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March 17, 2013

So A Quick Couple Of Notes About Working For Free


Greg Kelly sent along this link, a report from a panel of established prose writers discussing working for free. I found it kind of odd and even disheartening, for a couple of reasons.

One, I was surprised that anyone in the audience would have a hard time admitting they've written for free. Nearly everyone does, or has, unless they've been super-, super-lucky and either so hardcore or so relatively disliked that they've never been asked to submit something somewhere for a reason other than the paycheck after becoming well-established. If they haven't worked for free, I suspect that they have probably worked at less than market value. Having experienced both circumstances is even more likely. I'm not sure what the hell that reluctance to share means, although I suspect it can't be a positive thing because it doesn't seem honest. There's a lot of bad information that gets passed around in creative communities because of fear and pride.

Two, it seems to me a very specific Internet-culture trigger is settling in on this argument when it comes up: treating the idea of not working for free, and not asking others to work for free, as some sort of legal brief filed in nerd court that then gets examined and picked apart by treating it as an absolute statement to be assaulted rather than a strong idea to be considered, all with an undercurrent of "You think you're better than me?" giving it power and force. Does that sound familiar? It happens a lot. Whenever I see smart people doing that, I always think of some friend coming to me after having had a hard time due to drinking and saying they're thinking of giving it up entirely. I don't necessarily think that's the time to hector the shit out of them that they may, say, want to drink some champagne at their kids' weddings, let alone justify my own drinking habits and how they might actually be a part of what works in my life. Sometimes there are more important reasons to talk things through than one side gets to win an argument.

When I make statements about not working for free, or link to one, it's because I want that idea to be the baseline from which choosing to work for free represents a deviation or a very specific opportunity with its own set of rewards. It's not because I'm somehow interested in winning some sprawling argument on an abstract expression of principle to 100 percent effectiveness, or to make myself look good by staking out a position on a specific side, or to show I'm better than someone. I think it's pretty clear that at this point there's a lot of routine exploitation in comics that takes advantage of mechanisms that used to play a more formal, developmental role and still do play a legitimate one -- internships and getting mentored and working at a low rate or even free to get one's foot in the door and improve and be seen. I think each instance of potential exploitation in comics is worth questioning, as is the general drift and thrust of the marketplace created by those individual instances. I'm also not convinced that because things work right now for some people that things can't be improved for others. Abuse seems to me worth launching a few rhetoric bombs, even if it leaves the flank exposed.

Ultimately, I feel a greater effort can be made on a lot of our parts to pay and to be paid and to see that others are paid. This isn't a problem to be solved; it's a positive that can be explored. I don't believe in the profound cynicism of giving up and saying "this is how things are." I find that doubly absurd when asserted at a time and in instances when you can point to specific decisions being made for this behavior or that practice to become policy. Questioning the way things are seems to me a good thing whenever it occurs. I think an ethos of more significant rewards to creators and makers and contributors can be a greater part of comics' future if we collectively and actively work on making this a value and then help each other hold ourselves to it. I still have a lot of work to do in this area, too. I think just about all of us do.
posted 12:00 am PST | Permalink

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