John Ostrander: Freelancers Live Without A Net

John Ostrander

John Ostrander started his career as a professional writer as a playwright. His best known effort, Bloody Bess, was directed by Stuart Gordon, and starred Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, William J. Norris, Meshach Taylor and Joe Mantegna. He has written some of the most important influential comic books of the past 25 years, including Batman, The Spectre, Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, Suicide Squad, Wasteland, X-Men, and The Punisher, as well as Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. New episodes of his creator-owned series, GrimJack, which was first published by First Comics in the 1980s, appear every week on ComicMix.

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13 Responses

  1. Wow, thanks for the shout out John. And yes, you have it exactly right. When we decided we wanted to be in comics, we already had steady girlfriends, and rent payments to make. There was no chance we could try it without a net. We made that choice 5 or 6 years ago because we simply had to. I have the utmost respect for you, and Peter David, and ALL the creators who took the chance I could not. And for what it’s worth: if Unshaven Comics sells Samurnauts off for a cool million, you’re on permanent staff with us. :)

  2. Nando says:

    Great article Mr. Ostrander! I never knew this little dark secret about freelancers until my best friend, Hector Collazo (former Marvel/DC inker and illustrator) had to go freelance and struggled not only with bills but having no health insurance. Sadly, like Peter David, he had a stroke two months ago and passed away quite suddenly. He was 45.

    We all love this medium but we need to support its artists and creators because it’s a hard profession to stick to and make money out of. I admire the Peter Davids, the Jon Ostranders, and all the other creators who manage to not only entertain us but squeeze out some measure of income out of creating great art and stories in comics. I wish you luck, Mr. Ostrander. I wish you a speedy recovery, Peter.

  3. Nat Gertler says:

    I think hat is an important message, letting new and would-be freelancers know the risks.

    But it’s also important to be aware that there are ways of building a net. Some of hat is discipline, saving at times when he money is moving well to be better set up. It’s knowing that there are freelancer organizations that can help you hook up with cheaper insurance, and the way the insurance landscape is changing with Obamacare.

    And then there is the great net, the one that has kept me going for the last decade: marriage. It’s not why I married her (when I proposed, she was a student), but a wife with a steady job and insurance benefits proves to be a wonderful net, relieving much of the stress.

  4. Mindy Newell says:

    Joseph Campbell advised us to “follow your bliss.”

    If only 99.9% could…

    There’s a financial reason why I work full-time as a nurse.

  5. Ron Fontes says:

    Hey, my wife and I have been walking that highwire since 1988, after I quit Marvel and she started getting writing jobs from children’s book publishers. We’re still at it. We will still be at it when we drop dead with pen and pencil in hand. This is not a career for the faint of heart. You are warned, kiddies.

  6. Chris Schillig says:

    I’m one of those wannabes who followed Mom’s advice and earned an English degree to fall back on. Just as your column notes, I fell back on it. It’s been a steady and often rewarding career, but not what I wanted.

  7. Bifco says:

    Mister I’m a hugefan of your work and specialy on your last star wars (the legacy saga include) I didn’t know your situation about health insurance. I’m French so it’s difficult for me to see something like that possible specially when you past 60 year’s old. My dad had 63 me 34. The system care it different. But lately things are changing and maybe the Europe will had the same difficulty. So I’m very concern about what you said because its concerns all of us on the world. The tips you gave are good thank for your expertise actually we must all paid for extra care and hoping we will never need it. Thank you again for all you dedicated work on telling great storys on the univers!!

  8. Elaine Lee says:

    Thanks, John! As a freelance writer married to a musician, I can attest to the truth of what you say. Not only is insurance prohibitively expensive for freelancers, but even if you manage to have it, it’s easier for them to drop you, if you get sick. The rules that protect those who get insurance through a job, don’t apply to us. Supposedly, we should be able to get affordable insurance through one of the new exchanges, starting in 2014. It remains to be seen what their definition of affordable is.

  9. Your article is very accurate … freelancing is difficult and getting worse. Fees are still dropping, most ADs are visually illiterate (on those rare occasions you work with one) and most of the stuff we work on is utter tripe.

    I think the art schools are 50% of the problem, they keep churning out far too many students looking for work and most of them are not professionally ready … which further drives down rates.

    The other 49% is the reading public. They whine about quality but will not, under any circs, pay extra for it. And to top it off, they buy through Amazon et al., which is a major component of the devaluation of creative work.

    The last 1% is us, the commercial artists. We need to be far more realistic in dealing with certain (no, most) clients. When a guy with a pension, health plan, nice house, expensive suit & fancy car tells you that he (and it’s almost always a he, never a she) cannot afford paying you even minimum wage for a several months of 7-day work weeks, you are not negotiating a job. You are being screwed.

    Screw him back. Be imaginative, something will come to mind.

    • I agree with you about art schools. Some (not all) give the student NO real professional training.

      When I say ‘professional’ I’m talking about the business the student is about to enter not their portfolio.

      No matter how good an artist you are it won’t matter if you think deadlines are something to be played with.

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