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.
Heís 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 theyíre 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 todayís standards.
Gross pay over the year in addition to those four covers was $33,625. After taxes? $24,210. Thatís $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, Brianís 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:
Thatís 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 ó 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 Iíve had professionally. I implore everyone to do their own thing and not expect comics to pay their bills, because it likely wonít.
Anyone whoís looked into the business of the American comic book industry should be familiar with the conflict, but itís a problem that no one seems able to do anything about. Publishers facing falling sales donít want to pay more. In return for creator ownership, many publishers donít pay anything up front. There are so many young creators willing to work for very cheap that thereís no pressure to raise rates for experienced artists.
Becoming a successful artist is unlikely ó unless youíre that rare bird whoís 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 donít want to pay to read a comic. Or when you love a comic and want to see more, make sure youíre rewarding the creators ó buy sketches, or original art, or support their Kickstarters or Patreons.