Three Ways How to Screw up a Comics Artist

There are many ways how you can make your local comics artist’s life worse.

Throw away their stylus, claiming that ‘this marker has obviously run out of ink long ago’!

Close all those nagging Photoshops windows so you can check your email on their computer quicker!

Are you into more sophisticated means of torture? Don’t worry, we got you covered!

The Evil Strawman Client and the Victim Artist

For our purposes, let’s create a few characters and a set for them to live in.

Here goes the Agent™, the manager, the publishing house employee, the weird craigslist guy who keeps pestering you on social media. He has a plan and he’s gonna make this lucky fella very rich.

The Artist™ is your everyday art freelancer who does a bit of everything and has a validation deficit related issues. The Agent™ approaches the Artist™ with an offer to collaborate on a book project.

The Book™ is a full-colored comics of 100 pages based on a pre-existing script and the Artist™ is expected to provide the line-art, the colors and the lettering. The hoped-for style of drawing is fairly realistic and detailed, so if it takes two days to finish a single page, they are looking at 200 days commitment not including time spent on revisions and cover.

(Mind you, the year of 2019 has around 250 working days.)

No here comes the kicker. Or, even better, five of them.


Agent™: I really like your art! I came across your portfolio and I must say, I am at awe. Your stuff is amazing and I would love to have you on my project.

Artist™: (blushing and feeling very good about themselves, but still trying to look professional) Oh, thank you! I am happy to hear that.

Agent™: I need to see what the final pages would look like though, so I have something to show the publisher/book-fair/marketing team. You know, to be sure you truly are the best one for this project.

Artist™ (thinking): Oh, but there are finished comics pages on my website. You can get a very clear idea of the finished products.

Artist™: No problem. Can we work out the rate per page then?

Agent™: Oh, no, sorry. This will be just a preview, so I’ll need you to do it for free. Think of it as an investment!

Artist™: *is sad* *goes and does it anyway* *there’s ton of unpaid extra revisions* *the art doesn’t look as good as it could, because the artist is stressed and annoyed* *the project falls apart and the artist is left with two weeks worth of work unpaid*


Sketch fee exists! It’s not usually the full price for a said thing, but then again it is a sketch. Even so, since sketches leave a lot to be desired, it is not uncommon to make them nicer just for the sake of them being nice.

If your client hits you with ‘I need you to finish this so I can imagine the project better’, remember: there’s a ton of that in your portfolio. That’s why they chose you in the first place!

Two days of pay can be substantial for a freelancer. If your client believes in the project even a little, they should be willing to invest at least that much.

In the end, we should call a preview page for what it really is: a freebie.


Agent™: I talked to the publisher and they are the most excited I’ve ever seen them be! This is great. Let’s talk money. I was thinking 50$ per page. How about that, buddy?

Artist ™: (gets uncomfortable just thinking about asking for more) Well, that’s a bit low. Can we maybe get it up to 100$?

Agent ™: Double? Mate, if it was up to me, I’d give you all the money in the world, your stuff is truly amazing. But we just don’t have that much money. I am sorry, but that’s the industry. Maybe with the next book, hey? You have to understand, 100 pages times 100 dollars...

Artist ™ (thinking): Yeah, that is a lot.

Agent ™: 50$ per page it is. So the contract states that we will pay you half upon completion and the rest once it published, so chop chop, get to work!

Artist ™: *is sad* *goes and does it anyway* *spends every waking hour working side jobs to pay the bills* *the art doesn’t look as good as it could, because the artist is stressed and annoyed* *the project falls apart and the artist never sees any money*


Get. A. Freaking. DEPOSIT!

Nobody in their right mind can ask you to live a year off your savings. They might try to manipulate you into thinking that deposits are very rare or that you should just be more of a team player. But even if they agreed on paying upon every ⅓ of completion, you’re risking two months wages every time. That’s honestly not something a freelancer can afford.


Agent™: Let’s get this rolling! Just one thing though. Would you be okay with getting your pay in royalties? We can’t really start paying you before this book makes any money.

Artist™: (starting to sweat) Well, that’s a bit inconvenient. Are you sure we can’t work with a rate per page as discussed previously?

Agent™: That’s too much cash, man, sorry, we just don’t have it. But that’s fine, right? Making the book is what matters! Just imagine holding it in your hands! Seeing it in the bookstores! Your gonna be The Author!

Artist™ (thinking): Yeah, that will be nice.

Agent™: Hey, the better you make it, the better it will sell! Talk about motivation, right? Look, mate, it’s gonna be fine. This will pay back in the long run. You’ll just get the money a bit later, that’s all. How does 8% sound?

Artist™: *is sad* *goes and does it anyway* *the bills pile over during the year spent working on the book* *the art doesn’t look as good as it could, because the artist is stressed and annoyed* *the book doesn’t sell very well and the percentage is not high enough to even cover the expenses*


I want to start with saying that royalties aren’t a bad thing themselves, not even a little bit. It’s the other way around, you should have them covered for every project you’re involved in.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not one way or the other, you should be getting both - rate per page and royalties. Well-meaning business endeavors should offer you money per page for the creation of the book and once they sell a certain amount of books (so their expenses are covered as well), give you a percentage of the revenue that follows (if there’s any). That’s why licensing is so important. Never sign a contract that states that your art can be used by the client freely and till the end of times. Always agree on a fixed amount of copies and a time frame.

Royalties can be seducing, probably because they seem so very vague. It’s not even about recalling that one time back in elementary school when the percentage was the theme of the week, it’s just hard to corner it down as real money. We’ve all heard fantastic stories of artists and entrepreneurs who took a mere 1% at the beginning of a heartfelt project and now years later, they are millionaires because that one venture proved to be miraculous.

That hardly ever happens with comics books and if it does, the millions come from merchandise, not the books themselves. Why do you think Iron Man has a new outfit for every movie, even though the tweaks seem a bit unnecessary? Well, how else would you grow your collection if there was nothing new to buy?

There must be a moment in the process when you sit down and do the math. If the contract states you’ll be given 8% from each book sold, you have to be careful what your percentage is counted from. Is it the final price tag on the book? The e-shop price? With or without the distribution costs?

Let’s get back to our dear Artist™. The contract states that from each book sold, they will get 8% revenue. The book as sold in bookstores costs $40, half of that gets swallowed up by the distribution costs.

Starting with $20 gives us following equation: (20 x 8)/100 = $1.60. With the number of copies at 2,000 books that sell out completely, the total revenue our artist will (eventually!) see is $1.60 x 2000 = $3,200.

Sounds… nice? That amount of money will cover living expenses for four months if you’re an unapologetic cheapskate.

Now, how long does it take to create a comic book again…?

Author: Štěpánka Jislová

Štěpánka Jislová is a Czech Illustrator and Comics artist. Born in 1992, she resides in Prague and apart from numerous illustrated books and two stand-alone graphic novels, she enjoys doing tattoo and cloths designs, teaches, writes and gives talks and presentations. She participated in the comics symposium The Superheroes of Eastern Bloc (2015) and was awarded a prestigious Getting to know Europe grant at Wilkinson College, CA. She’s a co-founder of the Czech branch of Laydeez do Comics. Main focus of her work is storytelling via symbolism and archetypes, which she explores through carefully crafted compositions and precise line-work.

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