5 Tips on Hiring an artist for your webcomic project

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5 Tips on Hiring an artist for your webcomic project

It’s generally a known fact that there are usually way more writers out there in need of artists than the other way around. If you spend any time in any of the webcomic or art communities you’ll run into the age old problem of the writer trying to locate art talent to bring his writing to life, but they come into the search ill prepared to woo an artist to their project. Many are clueless as to what is required on their end to look professional, what artists expect to see, how to get positive attention, and what they can expect to pay, or if they can get work for free.  In this article we’ll have a look at what it takes to score an artist for your webcomic project (and not make yourself look like a douche in the process).

First off writers, I’m going to give you a very important tip that’s going to save you a lot of grief when you get to the point of pitching your project.

Two very important words. You ready?

Be Prepared.

What does be prepared mean in this case? Basically it means having your act together before you set out on the road to finding some art talent for your project. There’s a lot of things you need to do before you start figuratively knocking on artist’s doors. Remember, there’s a lot of writers out there competing for the talent. If you want to attract the upper crust of that talent, you gotta wow them a little. Here’s 5 tips on how to do it.

1. Have your script ready

This seems like a no brainer, but a lot of writers jump the gun when it comes to hammering out a script for their webcomic. There’s also the problem that comic script writing is a unique artform. Its not like writing a novel, or a short story, or even a play. Its closer to writing a screenplay for a movie or TV show, since you, as the writer have to convey a set of visual instructions to an artist, much like you’d convey instructions to a camera crew, actors, lighting specialists, effects people, costuming staff, etc.  Being a comic writer is a lot like being a director, in that you set the vision and the shots in the script, and then they are interpreted by the talent. I highly suggest you do some research into what an actual comic script looks like. There’s a lot of variation, but most artists feel more comfortable working with someone who’s bothered to actually learn something about how to actually write their ideas down properly for interpretation by the artist. Look at professional examples and make sure you apply it to your own story. Another little thing writers often forget (because you are word people after all) is that comics are a visual medium. You shouldn’t be focusing on pages of exposition and dialogue. You need to write out descriptions of scenes that convey visually your exposition and keep dialogue snappy and short. You need to shift your mentality to the ‘show it’ rather than ‘tell it’ mode. To this end, you should have written and edited, and had edited by a third party at least your first ‘book’ script before you go heading out to find an artist. You are going to need it to show you are serious about your end of the commitment and bring the best product you can to the bargaining table.

2. Don’t come empty handed.

A lot of writers come to a site full of vim and vigor and excitement for their project, and of course they expound on how amazing their writing and project idea is (even it sounds like a million other webcomics) and then follow up their diatribe with the inevitable  ” I can’t pay you, but…” and of course this is where most artists worth anything just walk away and move on.

You have to realize that an artist’s skill is not to be taken for granted. In fact, if it was easy to do, you, as a writer, would not be seeking one. You have to first RESPECT that fact, and be willing to reward that skill. Artists who work professionally rely on their skill to eat, pay their bills, and support their families and likely won’t be interested unless there’s cash involved at some point. Artists who are more hobbyists still want to get something for the hours and hours of their lives spent working on your project, although they are likely to be more flexible about what that compensation is. But you should never come to the table and say to the artists “I need someone to work for free”. You would expect to get paid or compensated for a writing job, wouldn’t you? Well artists need to be compensated to.

Most comic artists work on something called a page rate. This is how much it will cost you to have them do a page. Depending on what you want from them (pencils, pencils+inks, Pencils+inks+colour), this page rate will vary pretty dramatically. It may be as low as 10$ or as high as 120$, and of course anywhere in between. Typically the better the artist and the more you want them to do, the higher it will go. Sometimes a writer can save on page rate by learning an intermediate skill such as inking or coloring and only buying pencils or pencil/inks and doing the colors (or tones for things like manga) themselves. Its not a hard skill to learn, particularly if the art is simple. Some artists like to have a minimum number of pages ordered, but others are willing to work on a page by page basis, you pay for the pages as they are produced, and if you can’t afford a page, they just won’t produce for that week. Many artists fall in the 25-45$ per page range so you can use that to budget for yourself how many pages you could possibly afford a month. Knowing your budget and having cash in hand gives you leverage to negotiate with artists, and it will attract those of a higher caliber than if you walked in with nothing and disrespected the talent.

Maybe you really can’t afford to pay a page rate. There are other options, but here you’ll need to have your ducks even more in a row because you need to prove that their time investment will be rewarded. Here are the most common olive branches extended by writers who can’t pay their artists… yet.

Option A: Profit sharing

This usually involves a business plan on behalf of the writer regarding the operation of the site. The writer promises a split of any donations, profits, subscriptions or monies collected as a direct result of the comic or artists work between the writer and the artist. This is often a 50/50 or 60/40 split. This tends to be more attractive on established comics than new ones, simply because it can take up to a year to gain any sizable audience.  I highly suggest some kind of written agreement between the artist and writer to make sure that it is understood how this profit sharing will work.  Writers often like this one because if they make money, both make money, if they don’t then the writer still gets their art. Professional artists probably won’t agree to this unless its on an established title, but hobbyists might.

Option B: Service exchange

Sometimes, depending on the writer’s other talents, there can be a bargain struck for an exchange of services. For example a website developer might offer some programing services for art, or perhaps a musician writer might offer a song for art. A marketing professional/writer might offer promotional services for art. This is a bit tricky, matching values, but sometimes its worth it to an artist to not have to pay for other professional services. A writer offering this needs to evaluate all the skills he can bring to the table and offer in exchange for artwork.

Things you shouldn’t promise an artist in exchange for their work is:

  • Exposure – because frankly they are probably already more famous than you and your work, unless you happen to be a famous author. Unless you happen to be some kind of marketing god, working on your project probably isn’t going to be ‘their big break’. You probably are looking at non payment options anyway.
  • Experience – they can get experience working on their own projects, and its probably more enjoyable to work on their own stuff than for a boss that doesn’t even give compensate them for their time.

So in short, have a plan to compensate the artist. The more cash or profit potential you bring to the table, the more like you are to find a good artist. If you don’t feel comfortable stating a  page rate you are willing to pay, invite artists to submit a portfolio and page rate to you. There’s no commitment on either side, so its no problem to ask. Don’t ask however, for specific renderings of say… your characters. That borders on something called ‘spec work’, and its generally frowned upon since you are getting usable artwork for your project for nothing. You should be able to tell from a portfolio what sort of art you’ll be getting. No need to ask for specifics.

3. Do your homework on comic art

There’s a huge range of artists out there and their skills and styles vary all over the map. As a writer, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time LOOKING at comic art. If you are basically thinking of hiring/buying some, you should probably have an idea of what you are buying. When you get artists submitting work to you, you need to know how to evaluate their portfolio. Artist’s styles are kind of like finger prints. Each one is signature and unique. People hire artists based often on if they like the style they work in, and most artists really can’t change their style too dramatically. They can shift around a bit, but their art always looks like their art. Spend time looking at comic art, gathering samples of the kind of art you want for your project. Study it in every detail. The lighting, the linework, anatomy, detail, inkwork, colour, make sure you acquaint yourself with what is and isn’t the quality you are looking for. Make sure you know what good sequential art looks like, so when the artists do come, you can not only find the artist you want, but the artist you want for the price you can afford. Some very good, but new artists will charge a lower page rate than more established artists with possibly less skill. You have to have an eye for the art to be able to tell when you are getting a deal, and when you aren’t. As the buyer, this responsibility is square on you. Don’t get had.

Some writers also come to the table without understanding the comic market and expect the artist to somehow introduce them into it. That’s not really the case. You are expected to know the market you are entering and do your own research. This is YOUR project, you need to take on the bulk of responsibility for the business research.

4. Bring a collaborative attitude

As an artist with a lot of experience collaborating with writers of various sorts in both comics and graphic design, I can tell you it is infinitely more rewarding to work with a writer who is willing to work with an artist rather than be draconian about their writing vision. Open minded writers who are open to different interpretations of characters, environments, etc of their work by an artist tend to get a more inspired product than those who feel the need to beat their artists into a pre-determined mold. Most artists are a bit fragile, and while professionals can handle changes, and being sent back to the drawing board, eventually they do get frustrated with it. It is a bit of a curve to learn to work with an artist. Artists by their very natures are kind of flakey and weird. This is where it becomes very crucial that you do your homework as stated above. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential artist questions about their workflow,  how they’ve worked with other writers, what they expect in terms of freedom to create, or how much need do they have for direction from you. Some artists just like to be given a script and run with it, others might want each stage verified and signed off. When you are selecting your artist, make sure you choose one with a style and approach to working with you that you can live with. Also make sure that you are honest about the scope and length of your project from the get go and that the artist can commit. It can be difficult when artist and writer part ways halfway through a project, forcing the writer to get a new artist, and re-establish workflows and look/feel of the writing. No two artists will have the same interpretation of the source material. Its best for consistency to stay with one artist, unless you plan in advance. For example if you have short comics, each one done by different artists, its alright, but for a continuing story to just shift artists half way through a chapter, its disruptive to the reader.

5. Protect yourself

While most artists aren’t out there to screw you over, particularly those who are professionals and make a living off their art (reputation is everything), there are individuals out there who are a little on the unscrupulous side or just plain flakey. Artists are a weird bunch to work with and do not tend to behave like some kind of art ATM. Today’s society has us conditioned to expect certain things when we pay for them, service with a smile, the customer is always right, and the department story mentality. Art, especially original art, is not a mass produced commodity and the people predisposed towards making it are not Walmart. Some artists sometimes need a bit of babysitting to keep them on track. This means emailing them every so often (keep this reasonable, don’t do it every day or it gets annoying) to see how progress is coming. Its important with creative people to make sure you set deadlines, and set them a little in advance of when you actually need things. Creative people tend to be procrastinators and you don’t want to get caught holding the bag because they were late. Anticipate the behavior. If your artist proves to be reliable, you can always adjust. Its also a standard practice to pay the artist half of a job’s worth up front (to prove you are a serious customer) and half upon completion and delivery. If the artist doesn’t hold up their agreement, you only forfeit the deposit, rather than a whole amount. Being paid only half is also an incentive for the artist to finish. If you are hiring an artist, you may also want to double check their reputation but doing a little googling on line. Some places have places where deadbeat artists are tracked or deadbeat clients are tracked so that people can avoid them. This is more prevalent in some communities than others, but it doesn’t hurt to check up on how satisfied previous commissioners were with the artist. Often artists display commissioned work on their websites or in galleries and normally list who it was for. You can always message these previous customers and see what it was like dealing with the artist.  This type of research also helps you to avoid art thieves, people who steal an artist’s work or identity and takes commissions/jobs as the artist they have stolen the work of. Of course its fraud and the people who pay never get the art they were promised. Examine the work presented to you in a portfolio carefully for things like altered signatures (or missing signatures), clearly cropped work, work that appears to be degraded artifacted or signed with a huge ugly digital font rather than a hand signature). If you’ve done your homework, you might even be familiar with the work of a particular artist, and be able to identify if it is being used inappropriately. While it might also seem attractive to go out of your own country for cheap artists, keep in mind language barriers, time differences, and currency fluctuations may cause problems. There is also often no way to legally pursue anyone out of your own country if they screw you over, so keep that in mind when choosing your artist.

If you do plan on working long term with an artist, it may be in your interest and his/hers to come up with some kind of written agreement regarding rights, payments, schedules, deadlines, etc, just so that you are all on the same page and that everyone knows their responsibilities. This helps protect you, the investor in the project, as well as the artist, as they know what they have to do.



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