact that most conventions don’t know what to make of us.

There was a convention in my state last year that wasn’t allowing writers to sign up for artist alley—instead, writers were being told we had to get exhibitor’s tables, which are even more expensive and provide even less of a chance of breaking even. They have since changed their policy, admitting their mistake was because they used to be an anime convention and hadn’t worked with writers before, so they didn’t know what to do with us. It’s okay—we get that a lot.

This might seem like whining, but it’s just the reality I face every time I do a comic book show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “I’m just the writer” when people have asked me for original sketches and the like.

Because that’s what working in this industry makes you feel like sometimes—“just the writer.”

Writers are extremely vulnerable

Artists have to go through the same thing that writers do—comic book companies want to see examples of sequential art. But artists can hack the system by writing their own throwaway story, since the point is just to showcase their own art anyway.

Writers can’t do that—we need artists and that always puts us at a disadvantage.

In order for a writer to get their work noticed, we have two options. We can either track down an artist who believes in the project enough to do it for free, or pay someone to illustrate our work for us. Our ability to express ourselves relies on you, which makes us extremely vulnerable.

When you collaborate with an artist for free, you’re entirely at their mercy. If the artist doesn’t have time to work on your project, it’s incredibly frustrating but there’s nothing you can do. They don’t owe you anything.

It gets to the point sometimes where I wait for so long for an artist to be able to work on my script that I have time to completely rewrite it before they get to it. Because by that point the script is two years old and is no longer an accurate representation of what I can do.

But make no mistake, there’s no such thing as free art. Even when the work is free, writers are still the ones paying for publishing costs and table costs and all the other things that artists pay for too, like business cards, banners, and travel expenses. But we can’t draw a picture of Deadpool to help offset table costs. We don’t leave conventions with profit— we just hope we offset enough of our losses to stay in the game for another year.


Pictured: more junk I had to spend money on.

And then writers are even more vulnerable when we pay for art because payment is never a guarantee of quality or timeliness. I’ve never had someone take my money and run, knock on wood, but I have definitely missed printing deadlines and had to skip out on shows while waiting for artists who I already paid.

There is never a guarantee for us, even when an artist is attached—even when you pay that artist—that the work will actually be made. And that makes it hard for us to gain experience or get better at our craft. Sure I can write a million scripts on my own and call it honing my craft, but you have no measure for how well you’re actually doing as a comic book writer until you see that comic come to life.

Writers didn’t create this system; we just have to try our best to work in it.

The comic book industry needs more writers

I can count the comic book writers I know that live in Michigan on one hand—which, ironically enough, is the shape of our state. And we’re so spread out, that counting them on my hand is almost an accurate map of where we ‘re all located.

Right now, everybody is calling out for more diversity in comics, more unique voices and stories. We can’t have that if the deck is always so stacked against writers. Writers need a chance to cut our teeth, get our work looked at, critiqued and evaluated and there’s no system for that right now.

So the only writers who keep chugging along are the crazy ones who have lifestyles that allow them to put their money into this kind of pursuit and can afford to make this sacrifice. When you limit the playing field to just those who can afford to play, it doesn’t exactly allow for a lot of diversity.

I’m an openly gay comic book writer and my unique life experiences have helped to inform my work. I am blessed that all of my artists have been completely supportive of me in that regard, but that’s also by design—I’m not about to work with some artist who can’t handle my gay ass.

It’s not that I’ve ever experienced homophobia in the comic industry, but there’s a certain bro-ness to it. I can’t exactly ask the dudes drawing T&A if they want to work with me.  And I can’t show the world my super sassy comic writing style without an artist who can play off of that energy.

Wanted: a comic book artist who can handle this  queen.

Wanted: a comic book artist who can handle this queen.

So I often feel like I can’t, at this level, really let my queer flag fly because I’m so hampered by a million other things. I’m lucky enough to get any script made into a comic book; I can’t worry about things like whether the artist will be comfortable drawing gay men being totally gay with each other. I just have to be happy that I can get anything done and hope for the day when I have the leverage to tell stories from that point of view.

I don’t want to discredit my artists though—they’ve all been awesomely supportive people. But it still takes a level of bravery to put out an overtly queer book in this industry and I feel uncomfortable asking an artist to take that particular risk with me at this point in my career, because I can’t protect them.

And it’s not a risk I particularly feel comfortable taking either, not because I’m afraid to stand tall as a queer writer, but because when I get an opportunity to create a comic book with an artist, I have to act like that could be my only shot.  I never know when or if the next opportunity will present itself or if the opportunities that do present themselves will even pan out.

I don’t want to waste the chance to create a comic book by trying to do something the artist may not feel comfortable with and I don’t want to waste a great story about my unique perspective on a project that has a high risk of fizzling out.

It could just be me being paranoid, but I’m sure I’m not the only person in a similar situation. The key to diversity is making the industry more inclusive to writers from all backgrounds. We all have something unique to say, but many of us will keep our mouths closed because it costs money to even get a word in around here.

Time is money

Artists get all pissy when it comes to talking about comic book writing because it takes less time than illustrating. If you look at it on a page to page perspective, you’re damn diggity right.

But that doesn’t mean you get to disrespect my time either.

Because here’s the weird thing to consider—I’m a professional writer. I’ve been writing for a living for eight years now.  When I write, I get paid for it. When people want my ideas, I charge them. This is my bread and butter. This is how I stay alive.

I’ve been paid for my writing every which way. I’ve written game events for mobile RPGs, pop culture pieces for comedy sites, blog posts on every freaking topic you can imagine, in every industry you can think of. I’ve been paid to give tips about Pokemon games—which I do not play. I’ve written game reviews and Craigslist spam. I’ve blogged about print design and True Blood. And I got paid for my work each and every time, because this is how I feed my cat.

And she gets sassy when I don't feed her.

And she gets sassy when I don’t feed her.

So it irks me when my time as a comic book writer isn’t valued, because it’s a literal financial sacrifice for me to spend time on writing something that I’m not going to be paid for—that I’ll actually have to put money into before I get any money out of it.

When artists set their rates, they determine their own value by considering factors like experience, education and so on.  Writers deserve to be treated the same. If I can write a comic script in a short period of time, it’s not because anybody can do it, it’s because I’ve put in the time and training to get to this point in my career.

And there are plenty of comic book artists who can draw quickly or juggle multiple projects at once as well, just like there are plenty of amazing writers who can only handle one book at a time. A lot of great works took years to finish and a lot of equally great works were thrown together at the last minute. Time is not an accurate measurement of creative value.

And time is such a crappy tool for evaluating creative work, because artists know just as well as writers do that there is a ton of lost time that you can’t ever really bill someone for. In the case of comic book writing, there’s a lot of time spent putting your ideas together before you even sit down at a keyboard.

The reason you’re able to write so quickly is because you’ve already spent the time figuring out what your story is about and how it’ll be told. It’s like that movie Interstellar where an hour on an alien planet is equal to a decade on Earth– 30 minutes of writing work on the page is equal to days of brainstorming, planning, plotting and bashing your head against the wall.

Time is a flat circle anyway. (photo credit: Allstar)

Time is a flat circle anyway.

The argument that often comes up is that since we can write more scripts than artists, our time is less important. But that doesn’t account for the fact that we still have to work full-time jobs because we can’t support ourselves on comic book work the way artists do. Even at the professional level.

I’ve actually taken on extra work on top of my full-time work load so that I could have the funds to pay artists. I got so overworked trying to pay for my comics that I didn’t even have time left over to actually write them.

Writers know that it takes a long time to do the art—because we suffer through that time with you. Until we get the art back, we can’t do anything to move ourselves forward. Artists are afraid of having their careers stall out while they’re tied up working on a writer’s project—but our careers stall for just as long as yours do in these situations.

And it doesn’t matter how many comics we can write, because none of that amounts to dick until we’ve got an artist attached to produce it with us.  I can’t tell you how many ideas for awesome comic stories I’ve had to let go of because I realized I didn’t know an artist who would do it for free and I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it.

It’s not artists vs. writers, it’s artists and writers vs. the world

Let’s just call a spade a spade—what’s happening now is basically the poor robbing the poor.

The reason artists get so mad when writers don’t want to pay up is because too many of them are relying on us to help them pay their bills. Writers do not have the same kind of money as comic book publishers and do we really want to create a system where only the people who can afford to stay in the game are able to make their voices heard?

If you’re working on an indie writer’s work then you need to realize that doing so makes you an indie artist. If indie writers don’t get paid until a sale is made or a book is picked up or a Kickstarter goal is realized, then why should indie artists expect the same?

Comic book writers take financial risks for their art and for their careers. Is it really asking that much for artists to help shoulder some of that risk every now and then?

Yes—artists deserve to get paid. Writers deserve to get paid. We ALL deserve to get paid—by the people who actually have the money to do so.

When you charge an indie comic book writer for art, you are charging someone in the same financial situation as you. The message you send is that your bills and student loans and needs are more important than the writer’s, even though you have ample opportunity to make money off of your art in this industry and we have almost none.

Pictured: the complete opposite of a comic book writer.

Pictured: the complete opposite of a comic book writer.

Ask yourself if you have an extra $600 in your bank account for six pages of art—and then ask yourself what the fuck you’ll do with a measly six pages. How do you build a career on that?

The problem isn’t the writers that expect something for nothing; it’s the artists that expect other starving artists to have the ability to feed them. It’s that writers are living without, so we can pay to keep an artist’s lights on.  And I’m not blaming the artists because this is what the industry expects of both of us and they’re the ones who essentially created this pay wall for writers by refusing to see us without an artist.

Both writers and artists constantly hear from comic companies that they want to see finished sequential pages. You can’t get paid to make comics until you’ve made comics. It’s the comic book companies that want something for nothing and it’s been them from the beginning.

So it’s a system that has pit the desperate against one another, when the only way forward is together as a unified force. We need each other. Writers need artists more, but artists need to start accepting that they need writers just the same. The only way to allow this industry to grow is if we change it together by putting out new ideas and challenging the old way of doing things.

Because as it currently stands, I can’t imagine that this is a sustainable business practice for artists. There are already way more artists than writers—I hate to say it but, when it comes time for me to work with an artist I can have my pick of the litter. I’ve had offers from people who have worked for DC and Marvel—people whose names I recognized—for a short story piece that was essentially for the sake of my portfolio.  I think a lot of the frustration artists have towards writers who can’t afford to pay is the fact that the competition for paid work is so high right now.

But this pay wall that writers have to navigate to get noticed in this industry is what keeps that ratio so skewed. And with fewer writers around to pay artists, I can’t imagine that’s something you could live off of for very long.

Nor is it a sustainable practice for writers either. There comes a time when it doesn’t matter how many scripts we can write or how long it takes us, because we can’t make those scripts into comic books until we save up enough money to do so.

Artists need to realize that the money they receive from indie writers is often what we’ve been able to scrape and save and sacrifice for. So there’s never a guarantee that you’ll have ongoing work from a writer or that they’ll ever have the budget to work with you again. We can only sell all our comics and toys once, you know?

We eat a lot of these.

Pictured: writer food.

This is a system that just has the potential for serious creative burnout and that’s not what the comic industry needs right now. It needs writers and artists to work together to get paid for their content—not against each other just to stay afloat.

If more writers are able to do their thing, then there will be more opportunities for artists to make money on their work. You won’t have to fight each other over scraps, because believe me, when it comes to people who have the money to fund your art, writers are certainly the scraps.

But there’s a hard truth that I think both writers and artists need to realize that would make things easier for all parties involved.

The hard truth

Yes there is risk involved in pitching a comic to a publisher. Yes there is risk involved in self-publishing.  If your comic isn’t crappy, you have a good chance of making money off of it—but nothing in this life is guaranteed.

It’s a scary venture and many artists shy away from that risk, preferring instead to work in risk-free environments where they get paid for their contributions to the project, no matter what the outcome may be.  But here’s the thing—artists shouldn’t work on something for money that they wouldn’t be willing to do for free.

I think the reason a lot of artists ask for payment from their writers is because the writing work isn’t quite up to snuff and they need to minimize the risk on what would be an extremely risky venture.

So let’s work together to minimize the risk by creating comics that aren’t shitty.

Writers—nobody wants to draw your magnum opus, you know— the one you’ve been working on since middle school. You know—the one that’s kind of like everything you were into when you were middle school age. If your pitch has the words “it’s kind of like Dragonball Z meets…” somewhere in there, just stop now.

Nope.  (photo credit: fanpop)


Writers can solve this issue by admitting to ourselves that we’re on the lowest end of the totem pole right now. We don’t have the leverage yet to do our dream projects. Instead, writers who are just starting out should be looking for opportunities to serve their artists, not the other way around.

There came a time in my career when I could no longer afford to pay for art, but I still wanted to make comics. So I put myself out there and talked to artists that I knew.  And instead of saying “I have this story idea, please draw it,” I offered to write them a script based on whatever they wanted to draw.

Offer to write an artist’s dream project and they’ll be much more willing to collaborate together with you on a pitch or a crowdfunding campaign or a self-published book, where you fairly split the profits based on your respective contributions.

They’ll take the risk if it’s for something they’re passionate about—it’s our job as writers to make them passionate. That’s our only job anyway, to get people passionate about our stories. So if you have to pay an artist to get passionate about your story, how do you expect your audience to find that same passion?

Of course that doesn’t mean we have to be restricted to writing something we’re not into—with such a high ratio of artists to writers, you’re bound to find one with the same passions that you have. And when you collaborate together, when you share the experience of creating instead of just dictating everything yourself, you actually come up with a better story than you could have ever made on your own.

And to the artists—you can help the problem by forcing writers to bring their A-game. You have every right to protect your own interests when working with writers who haven’t got the stuff yet. So don’t settle for something you don’t want to do—it doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help your writer and it doesn’t help us get better comics out there.

If a writer presents you with a story that you wouldn’t do without pay, it is totally okay to pass on the project. There’s no reason to waste your talent on something you’re not feeling.  Work on the things that thrill you because that’s your best opportunity to make your art shine and show the world what you can do.

And I implore comic book artists to be responsible about where their money comes from. Be sympathetic to the fact that we’re putting ourselves in debt just to practice our craft. And if you’re talking to a writer who seems to have more money than writing talent, a little red flag should go off in your head.

Or at least your spidey sense.

Or at least your spidey sense.

Let’s not mince words here—we know there are a lot of people out there fancying themselves as comic book writers who haven’t quite gotten to the right level yet. They have a lot of passion and they want something for themselves, but they haven’t put in the work to get there. So instead they get the notion that if they pay for an artist to carry their ideas, they’ll finally make it big. The current system allows for anyone with enough capital to consider themselves a writer, whether their ideas are worth it or not.

These are the kinds of writers that artists are wary about working with—so stop working with them, for pay or otherwise. If you want to protect your own interests, then demand more from your writers or be the driving force behind the project, instead of latching onto some writer’s pipe dream from childhood.

And find writers that want to work for you, not the other way around.  Don’t be afraid to pitch your ideas to writers—we might not always want to write them, but a writer worth working with is one that values your ideas and input. If you wake up with the notion one day that you’d like to draw giant monsters or medieval horror, then don’t be afraid to ask a writer you know who shares the same interests if they’d like to write something for you.

Chances are, they’ve already got the perfect idea.

The shitty truth about comic book writing

If you think that even something like this blog post was written in a mere few hours, you’d be mistaken. It took days of writing, editing, going to bed frustrated and jumping out of bed even more frustrated because my fingers weren’t done. Even getting the guts to write this all out only came from being bombarded by the topic on all fronts, in all sorts of ways, even from people I’m friends with.

But the hardest part of writing this all out was confronting it all in my own life—to see this grim reality in front of me.  Because make no mistake—I am a special kind of crazy. I knew I wanted to do this in elementary school and I planned every step of my life to work towards this goal.

I am not hindered by a lack of ideas. Writer’s block has never stopped me. I can take rejection; I actually crave constructive criticism because it’s how I get better at my craft. I don’t mind having to put in the work to prove myself and I don’t care that I have to essentially make comics to make comics, because I love to make comics. If this were only about my ability to churn out awesome scripts I’d be a lot further along my path than I am today.

The thing that hinders me the most is money.  That’s an unbelievably shitty thing to have to deal with. I think most artists can empathize with feeling like you’re not good enough because you’re not wealthy enough.  I have teeth falling out of my head, mountains of student loan debt; I don’t have a car or cable TV.  And I can’t sketch my way out of that financial hole. The only way for me to keep thriving in this industry is to crawl deeper down that hole—and that’s fucking insane.

This is all a gamble, for both writers and artists working in the industry. The difference is, right now we writers have to pay out of our own pocket to get our chips on the table. Artists are getting free comps from the casino to get their spot at the table.

But that’s kind of a bad analogy to begin with. We need to stop thinking of what we individually have at stake and start looking at the shared risk we take together. Because when we hit the jackpot, we share it together.

And face it tiger, the comic book industry needs more jackpots.

18 Responses to “What Comic Book Artists Need to Know About the Writers They Work With”

  1. rogerdcolby April 8, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    As a comic book geek who has a friend who is a comic book artist, this article was awesome! Such insight!

  2. Heather Kenealy April 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    Thank you so much. I’m a comic writer and I can’t afford an artist, I can barely afford my rent, so I do free anthologies and beg for two – five page story arcs. I even wrote a 5 issue book for Stan Lee that was derailed because the artist dropped the project. I work at a comic shop, I edit other people’s work, I scratch out a living, and all the stories in my head are sitting here stagnant.

  3. Neil April 11, 2015 at 4:01 am #

    Excellent article, I can really identify with it. To get a comic off the ground takes a four figure investment and an extortionate amount of patience. I am new to selling at conventions and still feel awkward about just being “the writer” as most people seem to think artists are the only part in the process. Thanks for writing this.

    • Eric Johns April 11, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      This article can be summed up to this piece of brilliance: “So let’s work together to minimize the risk by creating comics that aren’t shitty.”

      I’m an artist. An artist who fled the comics industry for many of the abovementioned reasons. Mostly a pay check for $2.37 for a book that took 30 days to draw. But, alas.

      In my humble opinion, there is not a single need for a writer vs. artist discussion. The discussion should be about publishers, or anyone funding a project that effectively is the publisher. Publisher need to STOP putting out books to put it out there. If publishers treated a project as it were a valuable product being produced, marketed, and sold, maybe we will start getting somewhere. Publishers should treat each and every issue knowing they will make a profit. Knowing their customer base, knowing their risk vs, reward. Then making a decision on whether or not it’s worth putting out into the public for consumption. We aren’t doing that, we are writing a story, drawing it, and then we put it out without any marketing or product analysis, and then not making any money.

      How have we handled it? We hang our heads and say “woe is me,” And we continue on the same road.

      You want a solution? Don’t work with publishers that aren’t willing to treat your story anything less than a valuable piece to a profitable business model. We should all stop working for publishers that aren’t willing to pay a living wage, or better than a living wage. Let the publishers do their due diligence to make sure that creators are producing a worthwhile product that is seen by the right amount of eyes, and is vetted by a sound business model, so everyone makes money.

      Excellence will get you there. Produce something worth selling. Pitch your idea and make a publisher believe they can make a profit. If you aren’t in the position to pitch a truly sell-able idea, then you need to find a way to get to that point. That is where the whole conversation of getting art for free should be. Pre-professionally. And if you are a pre-professional, please fight to get professional. This industry needs your passion, both artists and writers.

    • Neil Kiernan May 30, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

      I liked the article and agree with it. But the missing piece of the puzzle is that artists don’t feel they need US.

      The current business model for independent comic book production works something like this:

      The Penciler: Draws all of the pages of sequential art, then gets paid. (And for some reason, even Penciler’s who absolutely nobody has heard of often think they should be able to demand the same page rates as Jim Lee or Todd McFarlane. I wish I was making this up.)

      The Colorist: Colors. Gets Paid.

      The Inker: Inks. Gets paid.

      The Letterer: Letters. Gets Paid.

      The Writer: Writes. PAYS EVERYONE ELSE. Then pays for any and all production. Assumes any and all risk of the investment. Is responsible for all of the PR/advertising for the book. Is responsible for any and all distribution. And the statistics are pretty damn clear. Most writers never see a dime. They rarely even break even and they sure as hell don’t make a profit very often. Now, the WHOLE REST OF THE TEAM is of course willing to stay on the project if it goes anywhere. But you rarely if ever are going to find any of them trying to help it go somewhere.

      The analogy I generally draw for how broken this is would be to compare it to a band.

      You are a singer/songwriter and you started the band. The problem is everyone else in the band already seems to think they should be making as much as Joe Perry of Aerosmith even though the band has not even cut a demo yet, and nobody even knows who they are. And they expect you, the singer/songwriter to pay them, even if you have not made any money yet. If the record doesn’t sell and the band doesn’t take off? Well everyone else walks off with their instruments to find another idiot willing to spend his tax returns on paying them. And you the singer/songwriter are left with the debt and the disappointment. But hey, if at some point a record company wants to sign you? Well of COURSE they will come back to be in the band…

      What I have discovered over and over again on various online forums that are supposedly meant for artists and writers to find one another is that artists are literally preying on writers who don’t know what they are getting into. New writers will come to those forums asking for help and then be told that the way things work is the writers should pay everyone else on the project and that this is “normal” and “fair”. And if anyone dares say otherwise, or points out what this basically is… (A scam) then you usually get banned from those forums.

      In short, the reason artists don’t care is because things are working out for them the way things are. They are getting paid by naive writers who usually don’t understand that what they are getting into is extremely unlikely to go anywhere. And why should they have a problem with it? They assume no risk whatsoever. If the book doesn’t go anywhere it’s no skin off their nose because they already got their pretentious page rate paycheck anyway. And there is an almost activist-like culture in the artist world running around telling them that they, and only they are the only people on a comic book project who actually deserves to be paid.

      And after all, they can continue to just make money drawing other people’s ideas. Selling out by drawing pictures of characters from books they will never work for. They don’t need US. They don’t need original ideas.

      • K-Mo May 31, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

        I absolutely love your analogy using the band. Like to the point where I almost want to go ahead and write another blog post on the topic just so I can steal it. ALMOST. But instead I’ll let you hold onto that little nugget of wisdom yourself. Maybe you should write a blog post about it instead of me. The more voices we can rally behind this topic, the greater chance that we’ll be heard.

        I’ve gotten so many great responses to this article since I wrote it, both on here and in other places online. Part of me feels a sense of relief that I’m not the only person who sees this problem lurking within the industry, while another part of me is extremely frustrated that so many of us have to suffer through this problem. At least we know we’re in this together. That has to count for something.

      • leveer June 4, 2016 at 1:13 am #

        K-Mo please feel free to use the band analogy and spread it far and wide. Quote me if you like. I really wish more people would see this. But I fought long and hard with artists on various forums about this issue and they don’t care because they are making money. There was a really good article out there about how much Independent creator/writers make and it’s like $31.25 a page. And that’s for someone who was successful writing for Image comics. The ridiculous page rates that many artists are asking for now are three to four times that. http://www.comicsbeat.com/creator-says-creator-owned-comics-pay-as-little-as-31-25-a-page-if-youre-lucky/

  4. Steve Blevins April 11, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    I’ve always admired writers in general, appreciated their contribution to the art form, and was sympathetic to the problems they (we all) face in this industry, but your words have shone a light into the depths of my own ignorance. It’s clear to me now that it’s much harder for you guys to overcome the obstacles to being a creator.

    I had the pleasure of being a “real” comic artist for the period of about a year when I became one of the people working on the “Elfquest” series of books. It ended when the industry imploded in the late 90’s. After that unfortunate event I took on a number of projects for no pay, mostly because I wanted something to draw, but they were cancelled for various reasons. I’ve also been the reason for a cancelled project or two, because I couldn’t find the time to work on them while trying to make a living for my family.

    Against my better judgement I still love comics and often found myself over the intervening years drawing pages that had no actual story, simply for the pleasure of making sequential art. I don’t know if I’ve ever read any of your work, but i intend to find some right away. Thanks for taking the time to write this piece. It was very enlightening!

  5. brandoneaston April 11, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    Reblogged this on brandoneaston.

  6. jd April 12, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    This article really spoke to me. I made this small comic once, I managed to get an artist to only charge me 25 a page, as long as I made him a partner in the process. This guy I was paying to make our website wanted us to make a comic for him, I talked to him, the website he worked for was ready to give us 200 per page. I thought I had found a way to get both the artist and me paid, but the artist decided that he deserved all 200 of the pay. This was not a passion project for me, this was not something where I was willing to adapt someone else’s work to a comic so I would be lucky enough for someone to see my name, we both lost a decent pay day because the artist decided that his value was titanic and mine was dirt. Honestly, thinking back on it, it still really bothers me. It’s part of what made me stop working on the comic project that had originally brought the artist and me together in the first place.

    I still remember, he sent me this douchey article written for young artists, telling them that writers were paid in exposure. I can get exposure elsewhere. I was hoping to be paid in money for once, and his greed and unwillingness to accept a good pay day instead of twice a good pay day ensured that I went a bit hungrier.

    • MaGnUs April 12, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      Now THAT is a fucking douche of an artist. I would have gone 150/50 with him, but the full 200 to him? Fucking douche.

  7. MaGnUs April 12, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    As a fellow bearded comic book writer, I have to say this article is all YES YES YES THIS THIS THIS. Spot on, my friend, spot on.

  8. Melody Brown July 31, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

    I like that you included that comic writing is an art form. I can’t tell stories very well, so I definitely appreciate when people can. It sounds to me like writing comics is a lot of work and should be recognized just as much as other forms of art.

  9. James Heath Lantz September 5, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks for writing this informative and insightful piece. I’ve had some articles and introductions for books published, and I self-published prosebwork. I have even collaborated with comics legend Roy Thomas. He was the first editor to hire me. I want to write comics, but publishers don’t seem to want to see stories without art. I cannot afford to pay an artist. That’s the reason I haven’t self-published the scripts I have written. That said, I feel the writer and artist should get equal shares of pay and credit if they are not one and the same like Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon for example. It shouldn’t be one versus the other because in comics one cannot function without the other. Unfortunately, many in the comics industry don’t see things that way, at least from my perceptions. I could be wrong.

    All the Best,

    James Heath Lantz

    • MaGnUs September 5, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

      James, I don’t have money to hire artists either, but I’ve found people willing to create stuff with me. They’re out there, and you can work together to produce comics that will lead to paying work for both.

      • James Heath Lantz September 6, 2015 at 3:33 am #


        Thanks for telling me that info. I’ll do a search in the next few days.

        All the Best,


  10. cosmicbraintrust May 31, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    There are so many things I could respond to in you article. Let me start in the beginning. I got my first paycheck as a cartoonist for a story in the underground comic Yellow Dog back in 1971. It was about a gay boy who rapes himself with his own giant penis. In 1973, I turned that character into Homoman, one of the first gay superheroes. I tried to sell the idea, as a writer, to Ron Turner at Last Gasp, Marvel (without the rape) and others but no luck. I decided to illustrate it and self publish on my own in the comic called I Am. I found that I had great ideas as a writer but all of my success was as a cartoonist.
    Fast forward 25 years and I’m still trying to sell my gay super boy and other stories but all the high end artists I contacted wanted to be paid real money, so I find that once again I had to do it myself. It’s like I got to sugarcoat and force feed every idea I have. As a cartoonist I am very slow. I worked 10 years on the book, Strangest Story ever told. That’s 8-10 hours a day, 5-6 days per week! In 2010 it was finally published but at what cost? 10 years of my life gone because I couldn’t afford good quality artists. Writers are cursed. We must sell our souls to get an audience. My Dorian Gray-like ideas stay forever young while I die a slow death as the Hanging Man. The only advantage I have is that I am truly, irrationally obsessed with my work.


  1. What I Learned From Taking a Year off From Comics (And Why I Wish I Hadn’t) | K is for Komics - January 12, 2016

    […] I wanted to write out how I’m feeling is because of a little blog entry I wrote last year about what comic book artists should know about the writers they work with. I mainly wrote that article as a way to express my own frustration about the narrative that comic […]

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