You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me


Friday, February 18, 2011

Jay Oh Bee. Job. Get a job. I can hear my girlfriend say the words. When are you gonna get a job? But, honey, I have a job – I’m a cartoonist. I mean a steady job, Frank.

Yah. Sigh. Time to make the donuts. How the hell am I supposed to be a cartoonist if I’m too tired from my real job?

Has this feeling ever visited you, friend? (Use ’50s TV commercial voice.) Well, you aren’t alone. Here at Comics Comics, we feel your pain. How to manage a career in cartooning and pay the bills? This feeling has baffled generation upon generation of working cartoonists throughout the years. And not just working cartoonists, either. The question has perturbed a vast sea of “Sunday painters” as well. These quasi-professionals know what it means to be consumed by comics. The fire burns long and hot to pursue a career of some kind in the field – but unfortunately the electricity has been turned off in the house. Bills pile up. The dream begins to fade. Young inkstuds slouch their way towards heartache. An unfinished graphic novel gathers dust.

Last week I wrote about comics & jobs, comics job – because I was writing about John Pham. Or, I mean, I was using John Pham as an example of someone who has built up this incredible skill set that is specific to comics and not much else. Like, I mean to be a good cartoonist you have to really work, and even if you become good, or great – you might not make any money at all. The market is so small. There is a limited amount of money going around in comics – meaning who buys what and when. So, fine: John makes awesome comics but not enough to pay the bills. What does he do? He works in animation.

John said this about the comics skill set: “I actually think comics gives us a pretty real-world workable skill set that can sort of translate into other fields, strangely enough. As opposed to, say, a poet. Or a professional poker player. Being able to draw or paint gives peeps like you or me opportunities to do gallery, illustration, or even animation work. All of which could supplement any income generated from comics. I think I know what you mean though; the very specific skill of making comics, telling a story through a sequence of pictures, may not translate to much else. Except maybe storyboarding!”

John also said, “I wonder if this is essentially every non-mainstream cartoonist’s (not named Ware, Clowes, etc) way of keeping afloat. We do our comics, but also do the other shit that pays the bills. Sometimes it’s the comics work that brings in the other work. And there are the cartoonists who have real day jobs, a whole ‘nother discussion!”

I am aware that a mainstream comic book is very different than an alternative art comic. I mean like how it is produced. What economic factors shaped its production and presentation. But I fear that there is a strange blindness in the reading public to this difference. To them it’s just another comic. The independents are put on the same field with the pros. Especially on blogs about comics, the dreaded link-blogging kind – there will be an item about an obscure mini-comic published by a guy in Cleveland then a post about a mega-crossover event comic book published by a corporation with offices on both coasts. It’s all just comics, right? Wrong. There are very specific class lines. There are those who get paid and those who do not.

But to the reader, consumer, blogger, these differences seem to be noticed in passing. I’m so tired of hearing speculation as to why indy titles are published so sporadically – it’s because there’s no fucking money around you dumbasses! The market is small. That guy who buys all the marquee indy titles doesn’t have enough money to buy all the obscure mini-comics. He’s choosing whom to support. See, if you work for a big comics publisher that pays a page rate, this guy not buying your comic makes no difference to you. You get paid. But the self-published artist and even the artist who works for a small company – that artist doesn’t get paid. So what that reader/consumer does buy does make a difference to you. It’s all connected, duh. The stores are only going to order so many inexpensive hand-made mini-comic editions. And only so many expensive hand-made editions. Better to stick with books that have shelf life like comics with spines that look like books. The old serial sporadically published comic book or even mini-comic is at least an affordable way to publishing comics (especially when you aren’t getting paid). Oh, but guess what? small press comics are shut out of the market that serves comic books stores. So small press alternative comics adhere to their own system of production and distribution. Wednesday comics day or the direct market at large is a different class system entirely.

Obviously. But what irks me is reading blogs that jumble it all together and really never address this wide chasm between the two. Rarely ever do I get a sense that the guy drawing this here comic for a big corporation got paid – where as this gal drawing this comic over here worked a day job for two years, drew this comic on the side, and then gave it to an indy publishers for free, on spec, and once the printing costs were recouped a few years later there was a profit of twenty-five dollars which was split between the publisher and the maker. It’s all comics, sure. To you, the reader, fan, blogger – it’s all about the comics – they all wind up in the discount bin eventually – but it’s not all about the comics to the independent makers. It’s all about the money. It’s about realizing that the making of comics is often divorced from working. Because that word – working – is reserved for having a real job that pays. How many “working cartoonists” do you know? Folks that actually make a living drawing comics?

I know a few guys who draw for page rates but most cartoonists I know generally draw “on spec” and maaaaybe get drawing gigs that pay here and there. The guys who can get page rates are mostly working for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and a few other “mainstream” publishers. Those guys can “get work” in comics because they have the specific skill set for drawing mainstream comics. There’s plenty of art in what they do but, really, it’s mostly commerce. It’s getting paid to draw advertisements for corporations, period. There’s money in advertising I hear. And hey! that’s fine. I wish I could do it but I can’t. I really don’t have the skill set to be a working mainstream cartoonist. I’m the kind of cartoonist who doesn’t use a computer. So I’m like a musician who plays a horn instead of a keyboard and a sampler. And because of it I get different gigs, different work because of how I play. But its a different reality. It’s like pop music and classical music (jazz is classical music at this point). Different audiences.

Most independent comics makers “get work” in different places than mainstream comics makers. It’s a different system. I admire Jim Rugg because he “gets work,” paying work, as a cartoonist. He can hone his craft at his lousy day job. He might hate it at times but he doesn’t have to leave the mindset of being an “in the zone” cartoonist when he goes to work. Jim’s not going to flip burgers and leaving “the zone” of drawing. Comics makers all know how long it takes to get in the zone and staying there is often harder than getting there. It’s a TIME thing. We spend so much time just getting good at the craft that the real world becomes a distant point on the horizon. The real world of rent and bills becomes bigger and more menacing than ever. No wonder cartoonists suffer from depression. This shit is depressing!

The silver lining of it all is that comics can be a passport into other jobs – to making a living. It sucks not to be a working cartoonist sometimes but it’s cool to be hired for an animation project. So I’m not complaining. I have a job. But I’m jealous of cartoonists who work in the real world. I guess I mean like commercial comics – but I’m thinking more of someone like Gil Kane or even Patrick McConnell.

It’s hard knowing that your chosen profession is an art form that will someday be supported by foundations and grants – like opera or something. Like jazz. Think about all the specialized schools that teach opera or jazz. D’ja ever think about how many out-of-work opera singers and jazz musicians there are in the world?

We want to hear from you! (Use ’50s TV commercial voice again.) What’s the weirdest job you’ve had to endure while you secretly burned inside to just go home and draw comics?

Frank: “Okay, I’ll go first. I was the worst bike messenger of all time – flat tires, lost packages, head on collisions with pedestrians – and then I would try to go home and work on my comic. I was exhausted and pretty banged up. My roommate – who was a really good messenger – took pity on me and said that if I did the dishes for a month he would reduce my rent. I had enough money to pay for a month’s rent at the reduced rate and quit my messenger job. I spent the month finishing my comic. I sent that comic to Spin magazine and got a job doing spot illustrations for Michael O’Donoghue’s column. I was fired after three months and replaced by Gary Panter. True story.”

Postscript: I think Tom Scioli drew Godland for a few years whole working a full-time job at the library.

As John Pham said, “That’s a whole ‘nother discussion!”

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122 Responses to “You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me”
  1. Andrew White says:

    I’m sure most people don’t feel this way, but I actually enjoy and am very lucky to have the opportunity to leave the “zone” of cartooning for a totally unrelated day job (and in my case, for school as well). I think it makes me appreciate the time I do get to spend working on comics much more, since there is relatively little of it and I therefore have to make every second count. I don’t ever want to get in a situation where I am anything but thrilled to sit down and draw, and if that means I can’t produce as much work as I might otherwise, then that’s actually fine with me.

  2. blaise says:

    enjoyed reading this

    i think when cartoonists mention ‘galleries’ as possible venues for their work they mean a specific subset of galleries that is oriented toward mass consumer culture and shows more or less ‘illustration’ work

  3. I hope this isn’t straying too far from the topic, but John’s point about comics giving you a skill set that you can take into different commercial fields made me think of something from a few months ago.

    Seth was doing a roundtable here and mentioned how in some cases the opposite was true – of instances where his commercial work informed his comics work. He said his illustration gigs would force him to draw in a looser, more economic drawing style than he would normally draw his comics. As he kept going, that drawing style would eventually bleed into the way he drew his comics – his character design is much more “cartoonier” than it used to be, for instance. (Whenever Clyde Fans is all finished and collected, I think it will be interesting to see how that book basically documents that shift in style from year to year)

    My illustration work has taught me similar lessons, I think. Being forced to work with shitty deadlines, be ruthless about editing choices and learning how to compromise with art directors who might have terrible taste has made me a more efficient cartoonist and has changed the way I approach a comics page.

  4. Uland says:

    I worked as a line cook for over ten years, right out of high school. I worked in really busy restaurants and would invariably go out for drinks after work with co-workers.
    I kept a sketchbook with me that whole time, but it was really hard to maintain a zone, so to speak. If you work four horrible shifts in a row, it usually means you don’t draw for four days; opening up your sketchbook after that stretch was sometimes like looking at a strangers’ work.
    I was great at all-night writing/thumbnail sessions, where I’d plan out some epic serial, but could never really execute after that. I’m not complaining though. I don’t think the comics would’ve been so good, but the thing is, I never really got into the practice of producing finished pages.
    At a certain point, I was forced to fit my desire to my abilities, instead of the other way round. It was sobering, but it felt good, really. Shedding delusions feels great.
    So I do stand-alone drawings, and I write scripts. That ethic has extended to fitting the content of the works to *actual* experience. I don’t want to sound preachy, but I kind of like how it’s working out. I’m still working, and I’m confident that at some point I’ll put something out there that I like ( in booklet/pamphlet form. Whether it’s straight comics, I don’t care.) , but I’m working toward being able to live cheaply enough in a nice enough place ( We’re going to move to the woods in a few years near a town called Viroqua, Wisconsin.) that I can dedicate myself to finishing what I’ve started. If I’m 40 when that happens, so be it. I don’t expect much in terms of recognition/money.

  5. I was a Standardized Patient for three years while working on a book. I had to pretend I had Crohn’s Disease and talk to 4th year medical students about my imaginary bowel problems. Then I quit to be a full time, no-money comic artist. The following year I think my income came to less than $5000 from comic sales, commissions, and odd jobs. That year felt great to me, except when I had to borrow money from friends to pay rent.

    Live somewhere cheap. Ride a bike. Food stamps. Don’t have kids!

    • > Don’t have kids!

      It feels like it all boils down to this.

      • Or you have kids and become super human to support them like Gilbert Hernandez. Seriously, I think after his daughter was born he took some secret serum because he like quadrupled his already insane output. But he was already insane before then. I mean, his output was insane. Output. Having a kid seemed to strengthen him. Just saying. I, personally, have just learned how to take care of myself, so I’m in no position to be talking parenting skill set.

        • patrick ford says:

          Yeah, Gilbert is pretty much god come down to Earth.
          Not only is his output insane, it’s insanely good.
          His current “B-Movie” stories are the best work he’s ever done. perfect comics.
          He’s the 500 pound guerrilla in the room.

        • Bill Randall says:

          I think having kids flips a switch, so you ditch the inessentials. Gilbert was superhuman before, now he’s extra-superhuman.

          My example’s an old friend who, as a single mother of two kids, got a PhD, wrote some books, got tenure, and for fun taught full-time in the summers. Eventually got remarried. In Juarez. Just the most capable person I know.

          • Brad Mackay says:

            Speaking as a parent and writer, i think having a family can definitely spur on your creativity. I think it has something to do with the fact that you suddenly have a paucity of free time, so you are very careful hwo you choose to spend that time; thus the time that I would have spent pre-kids playing a dumb video game I now spend writing or drarwing or reading.

            Anyone else find this?

  6. Danny Ceballos says:

    In the late 80’s I finally moved to California to pursue my various “ahtistic efforts”. The very first job I got was working at the Kraft Plant in Buena Park. This particular plant produced all the nation’s (world’s?) Kraft salad dressings, mayonnaise and marshmallows. This smell was not unlike burnt flesh. I was assigned the Lucky Charms hopper. My job was to bag all the wee colorful and whimsical shaped marshmallows into yak sized bags that would go into 400 lb boxes. At the start of my 10 hour shift the Lucky Charms would start to cascade down a giant fifty foot tall falling conveyor belt. It was like a non stop Niagra Falls of marshmallows. In between the bags loading I was responsible for assembling the boxes that they would go into for shipping. Long strips of glue tape all along the edges and bottom of these monster boxes. Every 20 minutes a teamster riding a fork lift would roll by to pick up my latest completed box. It seemed like the only time I’d get an extended break is when the cutting mechanism would fail causing long streamers of uncut hearts, clovers and spades to unfurl down the conveyor like alien tentacles. At the end of my shift, someone would take my place (the conveyor NEVER stopped) and I would stumble out into the morning light covered in glue and marshmallow dust. the pay was REALLY good, but I only lasted three weeks…

    • mr.pants says:

      That’d make a great comic.

    • BVS says:

      did anyone else read that Dick Ayers auto biography? or watch that tezuka documentary?
      I’ve known many actual working in mainstream cartoonists. I am jealous of their success and dedication and skill. but not their life style. trust me, inking JLA specials and mirconauts and thundercats comics books does not mean big cash. it’s a taxing & stressful uninsured lifestyle. I’ll make comics, but I don’t want to be Dick Ayers or someone who spends his life chiseling out an income from the perpetually dieing comic book industry, I’ve always found ways to make money and I always will be open to the opertunities that come along. Carl Barks was well in his 40’s before he first took a crack at comics. he was a dude who had really lived a life and had many weird jobs and adventures and it surly informed his stories. so there is always something to be gained and applied to your comic book work in every experience.
      comics are awesome, but don’t live your live locked in a bedroom, it’s not always worth it.

      • Dick Ayers autobiography? What? You never read the issue of Comics Comics with Tim Hodler’s review of that spectacular book? Go up in to the “Store” at the top of site and download it fer free! I think it was the first issue.

  7. I worked full-time in newspapers for several years mostly designing informational graphics (maps, charts, diagrams, etc.) and sometimes doing illustration. Having to explain stories and ideas visually through info graphics helped me in comics I think. Always having a deadline at the end of each day definitely affected my comic book creation process. It built in a mentality of working fast, not having an attitude of preciousness about the work I was doing.

    Horror story: Sometimes, at my old newspaper job I would letter my comics pages on the downtime. Heading home from work on day I lost the entire first issue of NIGHT BUSINESS on the train platform just after finishing the lettering of the completely penciled book. I mourned the loss of the work, waited a week, started over and finished the issue after I got my new job in web design.

    Working full-time in web design, using Photoshop all day, naturally ushered me into creating comics digitally. Making that move is all about saving time and efficiency. Time for me is my worst enemy (like everyone else). Constantly I wish I had more time to devote to drawing comics. That desire fuels my worth ethic. When I come home it’s such a pleasure to sit and draw. I’m too practically-minded to think of comics as generating enough revenue to support myself, save for my 401k and pay for health insurance. But I also live in an expensive city. But maybe I’m just naive or unimaginative. The times in my life when I didn’t know where the next paycheck was coming from (or the paychecks that did weren’t enough) were the most stressful. I see my comic-book making as something akin to a fine art pursuit rather than career. Maybe one day it’ll actually become a career (but I’m not expecting it to and even then it might be a pay cut). Until it happens – or even if it never does – I’m content with my current situation. My job is great and I love and cherish the time I have left to draw comics. I’ve found a balance that works for me.

  8. Uland says:

    Kids are better than comics, I promise.
    If you’re super serious about becoming a professional cartoonist, and you’re pretty young, I can see waiting to have kids until you’ve made it a career, but if you know you’re never going to make a living doing comics and you know you want kids, what difference does it make? Will some kind of breakthrough that allows you to make more comics with less effort be missed out on cause you’re changing diapers?
    That said, I know for certain that I won’t be able to finish any super labor-intensive project for at least two or three years because of the baby situation.

  9. Uland says:

    The idea of somebody not having kids so they can put out minicomics that 100 people will read is sort of sad to me is all…

    Benjamin— Do you find that Photoshop reduces effort/time?

    I have thought about strategies for creating comics in less tim/effort*, and Photoshop is something I’ve considered. I’m thinking if I could take rough penciled comics and doctor them in an interesting way, I might be on to something; No ink but on the printed page, etc.

    But I can’t count how many ideas I’ve had like that. Maybe I just don’t care enough anymore…

    • Yes, absolutely, Photoshop saves me time. For one thing I never have to line panels on pages any more. I simply have a template for each kind of panel arrangement. It doesn’t hurt that I use variations on a pretty standard 6-panel grid and don’t deviate. The other area it saves me time is I never have to do perspective. I have those lines already set up in the document and place them at the necessary vantage points and a grid is put in place. Also, when I’m composing a drawing, I can nudge, adjust, scale, the elements in the drawing with ease, instead of adding more graphite to the paper. Another way it saves time is in pre-press. I never have to clean up scans (not to mention I don’t have to scan anything either) which always took me a while, especially with a full 28-page booklet. In preparing for scanning I never have to spend the time erasing pencil lines and in addition to that, worry about how the lines of ink will be damaged by the eraser, and further, whether those lines will be blown out by the scanner and during Photoshop adjustments.

  10. Leon Sadler says:

    Because u get no money making comics, it filters out all fakers and just leaves behind those of us stupid enough to dedicate life to something so financially futile. ur just left with weirdos, stupid people, and pure dedicated artists!!

    you just have to romanticise your poverty, imagine what a poor old man (an old dude) scrabbling to make his art would do. its fruitless to battle against time, everyday of life will give u new inspiration anyway. There are no trends in comics that you have to keep up with to try and hitch a ride onto, unlike in illustration or whatever, which thrives on passing fads. Comics are the only truly timeless and trendless art, the only thing u have to try and keep up with is your peers, since they’re the only people who’ll read your comics anyway!

    i have only ever had full time temp office jobs. i think the trick is to find a job that provides you with facilities for your art that you wouldnt normally have.
    1. Famicon Express was able to begin because at my job i was always the last one left in the office, so i brought my own paper to work and used the photocopier for free after hours.
    2. I had a job in the post room of an advertising agency, I was witness to them spending so much insane money on bullshit that i felt no guilt in using this opportunity to send out heavy expensive packages of our books overseas. They also had good supply of alcohol markers that were easy to swipe.
    3. I think a good job for an artist is one that gives you time. If you can get all your emailing and internet browsing out of your system whilst ur at work, when u get home u can concentrate on art.
    4. its even better if you can get a job where you just have to answer phones or something and u can just sit there drawing ur comics all day. My comic ‘Bad Boys’ was drawn on a post-it note pad in secret when i worked in an office.
    5. you just have to not fuck around on lunch breaks and get on with your ‘real’ job. When i work on my Lava Flows comic, I draw it on lunch breaks, photocopy it at work, and colour it in on the train/bus to and from work.
    6. my dream job is to work at a printers that will let me use their machinery off-duty.
    maybe i’ll end up living somewhere cheap, and make enough extra income selling books and bits that i’ll only have to eventually work part time. if this takes 15 years to happen its ok :o)
    6.5. my other dream job is being an unbeleivably commercial illustrator, but doing like traditional cartooning for puzzle books, local businesses etc,,,, but who knows how something liek that could happen!!???!!!

    7. if u dont rely on art to generate your income, u will never exploit it and u never have to worry about nuthin and u become free.

    8. i dont know what would happen if u dont have a job. i’ve witnessed quite a few artist friends who have had periods of totally financially sustainable unemployment, living on national benefits etc, and they have produced significantly less art than when they’re on a full-time job.

    9. just be brave an be a criminal. if u end up in jail, maybe thats a perfect place to make comics ?????
    (this is the film about Jon Chandler)

    > having such a limited amount of time to work on art, it helps u filter out weaker ideas, so u only dedicate to the true forms. that being said, divine inspiration dies, and large scale ambitions are crushed.

    i think its true that a lot of time-breaking art comes from isolation and depressed dudes anywya

  11. Leon Sadler says:

    I would love to know about Manga artist’s lifestyle, comics in a country where its actually part of culture and normal people read it!

    I don’t know what the difference between UK and USA with this is, I’ll just say I’m in the completely wrong country for being an artist who makes comics!

  12. kevinczap says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty well paying web design job for almost a year now. It’s nice to not worry about money, although recently I’ve started to really feel the drag of all the time that I’m not working on my own stuff. It could be a case of wanting to keep up with the Jones’ though. I always read stuff from kids my age just constantly working on comics, and I don’t always make the connection immediately that, “yeah man, that’s they’re main job, they don’t have to be at work at 8.”

    But besides all that, I do think that I stress enough about comics decisions without adding the burden of looking to my baby to put food on the table (a metaphor borrowed from Lynda Barry, I think). Never really had any horror stories, luckily.

    I agree with Michael, also, I see a big part of my day job as a learning experience of things I can bring to my comics work. Not only is it handy to know how to make a website, but also just constantly pushing my design sensibilities.

    I’m looking for obscure minis out of Cleveland, Frank, anything specific you had in mind heh?

  13. m.emery says:

    I work as a postman, get up for work at 6am and finish around 12pm five days a week. gives me heaps of time to draw and i do most of my writing in my head while i deliver mail. its an easy job and a comfortable lifestyle in Australia. Unfortunately employment and conditions at the post office are decreasing and i might not even have a job in 5 years. I’m trying to make the most of it while i can.

  14. Uland says:

    Oh man, I’d love to be a postman…

  15. Robert Boyd says:

    I’m not a cartoonist so I have no first-hand knowledge here. But it strikes me as a little odd that cartoonists with day jobs are such proles. Especialy when you think of other art forms with people like Charles Ives (insurance executive by day, avant garde compser by night) or William Carlos Williams (doctor by day, avant garde poet by night). So I say unto you cartoonists–get a graduate degree. Become a doctor or lawyer or businessman. You can buy yourself time to cartoon and your mothers will be proud!

    • “I’m not a cartoonist so I have no first-hand knowledge here. But it strikes me as a little odd that cartoonists with day jobs are such proles.”

      So why would you even say anything.

      Think about it, what kind of job do you THINK a person’s likely to get (not everyone, but generally) if their primary goal is to spend twelve hours per day hunched over a table anyway. “Doctors, lawyers, businessmen?”

      There are deadly few people with the dedication to do any of those things seriously who by the way, would also love to spend twelve hours of physical backbreaking labor drawing tiny people in boxes.

      “Prole,” jesus christ. Glad to know my hard work in both my mind-destroying, soul-vaporizing day job as well as my non-existent “cartooning” “career” is so well appreciated.

      • Uland says:

        What do you want us to appreciate now?

        • Troll 4 Lyfe, right Uland?

          No the point is, after a long day of murdering myself for crap pay so that I can tinker away at these comics, I’m not trying to hear Robery Boyd, Citizen of the Internet call me a goddamn “PROLE.”

          People like me majored in art and literature because comics were the goal. Not everybody aspires to be doctors, lawyers or “businessmen.” It’s idiotic, condescending and deserves to be chastised.

          • Uland says:

            Prole just describes a working class person. I think you misunderstood what R. Boyd was saying is all. He’s right: If you spent 8 years going to school to perform a function that people really value, you’d be able to afford to spend more time making comics.
            Wasn’t J.G Ballard a physician?

            Also, my crack was meant to notify you that nobody owes you a thing.

      • Robert Boyd says:

        Jesus calm down. I was joking. That said, if your day job is working in a factory all day, I don’t see how that leaves you with 12 hours to draw either.

        • horus kemwer says:

          Speaking as someone who once worked a day job to pursue artistic interests (music, not comics, but similar issues), and who now has a Ph.D. – the big difference between “prole” jobs and jobs like “doctor or lawyer or businessman” is when the working day ends and how much it takes out of you. When I worked as a temp, then later as a projectionist, the day was over when my hours ended, there was no stress, obligation, or guilt that stretched one second past punching the time clock. All of the lawyers and “businessmen” (read: consultants, ibankers, and personal business owners) I know have jobs which do not end with the hours, but stretch far beyond in terms of obligations and stress. (This is also true of my current, academic, job, which strictly speaking never ends, since it has no set hours and no ceiling on what one “should” be producing for it.) I don’t know any doctors, but my understanding is that the situation is similar (long hours, on call, excessive stress).

          The examples of people who have been able to pursue artistic interests while doing “non-prole” jobs are exceptions in the extreme – and very few of the ones I am aware of were able to produce enough to achieve success / recognition in their artistic field during their lifetimes.

    • DerikB says:

      I think Robert makes an interesting point. There are lots of other types of artists (I include writers/poets here) who have/had professional careers of some sort while/before they were making their art. A lot of them were older when their work was discovered or became (more) popular.

      Besides issues of jobs it be interesting to think/discuss ages of cartoonists.

    • gabby schulz says:

      >>”So I say unto you cartoonists–get a graduate degree. Become a doctor or lawyer or businessman. You can buy yourself time to cartoon and your mothers will be proud!”

      I hope you were joking. Do you have any idea how much grad school costs these days?

      As for law school: mmm…. not so much:

      Careful joking about this stuff. The joke’s are getting less funny every day.

  16. Things I did this week for money-

    – taught two four-hour comics classes (every Sunday morning)
    – finished a massive interview (paid peanuts, but still money)
    – designed a logo
    – made a poster for a local music show
    – “rented” out all of my cartooning supplies and some artwork for some type of video shoot (no joke)
    – taught two music lessons

    After five years of teaching high school art full-time and working on my comics on the side, I took the plunge last June, and it’s paid real dividends in terms of my abilities and actual page count. Unlike novelists or fine artists, I think it’s virtually impossible to be an accomplished working cartoonist and not have it be the main thing occupying your time. There are just too many skills and too much time required to master them, keep in practice, and produce the pages. I think that the hustle will inevitably be a major part of the comics lifestyle in the near future.

  17. brynocki C says:

    It’s easy. Just play drums in a band. Kids love it. beats selling alien balloons at parades, which i have done, or doing sleep studies at Brighams hospital in Boston. oh yeah and don’t get health insurance and don’t get hurt too bad.

  18. pat aulisio says:

    another skill set in comics and self publishing that you didnt really touch on is the whole creative marketing and viral promotion etc. skills you pick up from being a self-published penniless cartoonist. i had a conversation with a good friend of mine about this, if i spent all the time i do updating blogs, twitters, websites, webcomics, facebook pages etc. for somebody else i theoretically could get good money. i just don’t know the steps to becoming a ghost-twitter-writer for a celebrity.
    i recently started teaching kids about comics which pays me stupid money, at least the most money ive ever made for 3 hour days. and i also have a parallel career as a chef, which on slow nights at some restaurants ive finished entire comics on the job, i just photoshop out the tomato sauce.

  19. Lastworthy says:

    I fucking hate drawing. Making art is in no way a recreational activity for me; I’m incredibly jealous of people who enjoy it/ have the patience to stay at it all day. It’s just something I have to do, even though I’m kinda terrible. It’s the only thing I have space for in my head anymore and I know I won’t be happy until making pictures is the only thing expected of me. If it’s going to be a part of my life it needs to be my job.

  20. Jesse McManus says:

    what about adapting your process?

    drawing a page every day can get you into a good “zone.” is your established set of drawing rules so important that it will keep you from keeping up with the story on your desk?

  21. Matt Seneca says:

    Totally guilty of being THAT blogger (not the linking kind, the other kind)… but… there’s a rationale behind it — for me — that goes something like I’d guess it does for a lot of alt cartoonists who do mainstream page rate work. If I put the handmade, xeroxed, small run, no-money alt comics in a dialogue with the corporate stuff because “it’s all comics”, I get the readers who come for Grant Morrison dissections or whatever also hooking into my recommendations for the alt books they never would have heard of or been exposed to if they weren’t on my blog looking for superheroes. Not perfect, but it’s something.

    Maybe I could do more? The problem is that critics only know the vaguest generalities of books’ financial construction. The hierarchy is obvious: Marvel/DC > Image/Dark Horse > Fanta/DQ > minicomics. But what am I supposed to say to that? I’m asking. I really don’t know. The comics themselves are all that I have to go on, and the stories they tell aren’t typically too caught up in the economic realities that produced them. Do we need more discussion of the cartooning lifestyle, more transparency in how hard it is for people to produce what they produce?

    (display-design manager for a corporate clothing retailer, so i get to do color matching all day. it helps.)

  22. Joe Williams says:

    My day job is at a small local printer as a production artist (mostly laying out newspaper pages in Quark- we’re so far behind technology-wise). I thought it would be cool but it hasn’t helped me much. In fact, I’ve often thought I might be better getting a job that doesn’t have anything to do with design because sometimes I think I get to fool myself into thinking I’m being creative by producing newspaper pages where if I did something different I’d have to come home and work on comics to get that out of my system. In some ways it has helped, like Mr. Marra I’ve been able to spend numerous hours learning Photoshop which has helped, though it has hurt because sometimes I think I know too many cool tricks that I want to show off and I get lazy and try to save/cover up bad drawing. And it also hurts because it’s in the middle of nowhere where it’s cheap and it pays nothing so I can’t afford to travel to far away conventions to meet anyone, and networking seems very important in comics especially for those thinking about trying to get that paying gig.

  23. DerikB says:

    I’m really lucky in having a good work-at-home web design/development job. After spending almost 10 years commuting to a job and working on comics only on the weekends, I now get a couple extra hours everyday that I can spend drawing or blogging. If I’m working on a project that’s enough time to get a page done a day.

    Of course, I took a break from making comics for about 5 years while I worked and went to grad school and then about 5 years where I really only had time to draw 1 day a week, so I’m sure my craft/skill/art/what-have-you is… behind on where it could be at my age.

    But I’ve hadn’t had any illusions about being an artist full time since I was in high school. Nothing I make will every be popular in any sense of the word, and I’m fine with that.

  24. mr.pants says:

    I work 4/10s in a flexography shop (a sticker factory) preparing the jobs. I mix inks, take a reading, and tone it if its not within our standard allowed range (a delta E of two). I also mount the plates, feed a roll of stock through the press, and load the die to see if its dull. In a year I expect to become a pressman. I like my job, and I’m learning a lot mostly on my own because my boss hates me asking questions. But, hey, its fine. I’ve made some great stickers no one has really thought of before, and the three day weekends give me plenty of time to work on my comics.

    • That’s cool. I cut rubyliths in a sticker shop for a minute. I like press jobs. Silkscreen studios are pretty cool. I’ve done some time in those. Various sizes. My uncle once got me a job cleaning screens in a factory that made giant prints on boxes – like home depot and shit – lots of photo screens – it was super toxic. But it was fun to see how these giant images were created on an assembly line.

      • mr.pants says:

        That’s pretty cool. There are some rotary silkscreen presses that inject the ink into the cylinder through the rubylith onto a roll of stock. A lot of band stickers are printed that way because they won’t fade.

        I also like assembly line print jobs like that and mine. The cool thing about felxo is the inline process. I can print on the back, flip it, print some more, add some fancy foil, add a spot varnish, add an emboss, and perfforate it, die cut it, and sheet it all in one fell swoop. Some presses can also make a a little booklet at the end of everything. The whole machine is relatively straightforward, and if done correctly, the solid colors come out stronger and clearer than offset. The only drawback is color process. We sessential print with round rubber stamps, and its hard to make a rubber stamp fine enough for the subtle separations and blending. Still, like everything else, they’re getting better. Most boxes are printed with flexo, too, but they’re giant sheetfed monsters. Seriously, those fuckers can get HUGE.

  25. BVS says:

    weird jobs I’ve had many. weirdest was working doing web design and spamming for for a year 2000 .com personals/porn website where we did our best to get your credit card and keep charging it after you told us to stop. I was tasked with making websites about whatever we wanted as long as 1 launched a week and all linked back to platinum photoshoping cartoon robots, or insect photos into fetish art was the name of the game. it all ended in tears and handcuffs when then MN attorney general Mike Hatch brought the hatchet down on my already ex cop and ex con bosses. oh to be 20 years old and up to no good.
    funnest weird job was in 08′ working for a company that produced props for haunted houses. everyone who worked there was a good pal, the speciality of fright props was mutilated dead animal based props. one of my oldest friends designed everything. it was a fun summer spent in a zombie slop shop. filling molds with latex and foam, pulling out zombie octopus. it was also a great opportunity to learn about pneumatic pumps and to cut and weld steel. take apart garage door motion detectors all for the purposes of building hopping spider props. the boss would pay for gas masks but not for full body coveralls, but he had boxes and boxes of full body clown costumes, so we wore those and covered them in paint and fake blod and latex and generally were quite a bizare sight to anyone visiting the shop to pick up orders or deliver food.
    sadly the company and my old friend relocated to clear water Florida, as the social climate there was more hospital to the Scientologist CEO’s temperament.

  26. Oliver East says:

    I was a runner on a short film once. There was a scene where the director wanted the effect of water shimmer projected onto the two actors while they pissed in a stream at night. They placed a foil lined bath in a stream and I had to crouch in said stream from midnight till 6am waggling a stick in the bath to create the shimmer while two shit actors simulated pissing on me.

    Oh yeah, and it was unpaid.

  27. Great topic Frank, and, as you mention, one not often broached.

    I can’t say I’ve had any odd jobs – though teaching in a K-8 one-room schoolhouse on an island 24 miles off the coast of Maine was a rare experience – but I’ve had plenty I didn’t care for (retail particularly). And with kids, it’s been a matter of paying the bills first and finding the time for creating (which for me is writing) wherever possible. Like Ben Marra said earlier, it’s a matter of finding that balance, because I NEED to write. If I don’t for a few days, I’m a total ass, and my wife calls me on it and tells me to write. So, I don’t watch as many movies as I used to and I don’t get to read as much as I’d like, but I do make the time to write. And even if it doesn’t amount to what I would ideally like it to be, I’ll keep on doing it.

    But, tracking back to the subject of the “day job” influencing the cartooning/creative part of you: I recently landed a full-time job after 18 months of searching for something permanent, which was predicated by my former employer arbitrarily firing me, but that’s another story. I managed through the year and a half with help from family, unemployment, time with the Census, and a recent part-time job working with autistic children. Anyway. I just started work at Fogler Library at the University of Maine – 1.5million books and then there are the magazines, newspapers, online journals, and miscellaneous materials. A great resource for research. I’ll just need to remember to make time for writing after the research.

    And, I also landed an opportunity to do freelance work from home for a local marketing agency. It will include data entry for surveys they do, but will also involve writing reports and summaries for their clients as well as other technical writing. The representative I interviewed with specifically mentioned their interest in utilizing my writing skills and was particularly interested in my experience with Warrior27, which is the comics/prose anthology I co-created, co-published, and co-wrote. My experience self-publishing my comic book helped me get freelance work with a marketing agency. That, to me, is crazy. And sweet.


  28. L. Nichols says:

    When I started doing comics for serious was when I was doing my master’s degree at the MIT Media Lab. Reason science is great: paid research while working on your degree! Working with kids, building kinetic sculptures, traveling to Scotland. So much flexibility and the stuff around me was totally inspiring. Exhausting, at times, though. But I got my degree, so that had to stop. Couldn’t see myself putting up with academia in that regard for much longer, either.

    Worst time, but also maybe most productive time, was when I was working as a graphic designer/assistant for a publicist. Spent a lot of time cutting and pasting and copying and collating press kits. Ugh. Mind numbing. But I drew every day on the train there and back. Finished something like 120 pages of minicomics in a year.

    Now I find myself working as a designer/artist for a restaurant and I am totally in love with what I’m doing. Just started working on it this past fall, but I am almost more excited about it than comics. The scale of what I’m doing is larger than I’ve ever worked on. Plus, my boss gives me crazy artistic flexibility and is also really good at pushing me in new directions. It’s great. I can’t imagine anything more ideal.

    No matter how stupid any day job I have, I always find that it makes me grow artistically in some weird way. Like, even just seeing things as I go to and from work. Or having the ability to think while working something mindless instead of spending time surfing the net. I’ve learned to keep larger ideas in my head and work on them there. And in some way, the more pressing issues I have on hand, the more productive overall I seem to be. I work extra well under pressure. Actually, I’d be lying to say that I didn’t love having some sort of pressure.

  29. Oliver East says:

    Working in bars (I did 12 years man and boy) was handy when I started self publishing. I managed a tiny bar with a dedicated bunch of bar flys who were my main audience when I gave away my first few efforts for free. two of those bar flys were and are in a pretty huge band and it was my ham fisted comics which led me to doing their album sleeves. A paying gig!

  30. gabby schulz says:

    On this topic it’s probably important to remember how much worse the comics market — and the wider economy — has gotten since most of us got into comics.

    These days you basically have to be rich to draw comics. Who else would be stupid enough to devote themselves to something so time-consuming, unrewarding, and unhealthy? In the 90s you could scratch by pretty easily — rents were way lower; shitjobs were way more plentiful; food, gas etc was cheaper; print media (& its many paying illustration jobs) was still alive; gentrification hadn’t killed off all the art/shitjob niches; the internet hadn’t yet pitted the entire comics world against each other fighting for the 3 or 4 paying comics/illustration jobs. You could still get paid under the table, and cheap apartments didn’t require 5 credit reports and $2k in deposits just to move in. Comic stores still existed where you could sell your shitty little minicomic for a dollar. Mailing things were cheaper. Beer and cigarettes were cheaper. And so on.

    You add all this up and you start to realize that the world in which a lot of us grew up, that allowed us to stave off reality while honing our comics chops, is decidedly OVER. The Raw-era, post-Crumb, comics-ghetto-inhabiting “alternative” cartoonist is ready to be taxidermied and propped up in the museum.

    Today, it’s very different. The comics “scene” and its tastes seem to reflect a very different, ah, sensibility. Art school tutelage has at some point become almost mandatory. There’s a lot more talk about agents. And most of the actual content is increasingly homogeneous, apolitical, trivial… you know: bourgeois.

    This is fine & all, and there’s plenty of perfectly enjoyable comics that fit the above description — however, when that’s the ONLY type of comic that’s selling, you have to wonder if the vitality of the medium isn’t suffering, in the same way that an aristocracy’s gene pool suffers from inbreeding.

    I mean, I honestly don’t give a shit about Adrian Tomine’s perfect wedding, or the prozac problems of fey young trust-funded Brooklynite loft-partiers, or pop-culture-laden tales of cute helpless animals, or how totally essential shopping and baking tarts are to your identity, or the 28 different ways you can pack Dr. Who references into a story about vampire cyborgs in love, or whatever new heartwarming young-adult story is being marketed to adults. But then, I also can’t afford to buy comics.

    The people that DO give a shit about that stuff, they can buy comics. And so they ARE the market, now. They’re also the people that’re hiring illustrators, editing big-advance books, and running deep-pocket comics publishing houses. And, mostly, they want to see their shallow, privileged, consumptive lifestyles endorsed, validated, and replicated. (Of course, they’ll also throw in a couple comics w/ brown people to allay the guilt, as long as they’re not getting too threatening and still speak to the patronizing assumptions of the Eat Pray Love crowd.)

    So, as a non-mass-market American cartoonist in 2011 — knowing you’ll never enjoy the government subsidies of your Canadian & European colleagues, or the mass weird-appeal of Japanese artists — you have a very simple choice to make: appease the market, or go make yourself comfortable on the landfill of cultural irrelevance. Choose wisely kids — only one of them provides you with healthcare!

    Inevitably someone will retort, “Well what about Clowes/Ware/los Bros/Woodring? They seem to be making a living!” That’s because they made their bones back when the economy allowed publishers to take chances, and put out weird shit that might appeal to an audience broader, smarter, or less beige than a popsicle stick. These days, you really can’t afford to. Sure, there are lucky exceptions; but they’re lucky exceptions.

    And yes, yes, there’s the gold-rush promise of the internet and its schizophrenic invisible hand. But I notice the same disappointing trend there too — if it placates and amuses bored office workers, it’ll sell; anything else, you’re just losing money on server fees. Like with every other profession today, we’re mostly just serving the rich. Which is easy if, like so many new cartoonists working today, you ARE already among the rich. Nothing personal; I love you all (well, most of you); but it’s been the elephant in the room for a while now, and one I hear a lot of folks talking about in private, but afraid to mention in public.

    That said, I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 15 to support my little comics hobby. I always found the idea of drawing as a Real Job to be counter-productive — by the time you get home, the LAST thing you wanna do is draw MORE comics, for yourself. Right now, at age 38, I’m delivering boutique cupcakes in Manhattan (serving the rich — see, I take my own advice!) to keep myself from starving while I try to figure out whether I can afford, economically and psychologically, to draw another graphic novel. Honestly, I flip back & forth every day over whether this medium’s got a real future. I adore it immensely, and have basically wasted my life being a part of it — but at this point I’m still not too optimistic that, for strictly economic reasons, it’ll ever become anything more than a toy shop. The more adult I get, the more agonizing it is to watch comics continue to refuse to become an adult artform in this country.

    • I like the “invisible hand of the Internet” metaphor. I think I’m already tired of giving stuff away for free on blogs and shit like that. I feel like I’m contributing to this free content thing that is law now and that sort of makes me uncomfortable.

      • noel says:

        yeah i feel that, feel weird about giving things away for free, “free” in american culture translates as “disposable.”

      • gabby schulz says:

        Independent musicians talk about this all the time too, and they’re bitter as fuck about it. I think, coming from a time before the Greater Recession’s wealth disparity polarized the country into super-rich & barely surviving (guess which side artists that don’t suck fall on!), we adults are all a little spoiled, nostalgic, & unequipped to deal with this new (lack of) economy. The Kids, to their credit, seem to be much more in tune with the fuck-or-walk art-as-commerce mentality — which they probably learned from their me-first yuppie forebears in the early 80s. Car commercials all around!

    • BVS says:

      awww it’s not thaaaat bad. at least it’s not that bad outside of manhatten. in minneapolis my rent is only $375, there are jobs to be got. Big Brain Comics is still going strong, we’ve got welcome to the dahl house and monsters on the shelf there. someone who gets chronic canker sores was just in the other day telling me about how your “monsters” freaked them out. storyville’s on the shelves too! and even maybe a beat up copy of incanto and chimera! I only work one day a week at this point but I’ll promise next time someone says “wheres the sonic the hedge hog comics” or do you have that death of human torch issue back in stock, I’ll accidentially show them to your books instead.

      • gabby schulz says:

        Thanks man! The $2.50 in collective royalties I eventually receive will be… *sob*…. going towards a down payment on a fine bottle of Night Train to salve the pain this thread has revived.

        No but seriously thank you for carrying my stuff!

  31. Oliver East says:

    Desperate, I once answered an ad for a job in a sex shop. I even wore a suit to ‘the interview’. It was from 4-8 every day. First two hours would be putting porn mags in plastic sleeves and the last two hours I’d have to look after the shop on my own.

    I didn’t get the job and I haven’t wore that suit since.

  32. While Gabby’s right about things in comics (as well as low & middlebrow art) becoming more bourgeois, the ghetto-dwelling alternative cartoonist is not quite dead yet! Though yeah, that kind of bohemia is increasingly harder to live in and less understood/aspired to.

    I’ve held a wide variety of jobs over the years, both on and off the books. Some were specifically creative work (freelance art/writing/animation), others tangentially art related (art modeling), others completely unrelated. I’ve spent plenty of time creating comics on the sly, be it sitting at a receptionist’s desk, dressing room, dispatcher’s office, you name it. I’ve also had my share of days where I was too exhausted or psychologically overwhelmed to entertain the notion. I feel that we currently have a culture that is not amenable to artists, at least not ones who don’t create easily commodifiable work.

    I also think there’s something to be said for the idea of mutual aid and support–we’re currently living in a not-for-profit artist’s collective in an industrialized area. We’re subsidized in part which makes the rent a little less backbreaking (at least for NYC!) and there’s a communal kitchen and wireless–sharing these expenses makes things easier than if it were just me and my husband paying for it. Another benefit is that in living with other creative types I feel there is far more moral support in doing creative work as well as opportunities to collaborate and participate in events. Sadly in America, this is a rare situation and I only know of a handful of places trying to pull it off. According to my husband, Berlin is more welcoming to artists, and as we are likely going there in the upcoming year, I’d like to check out Kunsthaus Tachele & other such places.

    • Sophie Y says:

      Be careful, there’s a 25% unemployment rate in Berlin. My good friend spent a year studying there, she has German citizenship but grew up in America, speak German, and still couldn’t get a job.

      • Well, it’s not a concrete plan or anything, since I’m actually pretty happy in our current living arrangement. The trip there would be sponsored through a filmmaker who has previously worked with my husband, and it would be my first time seeing it. Who knows what I’ll think of it once I’m actually there? I’ve just heard from a number of sources both places that they have better art subsidy than the States…plus decent mental healthcare.

  33. Bill Randall says:

    Frank, this is fascinating. You could do a book of interviews on it, like Studs Terkel, when you’re not busy drawing comics, writing, working at your job, doing gallery shows, and going to cons.

    For anyone thinking about freelancing in the US, read Nolo’s Freelancer Guide at the library. I wish I had before I started.

    Also, for the year and a half I drew a few hundred comics pages before seeing I was no cartoonist, I lived in a $120/month sublet house with a gas leak while being unemployed, writing freelance, and doing live sound & lights. My best gig was doing monitors one show for Nappy Roots at the height of their powers. I also worked security at a country show, which is pretty funny since I weigh like 150.

  34. Bill Randall says:

    Also, critics’ question: is there an indie comics aesthetic? In the 80s indies were black-and-white. What is it now? There’s a pretty developed way of talking about this in film, where budgets decide what’s shown and even what the stories are about.

    Rephrased, if it’s bad that “the independents are put on the same field with the pros,” then what different criteria should critics & readers apply to independent comics?

    • I meant they are put on the same field – like when the Yankees play the Pirates – the broadcasters always discuss players salaries and how the Yankees spend more – I didnt mean aesthetic criteria.

      • Bill Randall says:

        I know, it’s just a tangent I’m hoping you or Derik or Matt will take up sometime. I’m thinking of how in film, if “The Puffy Chair” cost $15K, “Cyrus” cost $7 mil and “Walk Hard” cost $35 mil, audiences & critics tend to work that into how they evaluate them. Same playing field, different expectations for actors, lighting, story, etc. Same with big-studio animation (Disney, Ghibli) compared to artisanal shorts (Norstein, NFB Canada).

        I can’t think of a similar practice in discussing comics, which could mean I made a bad analogy or that critics are failing us all.

        • DerikB says:

          That’s a tough one, Bill, because making a film really costs money and that money can have a real visible effect on the product. Making a comic is more about the time. Ignoring the “money to live on” aspect, which is impossible to see in the work itself, the only visible money-factor element is the printing itself. And even then, that would only for certain aesthetic choices.

          A big difference from the old b+w indie comics days, is that now b+w isn’t so much a technical/economic constraint. It’s becoming more of an aesthetic choice as different types of publication options become available (like p.o.d. or web). I’m a no-name comic artist who will sell about 5 copies of any comic I make, but I still put out a color comic last year that I can sell for $5. That would have been completely unfeasible a few years back.

          • Bill Randall says:

            True. There are certain artistic choices, though– Ron Rege said in a print interview somewhere that his drawing style was influenced by xerox machines, which do well with lines of a certain width and don’t do spot blacks well. King-Cat also has the xerox aesthetic, setting aside its handmade, personal feel.

            Making a comic is more about time than money, but maybe comics & film both demand collaboration, if not the assembly line of popular manga & Marvel. American art comics have often been doggedly individual– libertarian, even– and perhaps that’s not a good thing considering how demanding it is, with such a small market.

            I think I’ll go back to my cave and mull this over.

          • DerikB says:

            I guess it depends if you think of comics like film/tv or you think of it like writing/painting. The former are all about collaboration and would not exist without it, while the latter are rarely collaborative (writing, yes, but most often for non-fiction/academia, not sure much for novels/fiction).

  35. Tim Hensley says:

    I’m one of those over 40 long term unemployed folks seen in human interest articles. During the period Wally Gropius was released I managed to work 7 months as a temp at an internet company I had worked at as a temp 2 years before. It was like being kept back a grade in school, but I was able to pay off my credit card. I showed a very few coworkers my book since I had just received it, and they seemed somewhat impressed, but I kept trying to explain that, no, nothing much will happen.
    Now I’m unemployed again. My beef is more with the dearth of feasible mid-level clerical positions than with any responsibility the comic industry has to bolster a guy like me who’s super slow. I figure it’s always going to be a slog.

    • Tim Hensley says:

      Oh, and to be more specific about the job I had, I was evaluating pornographic web pages that were to be linked from text ads on the rails of web searches. I was supposed to make sure the pages complied with company guidelines. Most of the woeful stuff was filtered out, so it was mostly looking at vibrators. Occasionally offers for pay-per-view clips of nude women urinating in non-bathroom settings. Had never considered anyone would be interested in “foot insertion” before that job.
      They sold being a temp as, “Do you have what it takes to be a real employee?”, but really it was so they didn’t have to pay for extravagant perks like sick days and holidays.

  36. Margo Dabaie says:

    Thanks for writing this post! My pet peeve as of late is the lack of attention that dayjob-toonists get. I think more cartoonists than I realize have dayjobs, but so few of them openly admit it, that I often wonder if it really is just me!
    I work at a museum; I read stuff for a living. Art history influences my own work. I’m totally proud that I’m able to slog along and make it work.

  37. MK says:

    Good weird jobs I’ve had:
    1 hr photo store employee, italian ice truck driver, barista in non-starbucks cafe, ski rental boot-setter technician, comic book store employee, projectionist

    bad weird jobs:
    bank teller, toddler ski instructor

    I think the only one of those that ever paid over $10 an hour was the italian ice truck on really hot days- it worked on commission. The only one that had health benefits was the bank teller position, but the place I worked for was so full of douches, I quit after they complained that you could see 2 inches of back when I was bent over the change counting machine and the sweater vest that counted as my uniform rode up while I was trying to pick up 50 lb bags of quarters.

  38. DerikB says:

    Lest we fall into comics exceptionalism, consider how worse it would be if you wanted to be a sculptor… or a classical composer… or… any number of other arts that require way more to accomplish than paper and pencil.

    • Robert Boyd says:

      But those jobs have an advantage that if you have an MFA, you can get a job teaching. This is not to say the field isn’t competitive, but lots of really good visual artists and composers and poets get their health insurance paid for by a university somewhere. Which I think is great. Maybe not ideal, but not too bad. However, these kind of tenure-track jobs pretty much don’t exist for cartoonists. (Maybe there are a few around the country, but compared to the number of said jobs there are for, say, visual artists, the number of tenure track jobs for cartoonists is very, very small if not zero.)

  39. Henry says:

    we can always get naked like Dash to help bring in the dough.

  40. Richard says:

    This may be of little interest, and it also comes a bit late in the day, but I was working as a lawyer until I was made redundant in September last year. I’d never found the time before to get any further with comics than the odd anthology contribution, but having so much time in the last five or six months I’ve managed to draw and print two issues of a comic. Those comics had good reviews and now a small publisher is looking to bring out a book of my stuff in October. That sounds like I’m at an AA meeting. Anyway, I really have to get back to working, as I’m still paying off worryingly large law school loans, so I’ll probably be going back to only drawing at the weekend soon. Or maybe not, seeing as this country has 125,000 qualified lawyers and no money.

  41. A J Cooper says:

    Really interesting set of comments (that I’m too late to participate in…).

    I’m currently a postgrad student, but planning on taking the plunge and giving full-time cartooning a shot come the end of the course. The basic plan is to rely on digital distribution in a low cost/high readership way, and try for non-traditional readers. It’s less art comic than semi-mainstream, so I’m hoping a big enough audience exists.

    It’s definitely a risk, mainly as I’m relatively new to drawing, skill wise. But I don’t seem able to fit it in time wise without having it be a priority. I can script and thumbnail on breaks etc fine, but finished pages come out so slowly that it’s just not possible to complete it without doing it full time. Or so I feel. I definitely feel the echo of peoples comments on feeling like I have to do it, as much as want to do it.

    I’m in a better position than most in that I have some savings, access to a fairly low cost life (rent, travel etc) to allow some lead in time before needing money to come in (yep, I’m one of Gabby’s rich people).

    I agree with some of the stuff Gabby and Jenny brought up, and the ‘free stuff’ feelings; basically, the working world is set up badly, full stop. When you can get a living from a soulless and unproductive job, but putting real work into something you’re passionate about leaves you broke, you have to question the system and its priorities.

    But also, it’s about audience; would I be entitled to have someone buy my stuff, even assuming it was genuinely great? Sure, the mainstream public might have some pretty awful tastes (not to generalise; but avatar?!), but does a comic etc creator’s failure to be able to make a living then become the fault of the bad taste of the masses? Not saying it doesn’t…?

    I dunno, I just want to get paid for doing something I love, something not many people are able to do. If I can’t, that brings us to the realm of the hobby; and it happens to be a time intensive one… heartbreaking? Yep, probably.

    Is market day a good book to bring up now?!

    • gabby schulz says:

      Just to clarify: my problem isn’t so much about artists having money, as what the artists DO with their privilege to create.

      Do you enforce the bullshit, or do you question it? The former is the easy road, as there’ll always be a ready market for enforcing bullshit (The Bastards never miss a chance to see their selfish, greedy, complacent & anti-social values endorsed); the latter (questioning it) seems, to me, to be about 80% of what any artist’s job is.

      Like you say: “you have to question the system and its priorities.” Damn right, you do. You absolutely do. Especially today, when such questioning is so rare and so vehemently resisted, by people with oodles and oodles of money. We live in a very complacent, “apolitical” (read: politically conservative) time and country. Look at all the shitty things that’ve happened to our culture just in the past 10 years — hell, the past 10 days — because of the greed of a tiny minority of fantastically wealthy dickheads and the morally bankrupt sock-puppets they’ve bought.* We’ve sat by and allowed some pretty awful people to get away with some pretty awful things, while we fuck with our Androids and tweet about reality tv, believing that our freedoms and our social programs and our comforts and our freedoms and our rights and even our sense of community (IRL, not facebook) are somehow indestructible and to be taken for granted. We’ve become experts at complacence. And the fact that even writing that seems cliche and irrelevant to this conversation suggests that our complacence might be deliberate and, at this point, total — at least within the comics community.

      Meanwhile, the world burns. And artists party. But aren’t artists the one group that our post-Enlightenment culture has always entrusted with the burdensome task of rallying people back to their own humanity — by clarifying truths, inspiring with beauty, shaming avarice & tyranny, reminding us to justice, giving voice to silenced minorities, and encouraging everyone to take responsibility for the health of their own worlds? Aren’t we the ones in this stupid, dumb, idiotic and (yes, I’m saying it) Orwellian time that can still fight to keep all these values alive, and important, and primal to our existence, in the face of so much preposterous bullshit?

      Or we could just draw another strip about how awesome Benetton is. Whatever. Art’s a business.

      The funny thing is, I think there’s plenty of people — people with money who go to bookstores — who DO want all of what I listed above, and are more than willing to pay for it. Shit, the most popular comic I’ve ever drawn by far was something about sexism on the internet, one of the more directly political things I’ve ever made public. You can’t tell me there’s no market for non-status-quo stuff out there. It’s just that so many of us cartoonists/publishers/critics/bloggers/distributors/retailers are still coasting in this safe little toy-story bubble that reinforces the idea that it’s OK to relinquish responsibility for our own ideas and actions and artistic decisions anymore, because, like, toys are cool. And the more of us who think that, the more the disappointing lie gets reinforced, until the whole ship of fools hits the rock of reality and goes down in a sea of stunted, privileged irrelevance (again).

      Of course I’m not saying I think EVERYONE who draws comics needs to be some kind of bullet-eating revolutionary. And I’m not condemning everyone who doesn’t draw that way — we all still need happy stories too, and cute funny animal stories, and outright escapism from time to time. All I’m saying is, when the counter-cultural shit DOES come along, you don’t have to character-assassinate it AND start a dance party on its grave. And don’t pretend that art doesn’t have this job, just because Ayn Rand got away with it once.

      Artists, like any revolutionaries, have always struggled with their convictions and resigned themselves to poverty; these days the situation is worse than that. It’s not just poverty that cartoonists are faced with, it’s the negation of the relevance of their whole medium. Poverty I can handle; but feeling like the ONLY way for me to find an audience is by creating another ornamental, meaningless commodity doesn’t make the poverty, or my efforts, seem worthwhile. And when I look at a lot of past comics creators, I get the feeling they were struggling with this same problem.

      *If anyone needs a refresher course on this I’d be happy to put one together for you in another forum.

      • Uland says:

        I think everybody should make the art they feel passionate about and everybody else should save self-righteous ranting for their blogs.

        What are you doing again, Gabby? Selling a $40 poster ( that ultimately trivializes the issue, if you ask me) to people who already like to get their righteousness juice flowing in the same way you do? Good button-pushing bro.
        Yeah, fight the power. The evil Goblin overlord others who ruin everything for the good folks like Gabby are on the march! Fight them! Fight them with blogs and silkscreens!

        • gabby schulz says:

          Wowww. Scolding cartoonists for selling a couple posters on their website, in the comments of a post about how cartoonists struggle to get by — now THAT’S classy.

          Just in case anyone’s interested in reading the reply i already gave uland on this subject when he tossed this same li’l wet blanket on my blog, here’s the conversation:

          You can also scroll up on that page to buy the poster.

          I love how me making a couple dollars off of a couple posters on the internet somehow makes me some kind of conniving seducer of the innocent. If you’re looking for cartoonists to pooh-pooh, uland, I can find you PLENTY of more worthy travesties to chew your sour grapes over. Otherwise, take a couple deep breaths and get over it — I’m not starving any less than anyone else on this thread.

          As for “self-righteous ramblings”: there’s this handy feature called the “scroll bar”…

        • gabby schulz says:

          PS: Oh look, uland, another professor just reblogged this “trivializing” strip to use in a university course on Women and Computers:

          I’m sure her email’s on the page somewhere, if you’d like to tell her she’s just poisoned with “righteousness juice,” too.

          • Uland says:

            I think your speechifying is ridiculous. I think your poster is ridiculous. I think they’re both incredibly self-righteous and self-serving. I don’t think you’re helping anyone but yourself while you operate as though you’re doing some kind of cause some kind of massive good.
            You’re not. You’re another liberal artist guy who chose to make comics and art and chose the poverty that goes with it and now look everywhere and anywhere to find people to blame for your unhappiness and the ostensible unhappiness of others ( minorities, female internet users, etc.).
            It’s incredibly offensive to suggest that every other artist needs to do more to solve the worlds’ problems ( like you, I guess we’re supposed to believe). First of all, you assume that we all agree on what the problems are. Second, you seem to honestly believe that making a comic about an issue is an effective measure.
            I don’t care about you making money. In fact, I’m sure if you made more you’d stop blaming everyone else for your situation. It’s just lame to see it done in the name of something or other, when it has nothing really to do with it.

          • Uland says:

            That response sounds like it was lifted from an issue of Punk Planet circa 1995.

          • gabby schulz says:

            How can it be “self-serving,” when all it gets me is grief from geezers like you?

          • Uland says:

            If that professor is suggesting that the poster explains in any way why women don’t post to wikipedia as much as men, she’s a fucking moron.

          • gabby schulz says:

            you should go tell her that.

          • T. Hodler says:

            Hey Gabby & Uland: No offense intended, but do you mind moving this particular argument elsewhere? I think you’ve both made your points, and we’re trying to keep this comment thread focused on the topic of the post. Thanks.

          • gabby schulz says:

            yeah, already did. sorry for the mess.

  42. Ali Almezal says:

    For some reason this reminds me of the chapter in The Great Comic Book Heroes where Feiffer describes artist working conditions. Really the only chapter that I liked.

  43. Daniel Locke says:

    When my wife fell pregnant I put lots of energy into finding any paid work within the arts. I applied for everything and anything going. One of the jobs that came up was on a TV show called Dating in the Dark. For three months I woke up at the crack of dawn to get the train into London and draw portraits on camera from descriptions given to me by the shows contestants. It was a weird experience, an insight into the strange world of reality TV.

  44. Kevin Mutch says:

    I have a graphics oriented day job that uses many of the same skills as making comics – I’m a retoucher in the music industry. The overlap with comics isn’t as complete as with, say, storyboarding or animation, but it’s still substantial, especially if you use Photoshop a lot in your comics (which I do) plus you get access to the best tools (like a Cintiq).

    The nicest part is it’s a well-paying field that always has a hard time finding people who can “fake stuff” (ie, Lady Gaga’s left buttock is cut off in this shot – can you fake it?) which comics artists often can do beautifully. People who can draw/paint well and also work well with computers have always been in short supply (everyone in retouching jokes that it’s a right brain/left brain thing), but I think comics artists are better positioned to bridge those worlds than most other visual artists for some reason or other (I won’t mention the “A*” word).


  45. i.m.a. pelican says:

    I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art information desk for 2 years. I told people where the bathroom was over and over all day. Got to see a lot of art and my co workers were a motley bunch. My boss had worked there for 30 years. Once he invited me and my girlfriend over to watch Swan Lake on video. He made little squirty biomorphic doodles on paper. I could draw too on post it notes. I got a lot of life drawing practice of tourists done there. A guy in the bookstore was trying to write a book about Marcel Proust and the 4th dimension. The telephone room guy was the singer in a punk band (World Inferno Friendship Society) I used to take my minicomics to the printing room where a guy missing a finger would trim them on a huge guillotine machine.

    There were lots of interesting characters and experiences. Since the Met employed 2000 people it was like a little city, or castle. It was a useful microcosm of class structure with the curators at the top and a thousand uniformed security guards at the bottom (most of them artists, sweating to pay the bills, and placated by an employee’s art show every year). But I loved the Met, and my working there poisoned it for me, so much that I haven’t been back in 5 years.

    I got a better paying job eventually in the Editorial dept.—but it was in an office, with cubicles, horrible, unnatural, science experiment environment. I learned more about print production from going to Kinko’s. I stuck it out there for 2 more years! I would hide in the stairwell and draw in the bulking dummies.

    I did freelance illustration for a year or so and its pretty damn hard… I got some good jobs- I’m glad I did it for a while. I also was in a band at that time which was a big time-eater. That year was insane. Now I work at an art gallery 3 days and teach 1 day a week.

    Cheers to Frank for bringing up this very important topic. Maybe there will be a cartoonists union by the time this comments section concludes.

    I think if people spent less time fucking around on the internet, like I’m doing now, they would get a lot more work completed…. Its like Depeche Mode says: “You’ve got to work hard if you want anything at all”

  46. jasontmiles says:

    My resume:

    1. Kinko’s
    2. Film, Video, Animation Dept at The Evergreen State College
    3. Bus Boy
    4. Stocking Toys R Us during the middle of the night
    5. Handyman
    6. Bookstore
    7. Freelance Illustration
    8. Fantagraphics Warehouse
    9. Fantagraphics Director of Sales
    10. Fantagraphics Print Buyer, Production, Editorial

    Kinko’s was a great way to be involved with creative types and learn how to use copiers and printers to make zines, 7inch sleeves, flyer, etc. It was great until I was fired and “fined” $1000 (“fined” as in give us $ and you can walk or we call the cops) for all my learning hooking people up.

    I drunkenly lied my way into being a Handyman… it didn’t hurt my boss was a raging alcoholic… anyway, I would work all day and then go to the library to research how to build a fence or refurbish antique molding, etc. It was great and taught me how to research and apply while drunk or hungover… ugh!

    Freelance illustration was ok and something I was planning on seriously pursuing because work and $ seemed to be picking up from it… then I got hit with a medical condition that requires health insurance so I kept my job at the Fantagraphics warehouse (one of my all time favorite jobs!). During this time I threw out all notions about making money from drawing comics and I’ve been happier and more productive ever since. I figure if I have to make comics and art then I’ll make comics and art regardless the fiscal response. To me the need to make stuff is a living.

    Today I make my bread working to help publish other peoples comics, prose and art books… while making and publishing my own comics and zines and distroing the work of others, which is a break-even enterprise if I account for my time. Small is beautiful.

    I’m really glad the illustration thing didn’t work out because I find it hard to imagine drawing celebrity portraits all day only to try and draw my own stuff at night. Maybe the fact your drawing is enough, but… and those of you working 8 hours a day on photoshop only to go home and draw with a computer… No thanks!!!

    Currently I consider myself very lucky to be working for Fantagraphics and I find my job very inspiring as it constantly propels me to make my own comics and zines once home.

    The most $ I’ve ever made from one of my comics was the kill fee I received from Vice… haw!

    • Leon Sadler says:

      I printed out and kept your interview about you working at Fantagraphics cos there was something really really inspiring there,,,, it seemed like a perfect style of life and your atttitude and things was really good

  47. Tom Williams says:

    My day job’s doing the pre-press/floater thing for an in-plant printshop. I worked a series of odd day jobs while comic-ing. Landing in printing about 11 years ago. Funny, I got started doing this all because Stinko’s screwed up my books for Chicagocon.

    In-plant printing means I only handle printing for one company and it’s not a commercial shop. We have deadlines but it’s a fraction of the stress I experienced working for a commercial shop. While I make more money working in the In-Plant, I hate to say it’s screwed with my comic making. Last job was low paying but they had a weird vacation set-up. I’d earn time off while doing overtime. Plus also vacation didn’t reset at the beginning of the year. Schedule was half 1st shift/ half 2nd shift so I could recoup on sleep. That’s how I was able to finish a graphic novel in under 4 months time.

    The current job has a fixed 8-5 schedule with 3 weeks vacation. Vacation doesn’t accrue and I don’t get that earned time off from doing overtime. Sounds like it would work on paper but heavy seasonal promotions sucks up my weekends. Really breaks up my flow. I start to really feel it round Wednesday after a couple of late nights drawing. While I can afford to be comfortable and get insurance, it’s taken an unfortunate toll on my output. So goes the life of an indie cartoonist.

  48. Ian Harker says:

    How did I miss this!!!!!

  49. Ian Harker says:

    I went to a 2-year art school which was really more like a trade school where you learn air condition repair or something but in this scenario it’s photoshop. Graduated when I was 20 years old and got a “real job” within a month. Stayed at that job for almost 10 years which allowed the whole house/wife/kid thing to crystallize. It’s a good life I guess but I sorta regret missing out on the whole artist/city/bohemia thing. My school was in the city but I commuted, so short of about a year or so of bumming around my college girlfriends’ studio apartment I’ve always been a suburbanite.

    Working a small-circuit graphic design job for years has always been an inspiration on me creatively. Mainly that inspiration has been to completely and wholly reject the values of commercial, or even palatable art to the best of my ability. This has only lead me down the road of willful obscurity and I realize that this is a useless attitude “careerwise”. To me that’s what having a day job is all about though.

    I’ve been a dad for a year and a half now and without a doubt my art has suffered. On the flipside i’ve published more ambitiously than ever before, go figure.

    I really treasure my minor peripheral involvement in alternative comics so I can only imagine that a greater involvement would be even more rewarding. So that idea keeps me going.

    I’m allergic to money.

    Side note, a friend of mine who had a pretty decent run with an indie title in the 90’s, basically left comics completely for about 10 years to do the whole house/wife/kid thing just quit his day job to pursue comics full-time once again. God bless his heart.

  50. Nick Mullins says:

    After college, I moved up to Seattle and thought I would work on my comics, submit my stuff, and land a paying comics job. It’s sixteen years later and I’m still waiting. But at the time, I had the worst jobs of my life to pay the rent.

    • Temp for Microsoft, shipping out Windows ’95 updates. My shift was from like 2 in the morning until 10am. I remember driving home as the sun was coming up and trying to go to sleep when everyone else was getting home from work. There was this one guy who, while on break, would inhale his cigarette in two long sucks. That image has stuck with me.

    •WashPIRG. Yes, I was one of those annoying people who come to your door asking for money. I was told a few times to “get the fuck off my property” and in one instance I was bitten by some guy’s dog. I lasted a month.

    I’ve since gone back to grad school and now I teach college writing part-time. I have a lot of take-home work- grading essays- but talking about essay structure actually helps how I think about my comics.

    And I have a six-year-old daughter. I would never tell anyone to have a kid, but it does make you reassess your priorities and stop whining about the small stuff.

  51. […] An interesting post over at Comics Comics. […]

  52. I just remembered the audio interview that I did with Kevin H and Jim Rugg is sort of relevant to this post – we talk about working cartoonists, day jobs and if it is possible to work with the ol lady around. Check it out!

  53. I work during the day as a dog walker which is extremely exhausting. it gives me a lot of trouble drawing at night. what a bummer!

    soon i’ll be an air quality tester at construction sites in the subway. less exhausting but more time working not on comics ugh

  54. pat kain says:

    I’m at art school in Columbus, OH studying animation/motion graphics to supplement the work I get as a cartoonist. But… before I came here I worked bunch of odd jobs. All of which are jobs that I tried my damnedest to do comics. Including work as a page layout artist for a college newspaper, I lied about raking classes so I could get a job doing “work study” at every chance I attempted to include my comics in the paper. Working for a butcher I would draw comics about the new meat that came in. it included fish or cows in some way. My boss said it was becoming unappetizing for the costumers and asked that I stopped.

    I find that when I’m in between jobs its harder to draw comics. It’s like I need some outside experience to draw upon, like I’m sure most cartoonists do to some extent.

  55. Pat says:

    For two days I was one of those annoying people on the street with a clipboard begging on behalf of a non-profit. I couldn’t get past the fact that I hate these people who interrupt my commute and jam up the sidewalk, and therefore I must hate myself. So it ended.

  56. Having a day job can be a good thing for an artist- as long as it’s a good day job. Being an English teacher has been great for me. I enjoy the work in itself, then get lots of time to do my projects during the summer and winter breaks.

    I seem to recall a study which found that having a day job can actually increase a person’s creativity and output, since they don’t have to worry so much about paying bills… unfortunately I can’t find it. Pretty sure I didn’t just imagine it, though.

  57. jdalton says:

    I’m a substitute elementary school teacher. Fortunately I quite like this job, unfortunately it really only pays for itself and not for itself plus making comics.

  58. (Good thoughts Gabby)

    I’ve worked tons of restaurant jobs and stayed up nights drawing but the worst was . . .

    I worked for two years as a caterer for the film industry to have money to publish comics. The moment I knew it was in the death throes of viability for me was when i was on the set of Fast and Furious 5 up to my elbows in burnt grease scraping out a trailer meat smoker in the August Atlanta sun and Vin Diesel rides by on a motorized scooter slows down next to me and says “Living the life eh? Livin the life”


    Now I am a day sous chef and draw and run a SMALL publishing company at night.

    Also have a masters in Theology and 50k of school debt. But still nothing make me happier than showing other people’s amazing comics to the world.

  59. This post make me work even faster to publish my latest page: it’s my take on the jobs artists take to support their habit.
    It’s a collaborative piece I did with composer Caleb Morgan and his sound works independently of the image so don’t forget to press play if you’re in the mood for sound.

    Warning — it takes a good 15 minutes and at times my representation is as boring as a real job:

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