Saturday, January 5, 2013

Baltimore Comic Con

With the help of our faithful GPS named "Brit", Jesus Marquez and I made the fairly uneventful journey from the Bronx to Baltimore on Friday night, and made it in time to register early at the convention hall.  As I had said, it had been a while since he had exhibited at a decent sized show in a convention hall, not since 2005 at Wizard World Philly, and I daresay this was bigger.  Certainly cooler in a non-Wizard way for sure.  After a severely unhealthy dinner at Five Guys, we headed for our fleabag hotel and crashed for the evening.

In the morning we set up, and the initial table looked a little something like this:

Much of this entry is about what worked, what didn't and how to treat your time as an exhibitor.

A quick rundown of what you're looking at.  The Colossians retractable banner sits behind us.  To our right is the Shadowbinders table, home of Thom "Kneon Transitt" Pratt and his wife Kam (conveniently, Thom is the penciler for Colossians, so we can cross-market).  We are at a corner table, so the only neighbors to the left are caddy-corner to us.  Directly behind us, in that dark curtained oxygen tank, is Stan Lee.  No foolin.

The black tablecloth and Megazeen banner are ours.  On the table is is a binder full of sketch cards propped up on a cheap stand (not very effective, it would wobble and dissuade people from looking at it).  A plastic magazine stand holds back issues of Megazeen.  Wire desk organizers display copies of Colossians and Man of the Hour, and Jesus' amazing take on Adventure Time which people FLIPPED OUT over.  A bowl of Hersey's miniatures were set out as bait.  A small cup of buttons is next to it, containing buttons for Megazeen, Colossians and Good Versus Evil (my other blog project).  We had our Boston Con promo cards all over the table and gave them out as liberally as possible.

About twenty minutes before "rope drop" I went out with a huge stack of our promo cards and began to hand them out to the poor saps on line.  I've got to say, it was fun.  I have a lot of confidence in the work we do.  My sales pitch was something like, "We have two books debuting at this show - Colossians and Man of the Hour, and we're doing cheap sketches to promote them, please stop by so we can tell you more about it!"  Nice and simple.  Most fans were very appreciative to make an early contact, and I gave out something like 800 cards that morning.  Did it work?  I'd say so, we did have people stop by saying, "Hey, I remember you" or "We've been looking for you!"  Good stuff, worth the effort.  Even if they didn't find us, the card had our website on it, so contact was made.

One of the things that Jesus understood better than I did was that WE are the product we're selling, more so than our books. See that image above?  When I'm seated I'm hidden behind a wall of stuff.  When Jesus is seated, he's ready to draw and people can see him.  We both draw, of course, but Jesus clearly looked like he was ready for action.While I had more "ready to sell" pieces, Jesus was drawing more commissions, at least for the first day.  By the second day I cleared more of a spot and it worked.

Two big draws to the table were the two biggest items - the banner and the Adventure Time piece.  The banner drew some nice conversations about the book and characters.  The art piece drew squeals of excitement.  Cosplayers were stopping to get their picture taken with it.  Within the first hour, Jesus had already sold it - thankfully the customer allowed us to keep it on the table all day.  

Up until that moment, Jesus and I had been firm believers of NOT selling prints - we saw them as cheap, and could not imagine buying one ourselves.  The Adventure Time lesson taught us we were wrong.  In the end, only one fan could ever enjoy that piece.  We even struggled Saturday night with a nearby Office Depot to see if we could get the file emailed in and printed but ran out of time.  Lesson learned: prints have their place.

When leaving your table overnight, covering it is usually sufficient, so bring a suitable cloth to do so, or pack it up under the table.  HOWEVER, bring out anything of value.  I've got several hundred dollars in markers in a backpack, for example.  Too easy to pick up and walk off with.

When we left the show Saturday night, I've got tell you, we were PUMPED.   We already had the weekend paid for and then some.  That might not seem like much - but it was the first time we had ever done that!  It was a real confirmation that we were on the right path.  So we celebrated at McDonald's with some ice cream, talked about what worked and what didn't, and resolved to go in fresh for Sunday.

I found that I was selling more art than books as usual, so I tried a little gimmick.  Once the sketch was completed, I'd tell the customer, "OK, now you're buying a piece of my art, which means that I can also take a dollar off my comic book.  Let me tell you about it..."  It was pretty effective, I've got to say.  On Day 1 I sold mostly sketch cards, while Jesus was selling larger sketches on backing boards for slightly higher.  On saturday night I banged out a few backing boards of Rocket Raccoon, Batman and Rocketeer, and they sold just fine on Sunday.

When you exhibit at these shows, you'll find that each day has a slightly different vibe.  For example, on a three-day show, Friday usually has the hardcore fans on a mission that doesn't necessarily include you.  They're looking to scoop up the hot items, the exclusives, the autographs and the sketches by the bigger names.  They took the day off of work.  For your basic artist in the alley, Friday can be a slow day and a hard day to get anyone's attention.  Saturday tends to be the busiest day attendance wise, as the crowd begins to spread out.  On Sunday, the crowd thins some, but those who remain are there to spend and return to the purchases they put off earlier.  If there's any one day we tend to draw the most, it's usually Sunday, and right up till closing.  Sunday tends to be a bigger day for kids and families.  Armed with this knowledge, you can plan and display appropriately.  

Also, it is tempting to wander the show and pursue the pretty colors, but remember that you shelled out serious bucks and that you're there to promote your stuff, not shuffle through dollar boxes.  It helps to stretch your legs and mingle, make some contacts and hit a few impulse buys.  Get to know the other artists around you and walk the floor - converse with them before they get crazy busy.  Make some friends!  We found that getting into the show as early as possible enabled a smooth set up and ample opportunity to browse before the riffraff is let in.  Once they drop the rope, though, be at your table at least 90% or the time, especially if you're a sketch artist.  

Eat a big breakfast and bring food from outside for lunch - the food at convention centers is horribly expensive and tastes awful.  Plan ahead for parking as much as possible.  A hotel near the convention hall may save you on parking fees but be far more expensive - it might also be a much nicer hotel.  If you can, treat yourself a little, you'll need the rest.  Multi-day cons are hard work!

Overall, Baltimore was hugely successful for us, and a lot of fun.  We certainly plan to return in 2013, armed with knowledge from last year and ready to go!  We also plan to take what we've learned and apply it at other shows this year.  I hope that anyone reading this can also learn from us, and make your own tables that much stronger.  Hope to meet you there!


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Baltimore Comic Con - Preparation

OK, it's been a few weeks since Jesus Marquez and I brought our respective books to the Baltimore Comic Con in September, and before it all washes away in the rushing waters of my quickly diminishing memory, I wanted to share how it went, what worked for us, what didn't, and what we learned from the experience.  This will include an overall review of the convention as well as our personal experience as exhibiting artists.

First of all, admittedly, we had never done the Baltimore show before, and had not exhibited at a major show in several years.  We chose Baltimore only after we received the polite decline from NYCC this year, which we knew was a longshot.  We applied kind of late to NYCC and the competition for those tables is fierce, with a very long waiting list.  But Baltimore seemed like it might be a god fit for us - at just over three hours the drive was manageable and the table cost was comparatively cheap.

We'd also heard some very good things about Baltimore, specifically that it is a TRUE comic con, unlike a lot of the shlocky shows these days put on by those hacks at Wizard World and even the "Big Two" in San Diego and New York.  They're not promoting anime, toys, movies, TV and gaming, which sometimes takes up as much as 2/3 of the floor at those other big shows.  No, this is purely comics.  And that's pretty sweet!

Once we were booked, we both had to get to work, booking the hotel room and figuring out how to fill our respective 3 feet of real estate.  When I do shows I like to book a room on the cheap - having been raised on camping, my hotel standards are low and cheap is the goal.  Cheap means more money toward the table and more money toward purchases.  So I booked a hole in the wall in the outskirts about 15 minutes away and it served its purpose.

I already had printed Colossians, so Jesus was furiously working to wrap up Man of the Hour - having these two books at the show was deemed absolutely essential, needless to say, so we wouldn't just be two goofy guys that can draw.  I also packed a set of Megazeens, still have an attic full.

 We had practically nothing in terms of display.  This had not been a huge problem before, since the shows we had done were low-key and non-competitive, but when you've in a room with a few hundred other artists, you've got to make that table look attractive and inviting.  I know what you're thinking, that Jesus and I are attractive enough by ourselves, and I thank you for thinking that.  Anyways, we did a little research on what was an essential packing list.

We bought a black table cloth to cover the table to the floor - while most shows have the tables covered or at least skirted, not all do, and no one wants to look at bony hairy knees.  I should note that we invested in a table CLOTH this time, unlike the black plastic party one I'd bought years ago and spray painted "Megazeen" across the front (oh that was charming).  I also picked up some simple display and office organizer pieces at Staples, so we could display our names, prices, artwork and books upright. 

The biggest investment was a pair of banners - a horizontal "Megazeen" banner with our new logo for the front of the table and a retractable 8-foot Colossians banner for the back. I will note that banner are no longer a unique luxury - almost EVERYONE has one, they're not expensive, and the tables that did not have a backdrop of some kind looked sorely lacking.

 At recent smaller shows, I had been taking my sketch cards and spreading them out on the table to attract people, then laying a few books out front and leaving the back space open to draw on - but that's when I have a 6-foot table all to myself.  The sketch card problem was solved by putting them in a binder and propping it up with a cheap wire display. I'm still not convinced this is the BEST way, but until something better comes along, this will do.

There was a pointer I had picked up from reading Dave Sims "Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing" that I had been dying to try and I'm glad I did.  We printed up a couple thousand trading cards on a laser printer, the front had a pencil sketch from one of our two books, the back had our website info and, most importantly, our booth number.  For a mere ten bucks, a worthwhile investment.

Finally I printed off a handful of t-shirts for both Colossians and Man of the Hour - figure what the heck.

I packed a few other supplies that I'd been told were important to have - a roll of tape, paper clips, florescent post-it notes, a notebook, and a roll of singles and fives for change.  Some people suggested a cash box, and I would recommend that.  I didn't see the purpose, since I figured my pocket would serve the same purpose and be more secure.  But it's awkward, having to reach into your pocket shuffling for change and pulling out a wad of paper money.  It damages the idea of the "starving artist" when they see the pile of twenties you've accumulated, and it's sloppy, it made me feel unprepared - you go from really cool artist to gas station attendant in thirty seconds.  Keep the big bucks in your pocket, the small bucks in the box, and carry the box out overnight - don't ever leave it alone.

Finally the art essentials got packed, because I've learned that I will sell more art than books at these shows. I've learned to my dismay that my books compete with dollar boxes and discounted event books from Marvel and DC, and that is a losing battle for the bucks.  HOWEVER, there are plenty of fans that appreciate an inexpensive sketch by an indy artist, and that's not something you can find in a dollar box.  So, my small army of pencils, pens, brushes and Prismacolor markers got tucked into a nice neat backpack - the main purpose of the backpack was that this was the easiest way of NOT leaving them in the show overnight.  That caddy contains several hundred dollars of art supplies accumulated over the years, not something you want to risk losing.  A couple of pads of Bristol paper, blank sketch cards, and comic backing boards rounded it off.

Everything got packed into a pair of rolling suitcases and we were off to the races.

Next up - how it went at the show itself, what we learned, what we did right and what we did wrong.  Learn from us.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Money Thing - Part 4 of 4

Thus far in this series, I have attempted to conquer some of the "hot topics" of prices for comic art, most specifically at conventions but pretty much anywhere.  Here are my conclusions, to summarize:

(1) Price your work where you are comfortable selling it for, based on a combination of time, quality, your own recognizance, what market will bear and how important it is to you that people buy it.
(2) Art is not all about money - if it is, it's no longer art, it's work.  Volunteer work and favors are important no matter what you do.  We just happen to draw pictures.
(3) Art is beautiful, but requires a lot of thought, passion, materials and time to create - and an artist should be compensated, out of respect for the beauty of his/her work as well as the time and effort taken to accomplish it.

Now that you've made some money, what do you do with it?

PART 4: Stop Starving, Stupid (or, Living Responsibly as an Artist)

There is nothing dishonorable about starving.  There is something drastically wrong with being irresponsible.

If you are the poster child for "starving artist" there is probably something very wrong with your picture.  Let's all accept that, by and large, art may not pay the bills the way you want and you might need to get yourself a J-O-B. When people spend money on art they do so out of their disposable income, and when there's no disposable income, the necessities of life dominate, leaving you with a full table to pack up at the end of the show.

There's also the very real possibility you're just not that good.  Declaring "I AM AN ARTIST" doesn't mean the dollars will just start flowing in.  Are you taking time to learn, study, and train in your chosen craft?  How is your anatomy, your perspective, your consistency, your backgrounds?

Now, let's fast forward and say that you are actually starting to break even or make a little moolah.  What now?

It was only this year that I started actually making some money at these shows.  I remember how floored I was the first time I broke a hundred bucks.  Everything in me SCREAMED to take that cash and run around the show and grab up statues, dollar bin comics and all manner of fun stuff.  After all, if I was generating the cash, shouldn't I therefore be able to spend the cash any way I want?

Well, no, not if I have half a brain and an ounce of discipline.  And by the way, I make a decent living at my J-O-B, thank you very much.  If I have a rough day at a con it isn't going to make or break me (aka I live financially responsibly).  Therefore, I could just spend my con cash as fast as I make it.  I could.  But that's not responsible, is it?  Not when I have other artists to pay, table costs to meet, art supplies to purchase, books to print, and bills to pay.  And IF art was my sole breadwinning opportunity, you'd better believe I'd be at it hardcore throughout the day to make sure I was improving my skills, marketing myself, producing enough to make ends meet.

Otherwise, I just become one of the poor saps trying to sponge off some charities after years of pissing away my artistic cash on hobbies and distractions, not saving and investing and making it grow.  Kids, you have a responsibility to retire and not be reliant on the government, your kids or Hero Initiative to bail you out of decades of irresponsible decisions, if you are physically and mentally able to do so.  No exceptions.  "But I'm an artist!" is NOT an exception.
Fellow artists - put away your X-boxes and Playstations.  You don't have time for gaming.  You need to draw, paint, write, conceptualize, and draw some more.  You need to generate the artwork for the next big show.  You need to pencil and ink those pages.  In one hour I can create a pretty cool, full color pinup on a comic book backing board.  I could do five or six pages of thumbnail layouts for a comic book.  I could draw a panel of a comic book page.  Or, I can zone out on Facebook or level up on KOTR.  Which would you say are time well spent?  Which are you really passionate about?  Being an artist or getting another utterly meaningless high score?

There is so much more to add here, if I continue on this tangent, but regarding the financial aspect, I think this is a good place to stop, for now.  Your comments, pro or con, are most welcome.  And I hope to bump into you at a show sometime soon.

Much love,


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Money Thing - Part 3 of 4

Now, my purpose in Part 2 was not to say that artists should be working for free.  Oh hecks no.  The reality is that people think we just draw, ink and paint for fun – and sometimes we do.  They then make the leap to think that we would just be delighted to be asked to paint or draw something that it takes mere seconds to ask for, without the realization that it takes hours or days to make it happen.  When our artistic skills are used in real world applications, that which we did for fun becomes real hard work.  Artists know what I’m talking about.  Drawing Spider-Man is a snap.  Drawing Spider-Man with his mask off to look like the guy from the office, followed by pages of sequentials complete with backgrounds, that’s another ballgame.  Comic book logos don't get farted into existence with the snap of a finger as if we know miraculous shortcuts in Word to make that happen.  Coloring a comic book page takes significantly longer than it takes to utter the words, "Will you color my comic book?"

We should not and will not always work for free or even cheap.

PART 3: How Much Is It Worth to You?

Recently at a small comic expo, a family stopped at my table and was impressed with the work they saw.  The dad came back later and asked how much I would charge to create a comic book for his three-year-old son for his birthday.  I pondered it for a moment, considered my current workload, the probable art style I would use, the time it would take, the limited audience this project would receive, the fact that his three year old son would likely not care a lick and it was really for his parents anyway, and its overall value in the scope of things, and responded with what I thought was a very reasonable rate: $50 a page.  His jaw dropped.  He later came by to buy a $20 color sketch and offered me $10 for it, and I turned it down (btw, I sold the sketch the very next day for full price).

At the recent Baltimore Comic Con, I got into conversations with two gentlemen, one a youth pastor and one an area director and pastor.  Of course, their eyes caught the banner with the large red logo for Colossians on it, which led to the inevitable conversation about the fact it is a name taken straight from the Bible for a specific reason.  Both men seemed oh so grateful that we were there in the thick of things, spreading the word, being a light in the darkness, salt of the earth, all that fancy church jargon.  But when I offered to sell them a copy of the comic book, they both politely declined and moved away from the table with that same body language that would suggest they had just discovered I had leprosy.
Now some would say that these were ‘brothers in Christ’, and that I should have given them my book for free.  I say no, for two big reasons.  One, they are not my target audience.  I’m not doing this to entertain Christians, I am doing this to entertain comic book fans.  For the record, I give plenty of books away as I see fit.  Two, they both had an armful of swag already, demonstrating that they were spending money – they just made the conscious decision not to support a book of this kind (probably surprised I wasn’t giving it to them for free), even though they pretended to be overjoyed it existed.

On the other hand, I do frequently charge nothing, in fact I'd daresay still more often than not.  I create a monthly poster for my church's Sunday school.  I will spend the day doing sketches at Ronald McDonald House or St Barnabas Hospice and turn in all my earnings for the day to these charities.  I will contribute to a comic book project that I believe in and that I want to be a part of, such as the Bible project mentioned in Part 2.  And if a kid comes to my art table and gushes over a sketch card, very often that kid will walk away with that sketch card for nothing, simply because I know he or she will appreciate it.  I do this because, according to my quick analysis of the situation, it seems right to do so.  It please me and pleases the customer that I want to please.

This does NOT apply to the fanboy who comes to my table, sees my sketch cards, asks for a series of weird mash-ups ("can you draw, like, Deadpool as a Transformer?") and thinks he can walk away after an hour of my hard work with a sheepish "thank you."   

So clearly, there is a time that compensation is in order, and a time, at my discretion, when I would opt not to.  This is mainly to help make it clear where I'm coming from personally - other artists take this to varying degrees, and it is their discretion to do so as well.

Part 3 is mainly addressed to the recipient of said art, so that you might understand why we might work for free, but also why we ask for compensation, and the sacrifice our time is worth.

I am going to admit, just as I have kicked in free art myself, I have been the recipient of some free art in the past.  The penciler for Colossians #1 blew me away by drawing 13 pages of the story for nothing, simply because he believed in it.  I was unprepared for his generosity at the time.  I paid him for the second half.  My cover artist used the cover to build his portfolio and he is selling the original artwork.  I will pay the pencilers for the subsequent issues.  I am raising the funds partially by going to comic book shows and doing sketches, which is my strong suit, to pay them to do sequentials, my weak suit.  I have also trimmed my comic pull list down dramatically so that I can invest more creatively into Colossians.

I have also been publishing Megazeen for ten years, paying a pittance for the cover art only and taking submissions for the interiors, to give artists some experience and exposure and a sense of community.  Did I short change them?  Some might say so, but I can't think of any MZ artist that feels that way.  They all knew what they were getting into and they got behind the vision of the book.  When I look at some of those artists now, creating their own webcomics, indy books, and getting paying gigs from various big publishers, and all the fun we've had over the years, I have to say it worked.  I never profited from Megazeen other than paying for the next issue and other various expenses like web hosting and comic cons.  

But most people don't look into it with this level of depth or commitment.  It's more like this:

"Oh you're an artist?  How cool!  Can you draw me a picture of Wolverine for my boyfriend on his birthday?" 

Well, maybe.  Do I like to draw Wolverine?  Am I good at drawing Wolverine?  How long will it take me to draw Wolverine?  How much were you planning on spending on your boyfriend for his birthday, and how much of that is going to translate over to this picture?  Or, was this your way of coming up with a nice free gift for your boyfriend and look like a hero, while I have a handful of dried out markers and another lost evening that I will never, ever get back?

Here's the right question, if you believe the artist's hard work has value:

"Oh you're an artist?  How cool!  How much do you charge?  Can you draw me a picture of (fill in the blank) for my boyfriend on his birthday?" 

Isn't that so much nicer and more polite?  Doesn't that tell the artist you value him and his skill?  And best of all, now the price issue can come up easily, with no awkwardness (which usually ends with the artist begrudgingly agreeing to do it as a favor and being bitter over it).

Here's another common scenario.  Every few months I read a post from a guy who says he has a GREAT idea for a comic.  He just needs an artist to make it happen (he "just" needs that... such a tiny piece of the puzzle when you're creating a COMIC book, right?  You know what a comic book without pictures is?  A BOOK.).  He can't offer to pay anything up front, but (wait for it) he will gladly split the profits (if any) once the book is released.  We've all had these offers.  Here's the reality of MOST of those offers:

(1) That "great idea" is most likely still in the guy's head.  He hasn't even committed it to paper yet.  He fancies himself a writer only because he cannot draw.  He doesn't understand that this stuff takes time and effort, because he has yet to put in any.
(2) That "great idea" mostly likely sucks in epic proportions.  It is not unique, it is cheesy, it will be a drag to draw, even if there is a script to work with.
(3) He will spend a few hours writing it, with minimal research and minimal regard to your skills and interests of what you can bring to the table.  You will spend several weeks drawing it.
(4) There will be no profits, so you will not get paid.

If YOU are that guy, here's some sage advice I want to pass along.

(1) If you really believe in the story, write the story in detail.  Even if your art skills are meager, play around with character designs and get intimate with the characters.  If you are going to call yourself a writer, it doesn't happen simply by declaring yourself a writer.  Hone your skill as a writer, read up on how to do it, get critiqued, research your backgrounds.
(2) If you really want an artist to draw it, be realistic, plan to invest.  Start squirreling away some pesos in a piggy bank - a few hundred dollars.  That might seem unthinkable.  But consider what you spend a week on comic books, lunch, gaming and other luxuries and take a chunk out of that every week.  Work a little OT at work, get a part time job where you can set aside money just for this.  Thirty bucks a week saved will give you $450 at the end of the year.  That's enough to pay someone $20 a page for a 22 page comic.  That's still a pretty low page rate, but there are some very skilled amateur artists who can bang out a nice page at that rate.  And then sock away some printing funds too.
(3) Figure out what you can bring to the table.  For example, learn how to letter a comic, and maybe you can save some money there.
(4) Be flexible.  If you're going to play the "my way or the highway" writer, the compensation won't be worth the aggravation.

There's probably a lot more advice I could give here, but the four recommendations above, most people won't follow anyway.

Please don't call it an "opportunity", by the way, just call it what it is.  "I'm too cheap to pay you.  I know that I will have to pay the printer, I will have to pay for a table at a comic con, I will have to pay for postage, and I will have to pay to advertise.  You, as the artist, are the one thing that I know I might have some flexibility on and might be able to get for free."

By the way, I don't buy the "I don't have money" excuse, hardly ever.  Here in the US, even the lowest of the low are better off than 90% of the world's population.  Those that really don't have money should be spending their time figuring out how to get their hands on some money, rather than collecting free artwork.  Get your personal life in line first.  Then, if the art is worth it to you, make some sacrifices.  Brown bag your lunch.  Skip the movies.  Buy less comic books.  Sell your Xbox.  I know, I'm talking CRAAAAAZY here.  What, sacrifice?  Why should I give up anything in my life?  The ARTIST is supposed to do that!

Bottom line here: if you appreciate the art, appreciate the artist.  If you're going to ask him to sacrifice, then YOU sacrifice too.  If that $20 is worth more to you than that sketch, then bypass the sketch.  If you really want the sketch, pony up the funds to pay for it.

So sayest Joe.  Let's wrap this up.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Money Thing - Part 2 of 4

Money is both a motivating and devastating part of life, particularly in the world of art and in the realm of Christianity.  A few years ago, a well-meaning ministry created a picture of two street signs, "Faith" and "Art", to demonstrate where faith and art intersect.  The distracting part was that the angle of the signs was such that all we could see was the word "Fart."  It was hilarious.  Oh how I wish I had saved that somewhere.  But I digress.  The intersection of faith and art should be quite beautiful and heartfelt, a peaceful and natural meeting.  Sadly, it ends up too often being a head-on collision of insecurity, low expectations and greed.  For purposes of this essay, we'll focus on greed.

PART TWO: Sorry, It's NOT All About the Benjamin, Baby

If you really are doing this for the money, this is your vocation and living, and there is no other motivation for doing what you do, then stop reading now, as this will likely be as foreign to you as putting a lobster on the moon.

A few months ago I posted a question to a small group of Christian artists I know, just asking what everyone was working on.  The responses were encouraging.  Some were working on multiple projects, to the point you wonder how we sleep.  Some were focused on getting one big piece done, some were shifting creative gears but were encouraged by the drive of others.

One said, "Waiting until I get a paying gig."


Recently, a brother that I had collaborated with in the past was issued a seemingly impossible challenge.  A small, non-profit publisher was looking to print an illustrated Bible, but with minimal funds available, the budget was so limited as to be practically non existent.  To add to the mix, the deadline was extremely short, and the quantity of illustrations was huge.  Basically, he was looking for over 200 illustrations with a budget that would not have even covered postage to send them.

OK, I'll admit, that's a huge undertaking and an extreme example, but he brought it before a Christian illustrators community and threw the challenge out there in complete honesty, with faith that some would rise to the challenge.  He'd probably have been better off not to even mention the budget - people seem to understand "free" but are insulted by "cheap."  But rather than just ignoring the request or politely turning it down, some used it as an opportunity to rebuke.  The ministry was accused of being "too cheap" in a sarcastic, snarky tone.  This was even better:

"it takes me about 8 hours to do one page. How could I explain this to my family? I don't want to sound harsh, but I cannot imagine this project working. You get what you pay for. Doing art for free usually means you will get students not pros."

Like he didn't know all that already, after being in the game for a decade.  The response clearly demonstrates a lack of faith and a refusal to work for free.  Eight hours.  Spread over two months, less than ten minutes a day.  Watch a few less sitcoms and drop the X-Box for a few days and you've got it.  

How do you explain this to your family?  Really?  "Honey, I'm drawing for a Bible and as a favor for a friend."  Done.  Do you even need to explain it to your family?  I don't know.  I've never had to explain to my wife why I just mowed my lawn and then moved on and did the neighbor's lawn too, or threw the weed whacker in the car and drove to my pastor's house, or why I'm doodling instead of watching some inane singing competition on TV.

Now, let me clarify, it's not wrong to get paid for something, or to want to get paid for something.  Money is a good thing and it can be used for a lot of great stuff.  Artwork, in particular commissions and volunteer work, are still very laborious, and can even be expensive to complete. A lot of time goes in to doing a piece right.

Let me also clarify that someone asking someone to pour a significant amount of resources into a piece of art should weigh that and find a way to pay accordingly if at all possible.  AT ALL possible.  I hear all the time how people have no money, as they walk out of Game Stop with a new $60 video game while texting on their iPhone and climbing into a car also beyond their means to go buy a carton of cigarettes before heading out to a concert, movie or ball game.  Oh, don't worry, I'll get to YOU later.

I've heard many Christians from the money camp belch out the partial verse from Luke 10:17, "...for the worker deserves his wages..."  But first let's look at that in context, shall we?  Jesus was giving instructions to His disicples on how to go about evangelizing.  So let's look at the WHOLE verse, in the context of the beginning of that chapter:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Makes a  difference, you see?  Jesus wasn't talking about doing a job and getting paid.  He knew these guys were taking risks, and was giving them instructions to survive on as missionaries.  When you consider what they were doing, and the significant contribution they were making to humanity for thousands of years to come, "Worker is worth his wages" would imply these guys should be gazillionaires, jumping into piles of money that would make Scrooge McDuck blush!  But no, Jesus just wanted them to be well-fed, and to accept the generosity of those who would welcome them in.  This wasn't a rebuke for the payors, it was justifications for the payees to be compensated when offered.

Now of course, you might jump over to 1 Corinthians 9, where PAul answers some criticisms about freedom and describes some of his rights (yes, rights) as an apostle:

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.  If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

Well, THAT's pretty clear on the con-bono side, until of course you get to the next verse...

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Are you hindering by 'waiting for a paying gig'? Are you holding your gifts hostage for some little green pieces of paper?

Again, this message isn't for everyone.  Just the ones that say they are serving the higher purpose.  Do a better job finding that balance.  The rewards are not just monetary.

I was asked once, "Well, would you mow someone's lawn for free?  Would you do someone's taxes for free?  Would you shovel someone's driveway for nothing?"

Well, yes, I would, and I have.

And I never had to explain why to my family.

Before the rest of you use this to start demanding free work from artists... stay tuned for Part 3.

The Money Thing - Part 1 of 4

I've got a great deal to share about how Colossians is being received, how the comic book show circuit has been going, and how the second issue is shaping up - not to mention the imminent relaunch of Megazeen in 2013.

But first, I've got to get a little something off my chest.

Let me say first that this comic book thang, for me, has never been my bread and butter.  I am an accountant by trade and have therefore maintained a decent living off that.  I made a decision very early on, when I decided to get into this game fifteen years ago, that this would not be primarily about money, and that I would only draw comics, which I love, for a single purpose which I also love, which is my faith.

I have had several conversations dealing the money aspect of comics and art lately, and it's caused me to rethink the way I've been looking at the situation.  I am happy to report that I have not had my mind changed in the more important aspects of what we're doing, but there have been some considerations that have resulted in more opportunity for exposure for Colossians and some of my artwork in general.


For example, I was at a comic book show recently in which I was furiously cranking out fan art sketch cards - full color renderings, by the way - for free. It had never even occurred to me to charge for them.  I was just using it as a avenue to talk about my comic book work.  When people would ask about pricing, I would tell them "whatever you want, I just enjoy doing them."  So some would pay me something and others would take them for free and all was good - frankly, I was surprised I was getting money at all for doodling.

 Then, when posting some cards online, someone asked me what I was charging and I made up something based on an average of what people were paying (or not paying), which I decided was about $4 each or 3 for $10.  And when I posted that price schedule, amazingly, I sold more cards than I had ever given away.  Seems, strangely enough, that people value something more if they pay for it than if it is a gift.

After doing a couple of shows at this rate, and raking in what I thought was an impressive result, I was told by a fellow artist that I was, in fact, undercharging and selling myself short.  And so, as a test, I raised the price to a firm $5 each (which I'm still told is too little), and once again, amazingly enough, I sold more than before. 

Then as an experiment in Baltimore (our first big show in a while), I starting using a larger "canvas", drawing on comic backing boards for two, three, four times the price.  And it worked - turns out people liked the big works more, I was happier being able to put more detail into them, and they were happy walking away with it.  The money that has been coming in at these shows pays for other shows, pays for my art supplies, pays for travel expenses, pays for the artists involved in Colossians, and allows for some nice donations, rightly helping this little "hobby/ministry" break even.  As a bonus, if they bought artwork from me, I would also knock a dollar off a copy of Colossians, making it a package deal.
I was told at another recent show that I was still undercharging.  I was even told that there is a huge movement of artists who are "not getting paid" or "not getting paid enough", and implying that by undercharging, I was part of the problem.


I'm just Joe.  I draw silly pictures.  I sell some, I give some away, I charge what I want, I draw what I want and I love talking with people.  If putting a higher price tag on my table would cause someone to walk away, then consider the opportunity I've missed.  I am not the cause of your problems and I am not leading a revolution.  I will charge what I feel comfortable with and do my best to get my customer to smile.

The whole "not getting paid enough" issue leads into the next part, in which we explore what the Bible says.  YES, it says the worker is worth the wages.  But that's not ALL it says...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's No Cake Walk

After a virtual four-year hiatus from creating comics, there are elements of the indy comic schtick I had forgotten about, or had relegated to the dungeon of my mind.  I prefer to think (like most) that making indy comics is all about sitting at my drawing board, listening to rock music, with an assortment of pens and pencils close at hand. 

Often with no shirt on!

Oh, and I get to Twitter like ALL day, like Rob Liefeld and Gail Simone!

Yeah, something like that.

Here's the reality - I have a full time job well beyond the normal 40-hour work week.  When I come home I've got a wonderful family to greet me and for me to lead.  The dog needs walking.  House stuff needs doing.  I spend some time with God, and I have a ministry that I work on at least 1-2 hours a day via email.

So let's figure, conservatively, I have now accounted for about 15 hours of my day.  Add seven for sleeping, and I've got two hours left each day.  Well, that's plenty, isn't it?  It is if you can bypass TV (which I largely do) and gaming (which I have entirely).

Now let's get into the reality of how that time gets spent.

To get the book finished, I had to learn Illustrator to letter the pages and, once they were done, I had to re-letter the pages thanks to some very good advice I received.  Then the pages needed to be prepped in Acrobat into a nice neat PDF file complete with crop marks.  News flash: I have NO IDEA now to do this stuff.  So, much of my time is taken up learning about computer programs and pre-flight lingo, and not pencil and ink stuff.

Now that the book's out, we need to get the word out, so I'm working with my Public Relations Manager (that's me) to write the press releases and get it out there and gather the reviews.  Fortunately, I've gotten some help from my friend Paul Castiglia in this department, but I still need to ensure that the right things are said and that the book is marketed in the best way possible, so people will give it a shot.  Interviews and questionnaires become the norm for a time, hosting chat sessions... no, no paparazzi. 

The website needs to be built and updated and maintained by my Web Development Director (that's me).  Last night we ran into some hitches getting the preview pages of Colossians onto the site, so we had to call tech support (me and Google).  Books need to be delivered to local shops via courier (me) and copies need to move through our mailroom (me). Trading cards are being designed (me) and on the job training with the Adobe Suite is ongoing.  T-shirt designs too!

Comic shows are coming up, so sketch cards are being prepared by my production team (me).  The shows need to be booked (by me) and paid for (me again) and staffed (okay, fortunately I always seem to have a comrade more than willing to join me on these adventures). 

The script for issue 2 needs a couple of final pages due to a change made in issue 3, and, by the way, the script for issue 3 is also underway.  And since I've written three issues for three different artists, the style and the pace for each is quite different.

Recently, my church discovered, "Hey, Joe can draw!"  And suddenly I've got lots of requests to help develop Sunday School posters and church fliers.  I also get requests to work on other books ("Just a page or seven") that are tough to say no to.

And, when all that's done, I can do some inking for issue 2.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  All that stuff above that I get to do (well, MOST of it) I really enjoy.  I enjoy learning and stretching and growing.  I enjoy doodling and tweaking and interacting with fans and creative people.  The whole process is endlessly fascinating to me.  I just wish there were more hours in the day, or more Joe's to get it all done.

Some would say "My plate is too full."  I say, "I'm at all all you can eat buffet!"

And that is a glimpse into the life of an indy comic creator.

And no, I haven't even begun to Tweet.