Finding an artist for your comic book is, by turns, exhilarating and crushing. You see somebody you like … they’re unavailable. You are overwhelmed by incredible artists. On another day, in a different place, you might be underwhelmed by bad-fit or mediocre artists.
There are three phases to finding your artist: first, working out what you can or are comfortable paying your artist; second, knowing where to look for great artists; and finally, choosing just one. Finally, once you’ve found an artist, there’s the contract.
How Much Should You Pay Your Artist?
Everybody (hopefully!) agrees that comic book creators or writers should be paying their artists a fair page rate, but what is that rate?
How much comic book artists are paid is widely variable. It depends on their lifestyle, their experience, their skill, and about ten thousand other things. The closest I could find to a rate listing was this post on The Straight Dope. In it, astro lists acceptable page rates thusly:
- Penciler: $10-60
- Inker: $10-25
- Colourist: $5-20
- Cover Penciler: $40-75
- Cover inker: $25-50
- Cover colourist: $75-250
- Penciler: $50-120
- Inker: $25-60
- Colourist: $25-60
- Cover Penciler: $100-200
- Cover inker: $75-100
- Cover colourist: $250-700
- Penciler: $100+
- Inker: $60+
- Colourist: $60+
- Cover Penciler: $200+
- Cover inker: $100+
- Cover colourist: $1,000+
Bear in mind that this post was from 2005, so rates may have changed since then (upwards due to inflation and cost of living increases, or even downwards due to the GFC/global downturn). Also, probably practically no artists have read that list, so they may very well feel more comfortable with higher or with lower rates.
The most important thing, I think, is to work out the absolute maximum you can afford to pay your artist, and then offer them that. Your artist is your partner in realising your vision for your comic book, and nobody wants a sub-standard partner.
If you happen to have a lot of suitable artists in your acquaintance, congratulations. But for most people, they have to venture a bit further from home to find the right person.
Local Art Schools/Universities
I did not hit up my local art schools/universities, but the idea behind this is that it’s here you are most likely to find an artist with the talent but not necessarily the price tag of an established artist. This is also an excellent option if you want a more unique style, especially something experimental.
PencilJack is one of the two major comics creators’ forums. They have a fairly strong collection of talented artists, many of whom are looking for work. I received quite a lot of responses to my ad.
In my experience, Digital Webbing has the highest calibre of artists. I received about 50 responses to my ad, all of which were at least promising. This is where I found my artist. Another unique thing about the Digital Webbing forums it that they have a “Paid Help Wanted” section and a “Collaborators” section. So if you are looking for an artist-collaborator (to be paid all or mostly on the back-end), there is also a place for you at Digital Webbing.
Are there any freelance online-based artists anymore who don’t have a DeviantArt profile? There are some incredible artists on there. The only problem with DeviantArt is that there are so many artists it can be difficult to even really know where to begin looking. I searched for “comic art” and “sequential art” and found a number of very talented artists. If you are going to use DeviantArt, and especially if you are looking for a collaborator, you should become involved in the community. Comment on Deviations and establish relationships with the artists, even those who you don’t feel necessarily fit your vision for your current story. This is good networking, for one thing, but more importantly: it’s just good manners to establish dialogue with people before you start asking them for favours or talking business.
Choosing an Artist
Once you have found, hopefully, an incredible smorgasbord of talented, responsive artists, comes the second step: choosing just one. There are four key issues in choosing an artist:
- No matter how talented, it is fundamentally important that your artist have sequential storytelling experience, or at least have examples in their portfolio. Although a talented artist is likely to be a talented sequential storyteller once they have learned the form, there is a learning curve. Also, an artist experienced in sequential storytelling will have a better idea of what’s possible and probably better turnaround time.
- Apart from their style being inspiringly clean, evocative or even curiously abstract, does this style fit your story? If not, the art, no matter how beautiful, will detract from your story. It is a zero-sum game.
- How reliable and professional is your artist? Can you rely on them to get pages to you by your deadlines? Can you rely on a consistently high quality of work from them? This is difficult to establish from their portfolio, but certainly something worth bearing in mind as you interact with them.
- Finally, and most importantly: how much are they worth, and how much can you afford?
How you balance those factors is up to you. I personally got lucky with my artist and only had to balance the last option by stretching my budget to its utmost so that I didn’t feel as if I was ripping him off.
Once You’ve Found an Artist
And that is how you find, and choose, your artist. There are of course many other methods than I’ve outlined here. You might serendipitously bump into an artist on the street, knocking their portfolio from their hands, and spilling their stellar sequential art all over the street. Actually, that’s an interesting idea for a mini-meta-comic…
Edit: DigiWombat (via Reddit) adds, “And if there’s one thing I forgot this morning that I think is important for writers to take note is, keep in mind that while you should pay a fair price for the work the artists are putting in, you’re also paying for just about everything else. That won’t mean much to most artists, but some of them realize writers are human beings and will work more with you if they understand the whole story a bit better. Beyond that, it’s a good thing to keep in mind for your own personal budgeting as well.”
In creative diligence,