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

April 7, 2011

A Few Additional Notes About Comics And Nonpayment

If you're only going to read one reaction to the Village Voice piece about the lack of money in the comics world that's in their current comics issue, you should read Mimi Pond's. I couldn't find it on the Voice site but D+Q saved it. Pond is funny and to the point, and has the additional perspective and corresponding moral authority of being a Village Voice cartoonist when they paid people.

I gave the Voice piece a lot of thought yesterday, and after some test conversations, I think I may be alone in suggesting that the Voice not paying many of its comics contributors in an issue in which an article about non-payment appeared isn't as interesting an issue in and of itself -- although it is a valid issue, and they deserve to be mocked for both the non-payment and for having this piece up in hilarious proximity to its own contributing practices -- as it is a compelling gateway into the whole idea of free as it pertains to comics. I'm having a hard time seeing, and perhaps this is my own limited perspective on the issue, how what the Voice is doing represents a difference in kind from everything else in comics that runs on free, or a through a diminished, exploitative price, many of which things come with the same promises of exposure, experience or getting in on the ground floor. It's a difference in degree, sure, when someone like the Voice does it, and represents an extra dollop of gross as a result, but I'm not sure the basic issues aren't roughly the same, and I wonder if the one thing that we can all do to combat this kind of thing is to make asking people to work for free unacceptable in comics culture on every level except for charity. Somewhere out there someone just may have written about this article and the nonpayment issue for someone who will get paid for hosting that piece while that person does not get paid for writing it -- if that didn't happen, it's an accident of coverage.

I thought the Voice article was relatively unfocused, and as a result there's a funhouse mirror quality to the reactions to it. You can land on different points and find different things to which to object and/or thrill. Is its biggest offense underplaying the success stories out there or is it is not being aggressive enough in pointing out exploitative practices? It depends on your perspective, I would guess. An overarching idea in the piece, that people in comics have always struggled, is an argument definitely worth making as a contributing and context-altering factor. That there are societal differences between then and now that make moving from play to pay a more difficult journey is a related idea I'm always glad to see brought to the table. But I suspect the reason the lack of pay from the Voice thing resonates with people is that it underscores a very real difference between now and then: how getting published in the Village Voice was once a concretely rewarding thing, and now it's not, and how so many places that used to be honorable places to work are now refashioned and re-presented as stepping stones to someplace else, usually Hollywood.

The good news is three-fold: 1) there are still places to make money from comics and cartoonists that are doing so -- some of these places are even better developed now than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago; 2) we're not that far removed from a time when people routinely used comics as a way to change their family's fortune and I think that's definitely still a part of comics' DNA; 3) we have only started to explore the options by which comics businesses can be set up to benefit artists and it may be that "douchebaggy publisher/project generator with nothing brought to the table but the desire to publish and the rock-solid belief that they will get paid first" is an historical expression of where comics is right now rather than an unchanging reality that will never go away.
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink

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