Thursday, August 17, 2017

Comics Economics 101: Comic Book Budgets



So, do you want to be an independent comic book publisher or release your own comic? Well, dreams definitely come true but this one may cost you a pretty penny! People rarely think of the cost to produce a comic book. Keep in mind that this is not to deter you but to inform you of a realistic budget to make your comic book dreams come true.

Firstly, comic books are an art form that is mainly done with a team, that is, unless you can or want to do it all yourself. Many people do, but that takes a LOT of time to do correctly or at least to the level that will sell enough books to make the time worth it. If not, you will need a writer, penciler, inker, colorist, etc. All of these people need to be paid depending on their personal rates. We will look at some of these rates, based on pro artists that I know and we will build our budget!

Most, if not all, of these artists are professional indie freelancers. They cater their prices to the common audience and not to big publishers like Marvel and DC, so they are much cheaper but still good. Despite this, you’ll see how quickly their prices can add up.

MAKING YOUR BUDGET

Every book needs a cover, so we'll start here. A good cover will cost you between $100 and $300 so let's choose the $200- right in the middle. Pencilers charge between $25 to $100 a page but I know a good one who charges $35 and a great inker who charges $40 per page. I'm a colorist and my rate is $45 a page and I work with a separator (who lays down the flat colors for me to do my stylized detail work) who charges $10 a page. A letterer typically charges about $25 a page.

To round out our team, we'll pay our writer, an editor and a graphic designer a measly $100 per book, each. Also remember that a typical comic is 24 pages. So let's plug in these figures and add this all up with the chart below: 




DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB

Yes, $4,220 for ONE 24 page issue! Remember, this is a more conservative price because many of these artists are on the cheaper side! So now, you can see why you would need additional income outside of comics to start publishing. Many people just don’t have that kind of disposable income and end up doing it themselves, which takes a LONG time. Even if you have the money to pay a team, the artists also have other jobs on their plates as well, in order to survive, and have to balance their time for your project with other deadlines, which also takes a LONG time! Either way, patience is a virtue that not many people have to complete projects in this line of work. It’s just too costly and takes too long.

I know you are thinking that you can probably cut some corners and consolidate or eliminate some of these jobs on your book. Some you can and some are more essential than you think.

Take the graphic designer for example. You may think his job is done with just the title and company logos but these days comics are sold digitally as well as print. You need a graphic designer to import/export and convert to correct file formats, make sure the page bleed is correct, the color-coding and resolution are print ready, pre-flighting, etc. Hell, even the legal info on the inside cover and all of the ads are laid out and designed by a graphic designer for each issue.

Looking at the editor, you need one for proofreading, spotting art and layout inconsistencies, plot holes, continuity errors and all around damage and quality control. Simply put- if you want a GOOD book, get an editor.

REALITY CHECK

Here’s where it gets real… again. If you plan to sell your book at the common cover price of $3.99, it’ll take you to sell more than a thousand copies just for you to break even and get that $4,220 back before you'll even see any profits. Do you think your book can sell those units? Well, it’s possible if the quality is there. That quality just may cost you $4,220.

41 comments:

  1. O.o dream shattered

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    1. No! Don't let it! Let it inspire you and work to get your vision out to the world! The budget is a goal!

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    2. DO NOT let this shatter your resolve. Think about this:

      You can go to Kickstarter with a small budget and it's HIGHLY LIKELY your project will get funded if you have some good artwork and a solid premise to showcase. Get your local comic store involved - make inserts for people that buy certain titles that your comic store can slip into bags and give them a cut of the proceeds on the Kickstarter or a link to their shop, or even do a variant cover for them or something...there's plenty of ideas that don't cost any money that creative people in the industry will go for instead of money...Just make sure you aren't pitching it as "exposure" and its coming from a genuine place. Also make sure your content is GOOD. Hey maybe that comic store that supported your Kickstarter wants 100 copies for free to sell through to make up their advertising budget or something, there's PLENTY of possibility.

      When I was running my KS project I got some SUPER talented artists from overseas to work on the contingency that they'd get a cut of the Kickstarter when it was successful. That way even though I'm paying for a lot of the advertising and what not, the whole team is invested in making the project successful and making sure the page gets a lot of traffic. ANYTHING is possible if you're creative enough and think outside the box but again make sure you're CONFIDENT and GENUINE and you can do it!

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    3. Thank you for this feedback Damien!

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  2. And you haven't even talked about actually printing the comic!
    Wait until you see those prices! :)

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    1. Haha! Yea, let's not talk about the print prices... yet!

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  3. Heh, this is why I don't do (or read for that matter) color books. I'm glad I can wear a lot of hats.

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    1. Yea, color is expensive! Cutting out a few steps, if you can, will save tons of money!

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  4. Nice article but you don't mention that distribution of print comics, for example usinf Diamond, takes 60% of the cover price.So in this scenario you would need to sell twice as many copies to break even.

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    1. Yea, Diamond sure takes their cut! But hey, I gotta save something for the sequel! lol

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    2. Don't sell through Diamond, at least not at the start. Or, pitch your book to Image or Dark Horse - if writing or making comics is what you want to do long term, never hurts to jump on with an established outfit to get started.

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    3. Super tips Damien! Thanks again!

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    1. Andy, I would love to hear your perspective on how that can be more (or less) beneficial. Cheers!

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  6. I could have this done at half your stated costs.

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    1. Great! For some it will be cheaper and for some it will be more, depending on what you are willing to do or pay for. I can do it at zero, it just takes longer! Cheers Moby's!

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    2. Very good point. Thanks for the article, I am sure it will open some eyes. Perhaps a follow up covering printing and distribution?

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    3. Yes, more will come soon! Thank you for your interest!

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  7. Um, those are some incredibly low low pries for penciling and inking. Lower than the colouring?! That's kind of messed up, the person doing the layout of the pages is almost as responsible for the narrative arc as the writer is in terms of interpreting it.

    I think people should look at the Fair Rates survey for a better idea of Fair Rates and what to expect prices wise.
    https://fairpagerates.com/

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    1. Of course they are low rates, that's how they keep getting jobs! So who is it messed up for? The penciler who charges $35 a page and stays with work or for the other pencilers who have to compete with cheaper rates? I know this is a scary concept but not all pencilers adhere to $100 a page. Thanks for the link Max! ;)

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    2. fairpagerates.com clearly states on their website that they are a part of/support the 'Fight for $15', an American political movement. This means they are not an unbiased source.

      The problem is that the 'All artists should make Marvel page rates' crowd is they refuse to recognize that the talent pool available for art is global, and think that the page rates should reflect what is best for a political agenda.

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    3. Thanks for that observation! Yes, artists all over the world have different conversion rates, monetary needs, values and costs of living. Cheers for your comment!

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    4. It's not a political agenda. Drawing comics is a LOT of work, it's about what = rent and eating. Expecting people to do the work for a token payment and just the love of it, especially if it's on someone else's things, is exploitive frankly.

      I've been a freelancer for over 25 years now, i've done work for as much as 360 a page and as little as 125. The later is hardly enough to live on, starvation wages. Less is not even a tip.

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    5. Yes, it's a lot of work! But this post isn't about what others expect in the manner that you are speaking. In my 20+ years of freelance I've charged cheaper than that to survive, so I know the plight. But the reality is that there ARE artists out there, for whatever reason, whether you like it or not, that DO charge that cheaply and because they do simply love it- but that's irrelevant here.

      People are getting too caught up in the rates and missing the point of why the rates were chosen. The point is that even with "cheaper" rates, it's still fairly costly to produce a comic.

      Thanks for your comment Max!

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    6. Artists overseas generally charge much less for their work. Also not to get too nitpick here but in working with both American and overseas artists, I've found overseas artists are generally more responsive, and will always, always, always hit their deadlines. I mean if you want to work with Alex Ross, these costs are ridiculous, but if you're working with unknowns from China or the Philippines, these rates are probably about right.

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    7. Exactly! Thank you for this insight!

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  8. Whyyyy would you need a full team of writer/editor/penciler/inker/colorist/letterer/graphic designer for a self published book?! Most small comic creators I know split things into artist and writer. Maybe a flatter too if the colors take too much time. That's it. And of course, many webcomics (like mine) are made by one person who does it all.

    Having a huge team of people helps put one book out a month. If you aren't on that schedule, I don't see a need for 6+ people to work on one book. Also, why wouldn't your artist also do the cover?

    Here's the economics of my first book, just to offer a different perspective. It's 60pgs long, covering 52pgs (the complete chapter 1) plus extras. It takes roughly 6hrs for me to do each page. So that's 312 hrs, plus a few formatting the pages for print. Let's say 320 total. That's a lot of unpaid time... but it's an investment on my part, and frankly it's worth it just for the increase in my art skills. The books were a little over $5 each to print in a small test run, but I'm selling them at $15. Much better profit margin than floppies.

    This doesn't even factor in things like Patreon-- I don't have many patrons yet, but some creators get hundreds or thousands a month there.

    Comics are a hard business, but not an impossible one. You have options. But you're definitely better off skipping the mainstream model if you're super small.

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    1. Why does anybody do anything? How long's a piece of string? If some want to pay a team then they do and obviously, as I stated in the article, if you can consolidate or eliminate roles then that will effect the pricing. Some will come out more, some less. Also when I and many others assemble a team, it's to adhere to our vision and not a monthly deadline so I have to disagree with you there.

      Thanks for your experience! Yours is an example of someone who was able to consolidate due to your art skills. I too have that luxury but many don't have those skills and have to pay for a larger team, hence the point of the article.

      Again, thank you for your perspective!

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    2. I guess my point in bringing it up is, the article made it sound like you "have" to do things in the same process/manner as the big publishers if you wanna make comics, and that's just not the case. There's all kind of ways to make comics and while you should do what works for you, I don't think people should feel pressured to do things in a certain way just because that's how Marvel does it.

      Artist/Writer duo usually works pretty well for most small operations. An editor seems most useful when you have a giant stable of characters and plots that are all interacting and need to be kept separate (or if you're doing an anthology project). Lettering is definitely a distinct skillset... but most comics are probably fine with just a font.

      Basically, when I saw the comment up above about "dreams crushed," I got frustrated. If you wanna make comics, you should make comics. There are plenty of ways to do it cheap, so people shouldn't go in terrified of this thousands-of-dollars price tag for a single issue hanging over their heads.

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    3. Oh no! The intent of the article was in no way to limit creators to THIS path, in fact I touched upon other ways to go about it but I'm just not going into detail on those ways at this time. ;)

      I understand your frustration and the first comment as well because I felt like that once too! Some people break through their barriers and some people feel it's not worth it, turn around and go back the other way. People react differently to the same information.

      Anyways, thanks for your info and your reply!

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  9. Replies
    1. So many of us have! Thanks for your comment! :)

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  10. Please make Part II: Comics Economics 102! Please research distribution, small business registration (sole proprietor), taxes, printing color vs bw, and marketing.

    I think this series is great -- i bet some famous comic artists would help you out. :)

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  11. Wow The pencils in that chart are very low price... and the lettered to $25? Just $10 difference between two jobs where the time and effort of realization are very different. I would recommend looking for a good penciler who charges at least $50 per page, and a lettered of $10

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion but I'm confident with the penciler that I have. :)

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  12. This doesn't even cover the cost of actual printing, or the extortion that the Diamond monopoly takes for distribution. As far as the budget, if comics now generally pay a pittance to the writer and 50% more for coloring than pencils, that would go a long way to explain why comics today are terrible.

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    1. Exactly. I haven't even covered printing, marketing, distribution yet.

      People are very distracted with that $35 pencil rate! Maybe he's only doing breakdowns? Maybe he's my 1st cousin giving me a super family discount? Who knows. It's irrelevant. Also irrelevant is the preconceived notion of the quality output. It could be a good comic or a bad comic.

      The point is that even if you went for the "cheaper" artists, it can still add up into the thousands for just one issue.

      Thanks for your input Bob!

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