Why don’t we pay artists more?

Carljoe Javier
One of the things that is commendable about our local creators is that they keep creating

MORE INCOME, BETTER PRODUCT. We have to let go of this glorification of the starving artist and we have to reward the efforts and sacrifices that our creators make to produce work

MANILA, Philippines – In my Writing for Comics class, I asked students to prepare 3 questions each. These questions could be anything to do with comics, from history to form to production.

One in particular launched a discussion that led to all kinds of questions and ideas not only about comics but about our culture and consumption in general. 

READ: Comics writing 101

It was, “If the artists work so hard making comics, why don’t they ask for more money?”

Seems a perfectly sensible question. The answer to which should be, “Hey, you’re right, we should pay artists more.” Because it’s very clear that comics creators, both writers and artists, deserve much more for their creative efforts than we’re giving them.

So why don’t we?

I guess the first step in examining the question is the basic assumption of it: that we should pay komiks creators more. So let’s ask, should we? In saying we should pay more, of course, the underlying assumption is that we should be paying more for komiks. 

At present, how much do we pay for our komiks? You can pick up komiks for anywhere between 20 bucks and 250, with collected editions going for something like 200 or 250 on average. Most of these will be B&W, with some having colored covers. 

So we’ve got this range that is pretty low, when you consider how much we pay for other printed media. We’ll pay in the neighborhood of P200 or more for magazines, bestseller books cost P300 and a single issue from Marvel, DC or other Western companies goes for P125 to P250 or thereabouts. 

Consider that other printed media have ads (and lots of ‘em when you read mags) or are part of a much larger sales chunk (like paperbacks which will sell in the millions, and due to economies of scale even though it’ll turn a small profit on the Philippine market, it’ll make a lot of money).

Komiks have neither ads (okay, some might, but not enough to bring in lots of money) nor economies of scale that would allow them to be a selling success. 

Factoring in production costs, the cut of the retail cost that creators share with stores or when they rent out booth spaces and all of the other expenditures involved in producing comics — at best creators are making a hundred on each book. More likely, though, they are breaking even or pulling away with just about enough money for dinner and a few drinks after Komikon.

Comics, costumes, crowds: Summer Komikon

Should creators earn more for their creative endeavors? Definitely. So why don’t they demand more?

At this point, we turn the question around and ask, are readers willing to pay more for their comics? Again, we have that list of printed media that people are willing to spend on, but are they similarly willing to spend on local creative production?

Sure, some people will spend on art, especially if it’s considered high art and created by a well-known artist. Or people will spend on theater, every once in a while, especially dropping money for local remakes of Broadway shows.

But for local literary production? In my experience, there’s always going to be someone who goes to your launch and says, “Hey, we’re friends. Why don’t you just give me a copy for free?

Even though people are willing to spend on other things, especially foreign books and foreign comics, they will think that local komiks should be sold for cheaper. I know that the production quality is different, especially as a lot of komiks produced come in zine form, Riso or photocopied.

But doesn’t that become a chicken and egg issue? People aren’t willing to shell out money, so artists have to bring the costs down. In bringing costs down, people think that they shouldn’t shell out too much money.

I am actually glad that komiks sell for relatively cheap, because that means that when I go to Komikon, I can get loads and loads of ‘em. But that’s me, using consumer-end thinking, wanting to just get lots of stuff for cheap. It shows my own failure to process the idea that I am giving creators very little financial incentive to keep producing. 

One of the things that is commendable about our local creators is that despite the small or next to nil profit margins that they earn from their labors of love, they keep creating. They produce amazing, innovative, exciting work, without asking for any reward beyond being read and appreciated. It’s noble, but I don’t think that it should stay that way.

Perhaps with students, and hopefully more readers, thinking about how much we value and reward komiks creators, we might start making moves to address this problem.

We have to let go of this glorification of the starving artist and we have to reward the efforts and sacrifices that our creators make to produce work. – Rappler.com

Man against sketch image from Shutterstock

Carljoe Javier

Carljoe Javier is at the faculty of English and Comparative Literature at UP. He is also an author, and among his books are The Kobayashi Maru of Love, the new edition of which is available from Visprint Inc. His upcoming Writing 30 will be available as an ebook at amazon, ibookstore, b&n and flipreads.com

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