Hey guys, I really super didn't want to have to write a journal entry like this, but Jump USA or something must have a contest going because in the last two weeks I've had six requests to do a comic together with people I don't know. This year alone I've had twenty requests to do comics, and only about two of those requests have been legitimate commissions. The rest have been people asking if I would draw their comic for them, and I never hear back from them once I give them my commission rates. Considering I am pretty cheap, my guess is people are expecting me to do a full two months of work for next to nothing.
No ill will toward these folks, but I am a professional and I have to admit that I'm getting a little tired of getting asked to do freebies. My guess is people who have never worked with a professional artist before don't know how to go about contacting artists and don't realize what artists charge or expect when people go out of their way to contact them. So if you stumbled onto my site and thought you'd try hitting me up for some comic work, OR if you were thinking about doing the same for another artist, allow me to jot down this list of unofficial rules for requesting comic art.
An Intro To Comicking
First of all, let me briefly describe what it's like doing comics on a regular basis. It is time consuming, it is frustrating, it is expensive, and it is not always rewarding (and I mean that in a financial sort of way).
Time - It takes me a day to draw 4-6 pages if I have nothing else I need to do, and if I am only doing pencils. If I am inking, since I work traditionally, it could take me a day to do anywhere from one to three pages, depending on the content. I will almost always go back a second day and make additional changes or enhancements that I may have missed the first day or didn't want to do because I was tired (it happens). It takes me a full day to do tones for those pages because I work traditionally for those as well, and if I'm sleepy I will always make mistakes cutting. Then I have to properly format my scans and adjust the threshold and crop accordingly, which may be fifteen minutes, and do lettering and SFX (which I usually do digitally) which can take an hour since I do them in both Japanese and English for two separate versions of the same comic (for FaLLEN, etc). On top of comic work, I usually have side projects I do for other people, I have to maintain the website, and I have a family and pets I have to take care of and see and be pleasant around.
Expenses - Screen tone, manga paper, ink, and nibs are tools I have to buy regularly in order to do FaLLEN. One set of pages of FaLLEN might cost me $20 in supplies! Even working traditionally, artists have to buy expensive tools to get the job done. In order to do digital coloring for my work, I had to buy a computer and a tablet. One job I did this year made it practically a requirement that I get a Cintiq... I won't break down the costs, but let's just say it better pay for itself by the end of the year (well, it technically already has, but whatever). If artists don't have money, they can't have tools to work with. If you are cool with just notebook paper and pencil sketches, you probably aren't looking for a professional artist to work with anyway.
Frustration - A lot of people don't like to pay for art, and I have had to fight for my paycheck before on several occasions. You never know where your next paycheck will come from, and whether it will come at all sometimes. Publishers will only accept FINISHED artwork, so there is no guarantee that work you have slaved over for three months will even pay off in the end. Sometimes a headache can mean you lose half a day of work. Most people don't take you seriously when you tell them you are "busy". You do not get a day off since your home is also your office, and people will often think you spend all day lying around playing video games and picking your nose. Pets have NO RESPECT for your artwork! Which is a shame because they are otherwise so wonderful to have around.
I do not have magical abilities to summon finished artwork! All of these things are the downside to working professionally, and time really does equal money for many artists. You will notice my gallery has very little fan art or doodle art in it-- I do not have time to doodle much, and even though I have a million ideas for fan art I'd love to do, I usually don't have time to draw things I want to draw. Thankfully, I very much enjoy working on FaLLEN, so most art for that is art I want to draw. But fan art? Requests? Unless I'm paid to do it, or unless it's for a print or for something I plan on selling, I just can't do everything, you know?
"Will You Draw My Comic Idea?"
Now we are at the part that involves the writer who needs an artist. There are some things you can do to make the process easier, and things you can do that will drive the artist in question crazy!
Choosing An Artist - You've got a story that you just know is killer stuff. It's new, it's fun, it's gonna be a hit if the right artist draws it! So what do you do? Spam a bunch of artists you've barely heard of on dA, right? No. You shouldn't do this. I get a lot of impersonal requests like this after I've posted a new illustration to a bunch of groups, and I feel like they have copy/pasted a speech about wanting to work with an artist for their comic. I am always personally offended when I notice they are not even watching me-- it makes me think just anybody will do. If you want to work with me, I hope you are watching me and legitimately enjoy my work. If you think asking any ol' person who can draw is enough of a requirement to do your comic, you are dead wrong. If you don't enjoy the artist's work, why would you think they could do your story justice? And do you know how much of a downer it is to see the person asking for your art isn't even a fan of your work? If you want to impress the artist, stroke their ego a bit. Tell them what you like about their work, what pieces specifically caught your eye, and don't be vague! "hi i like ur art" is not the high praise you might think it is.
If you do not have a large budget to work with, it might be better to find a younger artist who is still in high school or college (and getting financial aid from a parent, for example) who can afford to work on a project as a partner, maybe for the experience or just for something fun to do. Also, if you yourself are still in high school, I would recommend avoiding artists out of college all together. There may be problems finding someone who can commit to the times you can and can't, and most experienced artists don't want to take a chance on someone younger. I personally wouldn't mind as long as there was payment up front, but I have definitely worked with artists who won't have anything to do with someone younger. It is an unfortunate truth and a good thing to keep in mind if you don't have a wallet full of cash ready to give.
Payment - There isn't really an industry standard when it comes to comic pages. Publishers in Japan and America will often pay $80-$100 per page, and I know people who won't work for anything less. I have worked for places that paid $45-$60 per page, and the jobs were usually not worth it in the end.
I personally charge $45 per comic page for a black and white one-shot. If I'm not working for a publisher or established company, I will expect payment up front. If the comic is especially short and doesn't require much for backgrounds, I might be willing to lower my prices, but I still have to eat and pay rent, you know? I can't go much lower than I already do. I have had people call me an idiot for my prices... they are quite right, I am an idiot. But until I have more titles under my belt, more credentials, etc, I will likely keep my prices at the bare minimum they are at now. Despite my prices being very cheap, many people act very startled when I tell them what I expect. To me, that is as if they are saying "Wow, you're not THAT good." At sub-standard prices? Makes me wonder, again, why they are even asking me to illustrate their comic story.
I worked with a guy who did custom illustrations and commissions and had done them for decades. He worked traditionally, was quite good, and he called me a moron when I told him how much I sold my prints for. Suffice it to say he sold his for much higher, but he'd earned the right because he was a professional and he was damn good. One day a non-artist asked him to do a movie poster. They had worked together on other projects, but this was a personal request. The non-artist was flabbergasted when the artist gave him his prices. "I thought, since you know me, you'd do it for free!" When I heard this story from the non-artist, all I could think of was "Well... duh? Of course he wants money, this is his job." I might do something for free for my closest friends or my parents, or for someone who has done a lot for me, but even then these freebies are probably not going to see as many hours as the stuff I do for publishers or comic events. But when a total stranger asks me to dedicate a few months to his or her pet project, you better believe I'm going to ask for payment.
Contests And Royalties - "Hey, would you do this project for me? I can't pay you upfront, but if we win/if we're a success, you can get paid later!" I almost NEVER accept royalties, and I have only ever once entered a comic contest. Oh sure, if you make it big you make it BIG. But that's a pretty big IF there, and I can't really afford to take risks. And I mean that-- I can't dedicate a few months to a project that isn't a guarantee paycheck. Those few months could have been spent MAKING MONEY... and I sure do like eating, and having electricity. If you guys think I'm being a cheapskate, uh, my annual earnings would make you laugh. I support myself with my art, but the support beams are pretty shaky sometimes. Most artists who are working independently are going to be like this. So even if you believe in your game or comic or whatever it is, you don't want to test an artist's faith!
Contests are pretty crappy. I submitted an entry to a contest Weekly Jump had in the spring of 2011-- you might recall there was a big ol' earthquake around that time. It was a very hard time for me and the whole country, but I was dead certain my silly little comic would place. It was the best art I'd done at that point, and I made the comic with Jump in mind. But one of the hardest things I'd done that year was sending the comic to Jump-- they wanted the original manuscript, not a copy. They wanted my original pages! I enclosed an a stamped envelope in the hopes they would send my work back to me... they did not, and I was afraid they would not because the magazine didn't say they would. I even went to the publisher personally and asked for it. My guess is it had been thrown out with all the rejects-- yes, I did not win, and now I was unable to take the comic I had spent months on to any other magazine. It was a crapshoot... I believe that's the technical term. If I want to send my work to a publisher, I do it directly. I live in Japan, so for me there isn't a point to blindly sending away my originals to possibly never see the light of day. I don't mind doing contest entries IF I get paid-- if the comic happens to win, the author can get a much larger cut of the prize money. But I do both writing and drawing, and I can tell you the workload is NOT the same. It's not an equal project-- oh sure, someone is bound to disagree, but if I'm writing something it may only take me a day to write a twenty-page script. Maybe two days. Even if it took me a week, that's still not the time it's going to take me to draw it! Writing also doesn't require expensive art supplies... I'm sorry, I just won't give in to the argument that the workload is equal. I have a great amount of respect for writers, but I have experience in both areas and no contest, drawing takes more time than writing.
Royalties sound great, but it's often a trick most experienced artists know to avoid. What if a project stops right in the middle of production, and it never even makes it to the final stages? If you were working on a royalties-only payment agreement, you are not going to be happy to see your efforts go to waste. I have been burned in the past by the royalties offer by a legitimate company, even, so when someone who has nothing to their professional name comes to me with an offer to get paid through royalties, I'm afraid I'm always going to be more than a little hesitant to listen to the writer's ideas.
But It Never Hurts To Ask, Right? - Well, no. But if you want to ask an artist to draw your comic and you have no intentions of paying them what they deserve for their hard work, their skills, their time, and cost of their supplies... then you are not a professional, you are a hobbyist, and you need to work with other hobbyists. Otherwise, you are just wasting a very busy artist's time.
I hope this made it easier for non-artists to understand where artists are coming from and what they expect when they enter into negotiations. I am always happy to discuss serious job inquiries, but I'd appreciate it if people who can't afford to pay me for my services would abstain from sending me requests, and I hope if you read this (rather lengthy) explanation you can respect my reasons for not wanting to jump on board. Even if I love the project and think it's top-notch writing, I cannot afford to take on another person's pet project for free. But I wish you well and I hope you can find someone as passionate about your work as you are who has a bit more financial leeway than I do for side projects!