Robot 6

Faith Erin Hicks opens up about the financial realities of cartooning

Friends With Boys

Robot 6 has covered cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks on multiple occasions concerning her comics, but this time we’re discussing something new: what kind of living she makes as a cartoonist. Hicks recently opened up about the financial realities of her life as a working cartoonist in a blog post supplementing her current webcomic Friends With Boys, which First Second will release later this year as a graphic novel. Hicks isn’t the first to share such intimate details on the business of comics, but the picture she paints with it is surprising in many ways.

“First of all, never in a million years did I think I would be able to pay my rent by drawing comics,” Hicks wrote, “or even through doing the freelance art thing. Sometime I cringe inwardly when I tell people that I write and draw comics for a living, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like that; it’s more like I’ve taken a vacation from some real job to draw comics, and eventually I will return to the workforce when I run out of money.”

Hicks became a full-time comic artist only because she lost her job. Until 2008 she worked as an animator, but as her company’s contracts dried up she was let go until their prospects improved. While she was waiting, mainstream comics publisher First Second offered her a contract drawing Brain Camp, a comic written by someone else. That one-time opportunity eventually blossomed into an ongoing commitment between Hicks and First Second, with the artist now working on her fourth book for the publisher.

You might ask, what about Hicks’ work before Brain Camp? Although Hicks garnered acclaim with her webcomic Demonology 101 and two graphic novels for SLG Publishing, it turns out that it doesn’t pay nearly what you’d think. SLG, like most small publishing houses, doesn’t pay royalties or a page-rate for creator-owned work, with the creators only making money on the back-end. According to Hicks, her two SLG books — Zombies Calling and War at Ellsmere – sold about 2,000 copies each, with her receiving 7% (no misprint, 7%) of the cover price. Those two books were sold for $9.95 and $12.95, respectively, which works out to a total of $3,206 earned for those two books.

“Part of the reason for this pessimistic view is that currently I’m living off advances from [First Second], and supplementing that money with grants and freelance work (taking illustration jobs for clients, doing the occasional workshop, drawing commissions, etc),” Hicks went on to say in her blog post. “I do not have a hit graphic novel that I receive a steady royalty income from. Not yet, at least. I suspect I would feel more secure in my line of work if I did.”

Hicks goes into more detail about the financial life of a cartoonist, and into how she spends her limited income. Truly an insightful piece for pros and fans alike, some of whom chimed in with comments on Hick’s post.

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Comments

4 Comments

Faith Erin Hicks should try using kickstarter.com to fund her future graphic novel projects. Since she is so good with keeping expenses down in her lifestyle while working on her books she should be able to get funding for her future graphic novels.

Absolutely an eye-opener for many, and it’s spurred some discussion on twitter already. I think a lot of people don’t realize that many of the creators working on the lower-profile books don’t actually make money from their titles, sometimes not even until years after they’re completed and have been circulating for quite some time.

Not to stray too far off topic or assign blame, but this is the reason I get discouraged by so many people online who gripe about how terrible their mainstream superhero books are, yet never dare to venture outside of the Big Two/Three/Whatever and try something in a separate genre that they might honestly enjoy.

RegularSyzedMike

January 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I agree with stealthwise’s 2nd paragraph COMPLETELY. I jumped ship in the early 90s and came back a few years ago. I tried to get back into the titles I used to like but just couldn’t. I don’t have an addiction so I don’t feel the need to buy stories that don’t do anything for me so I didn’t pick up where I left off. Instead I looked elsewhere…and I’m perfectly happy with the non-Big2 material available today!

Stop enabling the Big 2. Buy good books instead!

Ms. Hicks is lucky to have a major “Big Six” publisher working to promote her books. Macmillan knows how to sell to libraries (the other “Direct Market”) and bookstores, sending out review copies which help get it placed on reading lists. Their website has previews (both on their website, and on Google), videos, even a discussion guide! Not to mention loads of social media buttons (300+) to share the love, including four book-specific sites.

There’s some amazing work being published by childrens and young adult publishers (check out Kids Can Press, for example). Ms. Hicks actually illustrated a 48-page graphic novel textbook (9781419032189) in 2007, which is probably comparable to work-for-hire comics. But there are also a lot of picture books being published each year, and many publishers are not hesitant to use comics inside the covers!

How many libraries are there?
http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet01
That’s just the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There’s also Canada, the UK, the Commonwealth, and any foreign country where English is the secondary language.

It’s not easy being a writer, artist, or any other sort of creative occupation.
It also takes a long time to become an overnight sensation.
Sometimes, you have to take what pays, not what you wish to make. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find Neil Gaiman’s first book, a juvenile biography of Duran Duran.)

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