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

September 9, 2010

Money Money Money Money Money

Heidi MacDonald points towards and allows further commentary on a post by Glenn Hauman about the cost of making comic books using the current mainstream comics-making formula.

imageIt's hard for me to comment on such issues. One is because the values we all bring to money are so very different that it's hard to find any agreement on which to make the kind of instant assumptions Hauman brings to the subject matter -- and which others read into it before commenting. For example, one bandied-about figure of $42,000 a year means vastly different things to different people. There are people that see that amount of money and see no way to get by and there are people that see that amount of money as 3X or 5X the amount of money they make from their art or perhaps even their art and day-job combined right now. There's also that subset of arguments that questions whether or not if you want a specific career, or to pursue a specific desire, you should assume that it comes with the ability to provide you with a certain standard of living -- whether that's expressed in the ability to support a family of four, or to live where you want, or to maintain that career if you're catastrophically sick, or by a certain perceived amount of money. Two, I'm deeply uncomfortable with the assertion made that money issues force people like arts comics cartoonists away from this kind of professional set-up, which I think gives a way of making comics that was actually refined to maximize production and thus profit way too much weight as some sort of creative ideal. While there are a few cartoonists out there that might hire an inker or a letterer if they were rolling in the dough -- certainly Dave Sim was able to work with Gerhard on Cerebus because that project made money -- I don't think Will Eisner sat around wishing that his personal comics made four times the money so he could hire four other professionals to take on various tasks, and I doubt many others working in his same general neighborhood think quite that same way, either. It's not that I take exception as much as I think it gives too much primacy to a way of doing comics that is itself a creation of circumstance. Three, it seems sort of obvious to me that a system established when no one could conceive of mainstream comics selling under a certain level is going to start having problems when sales fall below that level. It's not even surprising that it's happened, when keeping the sale of comics above that level has never been a value maintained by the biggest players in that market. Additionally, it shouldn't be a shocker that people have a distorted view of what comics people make when no one talks about these issues in a forthright fashion and in fact a lot of energy is spent in the other direction, in making you believe that the guy who borrowed money from his sister to go to Comic-Con and is sleeping seven to a room is doing awesome because he's about to sign a movie deal. I got more alarmed e-mail from about a dozen people when the brilliant Kevin Huizenga made a casual admission as to what he was making from comics than I got on just about anything else in the last two years.

Mostly, though, what pops for me is that a couple of things that get discussed here with some frequency. The move to digital comics and their smaller or even non-existent cover price may mean that any potential shortcomings in overall profits from publishing itself will result in a smaller piece of the pie for a specific class of comics professionals. It's the kind of paradigm shift that would allow the deck to be reshuffled, for one thing. The other is that it's more important than ever that people sign non-exploitative contracts and consider keeping control of material for themselves. If whatever profit to be had from comics is going to be take place somewhere else than in making the comics, or is going to move out of the middle-class living area entirely, creators deserve to have a piece of any money made somewhere else and to have a fair portion of what relatively little is made in traditional venues. Every day I grow more suspicious that this particular game hasn't already been lost, and that the comics industry has completed its transformation into an industry that has given up on every modest means of making money independently for the dubious honor of generating the occasional flash flood of money for others, hundreds of people sustained by the hope, no matter how impractical, that they will be one of the lucky, tiny few allowed to benefit.
posted 7:00 am PST | Permalink

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