Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 5, 2013

Go, Read: Brigid Alverson Summary Of Pay/No Pay Debate

The writer Brigid Alverson summarizes a recent bunch of responses to a writer claiming that paying artists up front dampens their enthusiasm for a project. I'm probably more sympathetic than most to the idea that paying people can in addition to being the right thing to do complicate things in the direction of how you've structured that payment. Still, this is a terrible set of circumstances from which to build a publishing philosophy. I'm therefore glad to see pushback. I'm also not sure there isn't some dissonance here. There really may be a difference between two artists with different time requirements for their tasks approaching a shared project and a project through which one artist is trying to facilitate something they want done by surrounding themselves with the talent to do so. I know comic strip artists who pay a co-writer in a way that's different than they pay a person supplying gags. There's building a home together and hiring a contractor. Creative relationships are complicated and just because in many, many cases one undeniable factor of time spent has a simplistic aspect to it -- "I can't do this work for free without dying" -- that doesn't necessarily make it something that needs to be fixed. Sometimes that just is.

One of the weird things about arguing things on-line is that people want perfect arguments that cannot even allow for the idea of a possible exception. In reality, there are usually exceptions to everything. We should remember they're exceptions because they're rare and extraordinary, and that this doesn't indicate an unavoidable imperfection in any one set-up as much as it indicates an unavoidable circumstance about most. Morally and practically, the baseline for work performed should be an expectation for pay, and super-strongly so when there's pay or another potential reward involved at some point along the way or in places along that way. Moreover, this should be pay without specific hardship entailed, if the only reason for that hardship is to mitigate risk beyond a reasonable point. The specifics can be worked out against that backdrop. If all of that means it's hard for you to fund all the projects you want, or makes you take extra steps in doing so, well, sometimes funding professional arts projects is hard and requires a few extra steps.

By the way, a lot of this current debate is also made possible because the perceived money in comics right now -- and in some cases the actual money -- is in the intellectual property rather than the executed item. If you tend to see creative relationships as conflict-driven, that means on the one hand you have the writerly advantages as the economic freedom of being able to perform multiple jobs in the space of time it takes an artist to do one and potential sole or sole perceived access to the transferable element of that property, while the artist's advantages are in creating an item of actual value (the original art) and the fact that the skill-set is limited and necessary for the work to exist as a comic in the first place. Fight, fight, fight.
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink

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