Deadlines and Flaky Artists

on Monday, 07 October 2013. Posted in Comic Book Art

Deadlines and Flaky Artists

Creating a comic book is a lot more work than it seems on the surface if you've never done it before. Many things can go wrong in the process, and often do, especially for new writers who don't have a publisher working with them from the outset.

Having gone through several painful comic book productions in the past, here are some words of wisdom to help you avoid problems and keep from pulling your hair out. These include the classic mistakes I made that slowed me down.

First, beware of flakes. There are lots of flaky artists and other freelance workers out there on the Internet that make promises to you and then don’t deliver. Just because you’re paying somebody money for a job, don’t automatically assume he will be professional. I've worked with experienced artists who have delivered their pages up to six weeks late, which caused the book to miss the printer deadline and delayed the release of the book to comic stores by over one full month as promised in the Diamond Comics distribution catalog order form. This turned off customers who had previously purchased issue #1 and expected a monthly book series.

The artist's delay also threw a monkey wrench into the rest of the production team's schedules. For example, the colorist had a window of time in which he was available to color our book before starting on another book for a major publisher. He ended up sitting around for weeks with no pages to color and thus lost money because we couldn't pay him his full paycheck until those remaining pages of the issue were completed. What upset him the most was the fact that he had turned down another job offer in the beginning to work on my book.

As you can see, the penciller is the most critical piece of the puzzle. If you lose him or her the whole project gets derailed. And, it's not easy to find a replacement artist for an ongoing 3 to 6 issue comic series once you've already established a particular art style in issues #1 and #2. It's difficult for any new artist to match the old artist's artwork and fans do notice this stuff. Your book will look disjointed and inconsistent, especially when you collect and reprint all the issues in trade paperback graphic novel format to sell on Amazon.

One way to discourage flaky, unprofessional behavior is to have a signed written contract with anybody who does work for you. No exceptions! Don’t be lazy when it comes to this. We’ve made it easy for you by providing two sample contracts on this website – one a work-for-hire Artist Agreement and the other a Collaboration Agreement.

For any contracts you sign, make sure you have clearly indicated project deadlines in the contract, and include penalties for non-compliance. You must enforce deadlines just as if you were a Marvel editor or artists will take advantage of you.

Generally, if you pay your artist a decent page rate, then they’ll be more motivated to perform well.

How to Establish Deadlines

Prior to the start of production, ask the artist how long it will take to complete the first comic book issue based on his schedule and other work commitments. Typically, an artist who does both pencilling and inking, should be able to knock out a 22-page book in less than 6 weeks. If he is working on another book for another customer at the same time he is working on your book, it will take much longer to finish it because his time and attention is divided.

I prefer to have an artist who can work full-time on my book exclusively during the agreed-upon production period. However, they may not want to do that unless you're paying a good page rate comparable to what he would earn working on a Dark Horse, IDW or other big publisher book.

Keep in mind that as soon as a better, higher paying job offer comes in, an artist might dump you like a hot potato and start working on the bigger publisher's book. It is unprofessional for them to do this, but it does happen, and has happened to me in the past.

As a business person, you need to learn how to recognize these clowns before they waste weeks or even months of your valuable time. Before hiring someone, ask each artist tough questions, preferably over the phone or via Skype video chat. Don’t rely on email alone. Do research on the person. If possible, get referrals from other creators or editors who have worked with that artist.

Questions to Ask an Artist

Before hiring anybody, I ask artists for references -- the names and email addresses of writers and editors they have worked for in the past. If the artist is hesitant to give this to you, then it's a red flag. I also do research to see if the people he claimed he worked for are legit and not just friends of his.

I also make it very clear in my email correspondence that I expect the artist to treat me as if I were working at Marvel. Of course, you have more leverage if you're able to pay a respectable pay rate comparable to what a bigger publisher pays. I also subtly let him know that I am well-connected in the comic book industry by mentioning the names of editors at the big publishers I've worked with or know as friends. It is unlikely the artist will actually call the editor to verify unless he too personally has worked for them in the past. You have to establish a fear factor that you COULD possibly trash them or blackball them with other employers if the artist screws you badly on your project. It is a small industry and everybody knows everybody.

Finally, I remind the artist that they MUST sign a contract and there are tangible financial penalties for missing deadlines, which are stated in the contract they sign.

Now, some of you may think I'm being too harsh on comic book artists. However, look at it this way - most employers in the real world go through a very similar hiring process when hiring a new employee for a job. In fact, these days most employers have taken it to the extreme and now require credit checks, criminal background checks, drug tests, and all kinds of other invasive requirements. The reason they do this is because they've been burned in the past by employees who did well in the job interview, but turned out to be horrible, unreliable workers after getting hired.

Being a comic book publisher is also a business. To be successful, you have to run your company like a smart business person. Just because we're manufacturing "art" doesn't mean we can get away with foolish, unprofessional behavior.

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