You’ve finally made it – your comic is successful, you have a decent following and you have been picked up by a major publisher or sold your work and have the necessary funds to finally quit your day job and do what you love and make a comfortable amount of money.
From the back of the room, you hear someone grumble – “sell out…”
How many times have you noticed this statement tossed around: “I remember when [NAME OF ARTIST] used to produce cutting edge comics, but ever since they’ve been picked up by [INSERT PUBLISHER] they’ve lost their identity and aren’t cool anymore.”
or “When [NAME OF ARTIST] first started, their work was influential and innovative, but once they became a professional, their work is no different than anyone else’s.”
Why do people turn on you as soon as you’ve achieved a moderate amount of success? You’ve finally reached the top of the mountain, but the people behind you want to push you over the edge head first. What gives?
This my friends, is the stigma of ‘selling out.’
I’m going to explain to you WHY this is a good and bad thing, and how you can still manage to keep a balance between earning a good paycheck and maintaining some of your artistic integrity. Follow along…
The Acceptable Range
Most authors agree that there is a level of professional behaviour you can adopt, where you are earning an honest day’s pay and maintaining your principles. You put out good quality work that inspires, enchants and entertains. Almost all of the creator owned comics follow this path – some achieve moderate amounts of success, and others struggle but keep themselves afloat through other artistic means to support their comics creation. The key is, there is a constant struggle that keeps everyone on the same level. Everyone is hustlin’ and trying to make money, and nothing is easy on this path…
The Negative Perception
Then there are times when the lure of big money and promises sway up-and-coming talent towards a path of mediocrity, loss of control, vision and feeling. Where comic properties are ‘acquired’ like possessions, and glossed up in order to be more appealing on a broader scale, while losing the soul of what made them great in the first place. There have been numerous instances where authors have signed over their properties, only to have their reputation tarnished due to bad negotiation or false promises.
The common perception is the author is no longer a regular joe like you and I – he/she has an elevated status, gets a free ride due to fame, and is out-of-touch with the daily struggles that the amateur comic author has to go through. It doesn’t matter that the success story had to scrap it out like the rest of the dogs to become successful. They’ve now become part of the establishment and are getting a free ride.
This is where the everyday author begins to grumble and mutter since there’s bitter feelings involved.
- Jealousy – we all want to get paid, recognized and do what we love for a living and have someone else worry about the details
- Disappointment – there is a noticeable change in the essence of the comic (story, art, etc)
- Resentment – your comic is far superior in comparison, but another similar property got picked up instead
What many people fail to realize is, each of the authors who have sold out in the past have done so for one underlying goal – to create sustainability in their lives. Whether its paying rent long term, affording groceries, putting kids through school, paying for car repairs, health insurance, etc. This monetary gain helps to aid one of these existing problems – its EXTREMELY rare that an author is already well off by the time they are picked up by a larger suitor.
The notion that an artist who works for Marvel, DC or any other publisher is getting paid big bucks to do little work is something that has polluted the minds of comic creators for the last 30 years. You can thank Liefeld, MacFarlane, Lee and co. for this overinflated lifestyle they promoted in the 90s. Exaggerated sales figures, ridiculously overpaid artists, and watered down work hiding the real numbers – typical remnants of a decade of excess (the 80s).
The truth is, there isn’t a lot of money to be made in comics at the high level. The salaried authors don’t last long, and those who do, burn out and try to find other creative avenues to keep themselves sane.
The other thing people fail to realize – ‘success is not all that it is cracked up to be.’
You are seeing more and more authors, artists, writers jumping ship from larger companies because they want to pursue their own creator owned work, but cannot take the stifling nature of the corporations that pay them. People like Mark Waid, George Perez and countless others have opted to fly solo and enjoy the creative freedom without the shackles of corporate meddling in their work. Now, those who screamed and jeered and called them sell-outs are embracing them and welcoming their talents back to the independent grass roots realm of comics.
Is it hypocritical? Sure – but everyone loves to associate themselves with an underdog. But when the underdog makes it, all of a suddent they’ve become too big for their britches and their ego becomes massive and they lose sight of what made them popular in the first place and…
Get real – we all know that in today’s entertainment, you have to be lucky and hit the curve of a trend at the right time. Like anticipating a swell and riding the wave to the break. Problem is, we’re all out there waiting for our wave.
Finding the balance is tough. We are in a wonderful position to be successful – authors who began with nothing, posting sillies on the internet are now media icons (Mike Krahulik & Jerry Holkins – Penny Arcade.) While others who had no asprations of becoming famous have been thrust into the spotlight and are humbled by the accolades (Kate Beaton – Hark! A Vagrant)
So how can you achieve The Balance?
The theory is quite simple – put forth your best effort each time, every time. Continually strive to get better at your craft. Meet and greet people with friendliness and passion for comics. Produce work that is influential and network with people of influence. They can help you get noticed by more eyes and reviewed by more minds. Keep slugging it out during those times when you are getting pummeled. That continual perseverance will make the rewards that much more sweeter (and people love a good story of struggle.) Most of all, stay humble, be thankful of your opportunities, and help your fellow authors get a leg up, just like the help you received when you first started.
As authors who call the shots when it comes to our properties, there is no better time than now to promote and share your stories with the masses. If you consistently create good work, and are honest and forthcoming in nature – you’re sure to be rewarded. So if you’re finding yourself ready to quit after seeing your table-mate getting picked up by DC for their less than stellar work, don’t worry. What goes around, eventually comes around.
That’s the great equalizer – the balance.
Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the author of the ultra-violent modern noir Online Graphic Novel El Cuervo. He provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one!) that serve as virtual motivational kicks in the ass, and doesn’t tolerate laziness, indecision or excuses. Feel free to connect with him on Google+ or you can follow him on Twitter at @DrezzRodriguez