Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Village Voice Article - The Comics Issue: If Cartoons Are So Big, Why Don't They Pay?

ARTIST: Mitch O'Connell

The Village Voice is running an article (by Roy Edroso) about how little profit professional cartoonists actually make off of their comics/cartooning work. It's a sad fact that this profession no longer offers the glitz and glamor and profit that it once may have. 

Where I work (a business office with nothing to do with art or illustration) I'm often thought of as "the guy who draws" by my coworkers and I'm sure many of my cartoonist/artist friends can relate to being categorized like that when they're not around their artist peers. Of course, as soon as folks find out I can do it they start coming to me for their little side projects, asking that I do illustration work for them, for posters or business reports or t-shirt logos. Always for free of course.

Invariably when someone sees some of my work posted on my cubicle wall they say something like, "Geeze, what are you doing working here!" The implication being, I suppose, that since I can draw a little I should somehow have become magically rich and famous because of it. Sometimes I shrug it off and sometimes I try to find the root of this idea.

I remember asking a co-worker, after one of these exchanges, if they'd ever read the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. "Oh, yeah! I loved that strip. I read it all the time when I was younger." "Great!", I say, "So, who drew it?" "...Um, I don't know". "Ok," I say, "How about Bugs Bunny or Popeye or Superman? Ever see those cartoons or comics?" "Yes!", they said, "I love all those." "Ok." I say again, "Can you name one artist who worked on any of them? Hundreds of folks have worked on those titles over the years, can you name a single one?" I'm met with a blank stare.

So much for fame, how about fortune? I ask the same co-worker, "So, I noticed in last project report you sent around there were a few illustrations on the cover and throughout the report. Where did you get those?" This is a common thing I come across during my day job working in an office. I'm sure you can guess the response, "Oh, I just did some searches on the web and found them." "And did you contact the artist and pay to use their work in your report?" I ask expectantly. "Um, no." they say. "Which comic strips in the paper do you like to read? Any new ones interest you?" I prod. "Heh, the paper? I haven't looked in a newspaper in years." How shocking. "Oh. Well, have you ever read a comic online?" I ask, knowing that they have since I've past their desk and seen this a few times. "Sure." they said. "And how much do you pay to read the online strips you like? Have you ever bough a book from them or even sent in a donation to the artist?" I query. "No, the online ones are free." they reply triumphantly. "Well, I guess now you know why I'm working here, don't you." They laugh, shrug and walk on still complimenting me on my funny cartoons.

Everyone seems to value comics work and illustration and everyone seems to agree that the folks who can do this well should somehow be revered, but it's getting harder to find people willing to actually back up that consideration with their own wallet. The perception and the reality of the economics within art based professions appear to be way off from each other.