Monday, January 4, 2010

Making a Living from Comics in 2010

A late HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! It's ridiculous that we're already into 2010 when all the fuss about the millennium bug seemed like a moment away. We actually held a "Come as you are in 2010" party about five years ago and now we're here – doubly ridiculous! Anyway ...

We apologise for not having posted as regularly as we would have liked over the last month. In fact, we're going to be pretty quiet midweek for about another month but give you a glut of blog posts on the weekend which will hopefully sustain you for the rest of the week.

You see .. our respective savings have run out. We've been living off savings so we can move Black Mermaid Productions, our Black Mermaid Boutique and Elf~Fin forward. It's slow and steady work but you know what they say about the journey to success being at least 10,000 steps (and often mundane ones at that). We are so COMMITTED to our comics work that we're savouring the moment when the first Elf~Fin issue is launched and it reaches you – our readers. We've been giving you sneak peeks along the way – a panel here, a cover there and at least one double page spread (sans the dialogue of course – we do need to keep some secrets up our sleeves). We have a few more panels to show you except that Jozef recently had to overhaul his entire computer system and his PhotoShop isn't operational at the moment so he can't scan any artwork. But patience will be rewarded ...

In the interim we've both needed to find some work to replenish the coffers so that we could continue working on Elf~Fin. This segues into a topic we've been wanting to touch on for a long time – how do you make a living as a comics professional when you have nothing in print?

Well most successful full-time comics professionals have a body of work and a large backlist of books which yields passive income in the form of regular royalty cheques to keep them working. But what happens when you're starting out or coming out with new product with a long development period?

Well, you need to find some other form of part-time bread and butter work to allow you to push forward with your publishing goals. So, every now and then Jozef picks up some well paid freelance art jobs (animation, poster design, gaming illustration) and I pick up freelance writing work (web content, ghostwriting, marketing) to help pave the way and pay the bills. We advocate two strategies in finding jobs that would suit creatives:

(1) Low "mental energy" part-time work, or
(2) High paying short term contract work.

The first has its advantages in the form of regular income that you can count on for budgeting purposes. The low mental energy part of it all is advantageous because the job doesn't suck your internal resources dry so that you have nothing left over to channel into your creative work at the end of the day or on days you have off. I used this to my advantage many years ago when I got a two day a week part-time work in a tertiary institution where I was working in an admin role. My body was there on the job but my mind was a million miles away – dreaming and planning and writing in my head. I did my job well mind you – I organised everything efficiently, did all the filing, arranged meetings, typed up important information, worked up project management plans and fulfilled all the criteria within my job description. The job didn't drain or challenge me – which for all intents and purposes was a good thing. I know of other creators who work as store-men, as waiters and waitresses, or in admin roles – all examples of low mental energy jobs. The money you make isn't brilliant but it it is regular and gives you the freedom to focus on the task at hand – your comic/graphic novel project. We have always been grateful and appreciative of these jobs.

The other option is to pursue intensive short term work that is exceptionally well paid. You throw yourself into it for a limited time (up to three months is our recommendation). You make a packet during that time and squirrel it into your savings account so the final payoff is at least four or five months of savings to live off while you concentrate full-time on your creative project. The disadvantage of this scenario is that you can lose momentum on your comic or graphic novel or have to work late nights and weekends on it until your schedule clears again – which basically means you get little sleep for the contract period. I am working once such job at the moment (hence the lack of blogposts). It finishes at the end of January or early February and will afford me the opportunity to live off the savings for several months. My schedule at the moment is something like this:

4.30 -4.45 Morning ablutions
4.45-5.15 Weights or stretching exercises
5.15-6.00 Feed all the animals/clean kitty litter/let out sheep/walk dogs/check emails
6.00-6.15 Get dressed
6.15-6.30 Breakfast
6.30-6.45 Brush teeth etc
6.45-7.15 Drive to train station
7.15-8.15 Train travel into city
8.15-12.15 Work
12.15-12.30 Lunch
12.30-4.45 Work
5.00-6.00 Train
6.15-6.30 Drive home
6.30-7.15 Exercise - swim or walk
7.15-8.15 Feed animals/lock up sheep/walk the dogs etc
8.15-8.30 Check emails
8.30-8.45 Have dinner
8.45 - 9.15 Get clothes, breakfast and lunch ready for the next day
9.15-9.30 Shower
9.30-10.00 Miscellaneous activities/read
10.00 Sleep

This is a pretty heavy timetable and requires me to be quite disciplined, and if I add TV to the formula I get even less sleep than I should. My body will only withstand it for a certain amount of time but I know there is an end in sight and the pay off is worth it. The work is interesting but pretty relentless so I have nothing left over at the end of the day and need to spend the weekend doing admin work such as finances, and other activities such as blogging. However, what also makes it worthwhile is the team I am working with who are all psychologically healthy, intelligent and funny people so the work environment is very pleasant.

Both approaches work for different reasons and occasionally you can mix it up a bit. Ultimately, it's up to you as to what works better for your own internal rhythms and home/work balance. Ultimately, these are strategies that can help move you towards your ultimate goal (if that is indeed what you want) – to create comics full-time and to make a substantial living out of it.

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