When Exposing Myself Isn’t Enough: This Artist’s Thoughts

Columns, Comics, Featured, Top story

This article on AdWeek got me thinking this week.

Basically, Showtime solicited a bunch of artists to join a contest to generate art for an upcoming boxing match.  One artist declined with a snarky letter that essentially emphasized that a big time network like Showtime, putting on a big time event like a boxing match in a big time city like Las Vegas should actually pay an artist to do the work, rather than benefit from free submissions to a contest.

The article made me think.  As an artist, if Showtime asked me to contribute to their contest, I’d probably flip out at the chance.  I’d undoubtedly spend many hours working up my submission, perhaps even asking others to help, all for a chance to fly to Vegas, see a fight, and look at people looking at my work.  That sounds awesome!  But would it be worth it?

After soul searching, my answer is no.  I want to be paid for my work.
Let me preface these next statements with this truth: At the end of last year, I was fired from the full time job that fulfilled my education and ten years of career-building in California.  My comics and cartooning work had been a hobby until that day, but ever since I’ve tried to spin it into an income.  With the help of driving a cab (which is, no sarcasm, a lot more fun than you might think), I’ve been pulling it off.  But every time I sit at the drawing board, and every time I print a new issue (four this year, so far), and every time I pay for a convention table, that’s time and money I could put toward my rent, my utilities, and my love of Little Debbie snack treats.  My art can cost me my livelihood as much as I want it to maintain it.

So, perhaps you’re not in that position.  You have a day job and art is an after hours/weekend pursuit.  I totally get that.  But that pursuit is still costing you.

If I remember my high school economics class, opportunity cost is the money you could be making when you’re not.  If you take a day off of work, where you would’ve made, say, $100, to exhibit at a comic con where you made $75, the choice cost you $25.

“But, Russ, the joy of exhibiting at that con was priceless!”  Believe me, I agree, but I’ve also grown to understand that time has an opportunity cost value, as well.  The time you spent drawing those comics and prints for the con could’ve been spent watching House of Cards, or taking a nap, or with your family.  The joy of This Comics Life will cost you time spent on other joys, plain and simple, for better or worse.

Sign Returns Cover
Cover to my Minicomics Day Special, drawn 3/14/2015.

So, when you say the money isn’t important, I beg to differ, because it gives value to the time you spent making that thing, even if it’s just breaking even on expenses.  Maybe even that’s not important to you, either . . . but considering the cost, it’s probably important to your wife.

At the very least, it’s important to me, now more than ever, because when you say your time making and promoting comics has no value, there’s no reason mine has any value, either.  Every time you say you’re doing art for free, you’re assigning art a baseline value of zero, and multiplying anything by zero is zero.  If Pepsi decided to give away cola for free forever, would Coca-Cola ever make money again?

Coincidentally, this week’s Phoenix New Times cover article asks the art community to “grow up.”  When you read their ten-point call to arms, two points challenge Phoenix museums to hire someone, another challenges ASU to connect artists to jobs, and another asks politicians stop cutting the Arizona Commission of the Arts’ budget.  The message is clear: an active art community doesn’t give their time and talent away.  They work.

Consider the article that spawned these thoughts in the first place.  Showtime knows artists will clamor for a chance for the global exposure a boxing match will offer, and their contest assumes that exposure (and a flight to Vegas, natch) is enough.  But Showtime really isn’t to blame; the artists are.  If no one entered the contest, Showtime would have to pay an artist, either one already in their stable or a freelancer.  Either way, when they pay for it, the time spent making the art has value.

While I’m essentially unemployed, I’ve decided to do just that: spend my time making art.  That time needs to have at least the value I’d earn back at a “real job.”  Ah, see how quickly that derogatory tone comes in the context of the artist’s lifestyle?  When you treat it like a real job, with a measurable cost, you might catch Showtime’s attention.  Or Marvel Comics’ attention.  Or, if none of that is important to you, the attention of more potential readers.  If that isn’t important to you, then you’re just drawing, quite literally, for nothing.

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