Labor Day and the Cost Of Doing Business in Comics
Five hundred dollars.
When people talk about putting regular, old-fashioned comic books online, keep that $500 in mind.
That’s about how much it costs for an average page of comic book art, in terms of labor. Figure $100 for the writer, $150 for the penciller, $130 for the inker, $90 for the colorist, and $30 for the letterer. Those numbers go up and
down depending on talent and publishers, but that’s a nice round number for us to work with.
Let’s consider another number: 22. That’s the average page count for a monthly comic book story. It’s also the number of pages most average pencillers can produce a month. Neat coincidence.
Now start multiplying. That means a penciller will make $3300 a month, or $39,600 a year. With covers, round that up to $42 grand a year. Not a lot of cash there. And the penciller’s the highest paid talent on the book. A writer will make $2200 a month, and nobody pays him to write covers. He’ll probably have to write two books a month to make his nut. And so on.
But if you’re expecting professionals to create your comics, that’s what you’ll have to spend.
Graphic novels? From scratch? You’re looking at about 120 pages minimum– that’s $60,000 in labor costs. Unless you’re economizing and doing a lot of the work yourself, that’s going to almost insurmountable unless it’s commissioned by somebody– most writers don’t have a spare $48,000 to spend on an outside artist. This, of course, is one reason why many “literary” graphic novels are solo jobs– David Mazzuchelli, Darwyn Cooke, Alison Bechdel, Brian Fies, et cetera– because the economics simply aren’t there to support five hungry mouths.
Any proposal for getting books in print in paper– or publishing online– has to keep those numbers in mind. You either have to generate enough money to cover those upfront costs, or find some way to mitigate or reduce them.
So how would you do it? (And no, you can’t pay in Monopoly money.)