Though many artists need to “get their stuff out there,” I would suggest never working for zero. And by that I don’t mean just money, but I mean anything. “Exposure” is a legitimate concern for many young artists who can’t get their work in front of publishers (and not just the big two), but getting nothing in return for the hours of dedication and hard work it takes to make a comic is pointless and just rude. Especially when the owner of the property has a chance to make a profit.
That being said, artists who have never worked in the industry before shouldn’t expect to make the “Big Two’s” page rates for their work the first time out of the gates. To put it in comics terms, Todd McFarlane was able to up his page rate when he became famous on Spider-Man. See my point? And even some of the known guys are struggling to make real money today. If you ask any penciler what they make when they are working for companies like Dynamite, IDW, or even BOOM!, you might be shocked to see how much it breaks down to hourly (to do this, you take the page rate and divide it by how long it takes you to do a page. Most pencilers can do a page a day – 8 hours straight time, so divide the page rate by 8). This isn’t great, but it’s money. Real money. And being paid “something” is a must. So let’s talk about rights and partnerships and taking percentages over payments…
Many writers/creative people, like myself, aren’t at the penciling standards many publishers need to try and sell a new, unproven product to the public, so we have to rely on hiring an artist. The majority of Writers/Creators out there don’t have gobs of money just laying around, they’re struggling to break in and make end’s meat just like the next guy. This means they have very modest amounts of money they can pay an artist, if any. But what they do have are rights to their property.
Now, I won’t break contractual confidences here, but when I did my first OGN, “SOCOM: SEAL TEAM SEVEN,” I worked with a relative newcomer to comics named Roberto de La Torre (who is now a big cheese at Marvel – good for you Roberto!) and we negotiated a decent page rate we could both live with. It was low, but it was all I could afford and he knew my book already had a publisher attached; he needed the exposure. I’m not a millionaire, but I made a weekly paycheck, and every week I would put money aside to pay him his page rate at the end of the payment cycle. By the time the project was finished, he came out with a check and I got a kick-ass book from Image that had my words in balloons and his art in panels. ‘Nuff said. I struggled to pay him what he wanted because I wanted to keep my rights, those ownership rights.
Let’s face it; comics have become a springboard medium that comic companies completely understand isn’t about the comic sales. It’s something the industry calls “Transmedia.” Can your idea be translated into different forms of media– like a comic, game, film, TV show, toys, etc. That’s all they really care about because that’s where they make the most money. Telling a good story? Welllll, sometimes, yes, they care, but the real money is in the ancillary products they can make nowadays. And those rights aren’t something to scoff at as an artist partnering up with a writer/creator that doesn’t have a lot of seed money. Every time you see a comic book movie or TV show or game, the creator of that property is being paid (not with Marvel and DC, again – those characters are owned by corporations and not individuals). Those rights ARE worth money.
Work for free? NO. Writer/Creator can’t afford to pay you, then get payment another way. Hell, I paid a guy’s phone bill for three months once so he would work with me. Sometimes you hit the jackpot with a project and it’ll sell to the right people for a lot of money but most times it won’t. Just be happy with the end product, your book, and don’t ever work for “free.”
EDIT: This came to light today–
I rest my case.