You Can’t Make Money as a Comic Book Artist

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

Brian Churilla has posted a sobering analysis of his life as a full-time comic book artist. He drew 12 issues of Big Trouble in Little China and is currently illustrating Hellbreak.

He’s also written a breakdown any aspiring comic book artist should read. He covers how much typical artists get paid compared to the amount of work they’re expected to do. Here are some excerpts, but be sure to read the whole thing:

One year. 12 issues. 264 pages. 4 covers.

This was a strictly work-for-hire job on a licensed book. That usually means no royalties. The page rate on this project was $125. This is considered an okay page rate by today’s standards.

Gross pay over the year in addition to those four covers was $33,625. After taxes? $24,210. That’s $2,017.50 a month (again, I do a lot of work on the side to make ends meet). Nearly all of that aforementioned salary goes to the mortgage, and so the majority of the financial responsibility falls on my wife.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper, Brian’s creator-owned book

Given that he has kids and works from home, he lists a typical day and concludes that his health is at risk:

That’s four hours of sleep per day, best-case scenario. Weekends too. Due to the sleep deprivation, I feel like absolute garbage all the time. Depression, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, weight gain, compromised cognitive abilities, even hallucinations — I suffer from all of these.

Not surprisingly, he advises finding another way:

You will still likely need to work 50-60 hours a week, nearly 365 days a year to just get by.

So you want to be a comic book artist..?

My best advice to you is to find another way to make your money. Make comics for fun, and at your leisure. Make creator-owned comics, as this is some of the most rewarding work you will ever do, hands down. My books, The Secret History of DB Cooper and Hellbreak, have been the most rewarding experiences I’ve had professionally. I implore everyone to do their own thing and not expect comics to pay their bills, because it likely won’t.

Anyone who’s looked into the business of the American comic book industry should be familiar with the conflict, but it’s a problem that no one seems able to do anything about. Publishers facing falling sales don’t want to pay more. In return for creator ownership, many publishers don’t pay anything up front. There are so many young creators willing to work for very cheap that there’s no pressure to raise rates for experienced artists.

Becoming a successful artist is unlikely — unless you’re that rare bird who’s able to create a multi-million-selling book or inspire a successful movie. Many survive based on day jobs or support from family members with full-time jobs. Many working professionals are putting out an awful lot of effort for not enough reward.

Keep that in mind next time you don’t want to pay to read a comic. Or when you love a comic and want to see more, make sure you’re rewarding the creators — buy sketches, or original art, or support their Kickstarters or Patreons.



3 comments

  • James Schee

    I wonder if living somewhere more rural might be better for creators at times over cities. While one would not be rich, someone could do well making that amount here where I live. (the no state income tax would help big of course) Also as someone who worked doing taxes for 4 years with a huge tax firm, I wonder if he is taking advantage of all the tax breaks having kids, and daycare expenses that can be written off etc. as well.

    But still the main point is basically true that comics are a hard business, most of whom would do better financially in other fields. It seems like a great deal of artists make more $ in commissions than they do actual comic work these days. Interesting read!

  • LBT

    I tried that, James Schee, but it really axed my income.

    I couldn’t do cons. When I did, they were much more expensive, because I’d have to rent a car, pay for a bus or train (which only left after 11 PM at night), and possibly hotel costs, instead of crashing with friends. It wasn’t like the city, where I could WALK to some cons.

    I couldn’t get into the rural comics community because THERE WASN’T ONE. Everyone was so separated that I couldn’t break into it. In the city, I have DOZENS of contacts who can spread the word to me about new opportunities and offer help, like I can offer them.

    On the whole, being in the big city has been way better for me, even though the cost has been so much higher.

  • That’s a great perspective, that there are pluses and minuses to both.

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