So you want to be a comic book artist..? Here’s some sobering information.
One year. 12 issues. 264 pages. 4 covers.
As a full-time comic artist this is the expected output, more or less. Not to say I haven’t done a TON of work on the side to make ends meet, but as an artist on an ongoing monthly title, this is generally what you are expected to produce every year. Some artists do much more than this. Some less. It all depends on your productivity and drive.
It’s taken a lot of work and a ton of luck, but I’ve managed to stay busy for the majority of my career. I’ve gotten married, bought a house and have two beautiful kids. All the while, I was working full time as a professional comic artist. This schedule has allowed me to stay home with the kids until they were ready for school. I’m truly grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and all of the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know and work with over the years.
I wanted to take this opportunity to give people a look at what it really means to be a professional comic artist; good and bad.
This was a strictly work-for-hire job on a licensed book. That usually means no royalties. The page rate on this project was $125. This is considered an okay page rate by today’s standards. Advances on creator-owned projects are a different matter and subject to different criteria, so are jobs at Marvel and DC. That being said, this is a middle-of-the-road page rate. Not great, not terrible.
Gross pay over the year in addition to those four covers was $33,625. After taxes? $24, 210. That’s $2,017.50 a month (again, I do a lot of work on the side to make ends meet).
Nearly all of that aforementioned salary goes to the mortgage, and so the majority of the financial responsibility falls on my wife.
Remember those kids i mentioned? Full-time daycare in Portland is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 -$1,500 per kid. Not to mention health insurance, utilities, car payments, school loans, credit card payments, et al.
Needless to say, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot more work than those 264+ pages per year to keep your family afloat (should you choose to have one).
So. Here’s the schedule I keep:
7:00am - Wake up, feed the kids and get them ready for school.
8:30 - Take the kids to school
9:00-9:30am - Start work
12:30pm Pick up kid #1
3:30pm: Pick up kid #2
4:00-9:00pm - Family time.
Yep. That’s four hours of sleep per day, best-case scenario. Weekends too. Due to the sleep deprivation, I feel like absolute garbage all the time. Depression, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, weight gain, compromised cognitive abilities, even hallucinations - I suffer from all of these.
So, let’s imagine you have a quaint little nuclear family, a mortgage, etc. and you land a high-profile, non-DC/Marvel gig like #BigTroubleinLittleChina, and you command a decent salary (by today’s standards) from whatever value your name/talent/reputation derives.
You will still likely need to work 50-60 hours a week, nearly 365 days a year to just get by.
So you want to be a comic book artist..?
My best advice to you is to find another way to make your money. Make comics for fun, and at your leisure. Make creator-owned comics, as this is some of the most rewarding work you will ever do, hands down. My books, The Secret History of DB Cooper and Hellbreak have been the most rewarding experiences I’ve had professionally. I implore everyone to do their own thing and not expect comics to pay their bills, because it likely won’t.
Hellbreak and The Secret History of DB Cooper are available through your local comic shop, and are published by Oni Press.
Every now and then, I get a totally legitimate piece of criticism about my work: I need more diversity in things besides queerness. Regrettably, it’s a piece of criticism that I don’t work hard enough to correct.
Not to get too tumblr-y about this, but I recognize that being a white male means subconsciously I ignore my desire to be more racially inclusive with my work in favor of doing that which comes easily to me: drawing people that look more like me. It’s not a good excuse, and me being gay doesn’t give me a free pass either simply because I’m also a marginalized individual. I think it’s just important for me to point out my problem so I can work to fix it in the future. I appreciate the criticism!