Last week I got a free copy of a Pacific Rim graphic novel at San Diego Comic Con and decided I’d take a peek at the contents before I gave it away to a friend. The cover is alright though it looks like someone spilled bleach on it by the odd splash of yellow-white on the cover. Like most franchise comics, it looks like a rush job, the pencilers and inkers clashing in mild and major instances and the colorists grasping to find a rendering style that fits before time constraints probably made them give up and thrown down color faster than a 5 y.o at a county fair could projectile vomit his cotton candy on the sidewalk.
So I was picking at the flaws in it most of which stem from the fact that their are five pencilers, four inkers and three colorists on this 100 page book. Beacham’s script, a first stab at comic writing, is sometimes as little as three sentences for an entire page and I’m actually impressed by the creative teams ability to synthesize anything from it. Sadly, the team seems haphazardly put together with really no consideration for who works aesthetically or stylistically well together and for the most part each of the creative members brush up rigidly against one another producing a really bland book (and product, really.)
Now I’m not trying to say that it’s a “heartless” book as Beacham seems to be excited about the story but its desperately and quickly produced so it could be published in time to ride the waves the movie made. Some people thought my nitpicking tweets were just me being catty for no reason but honestly this Human Centipede-style of comics making is slowly becoming the norm for comics that aren’t just franchise fodder. Noting the flaws in this book was not about the artists skill (which most of the artists seem very competent in drawing) but that a lot of the time creative teams are forced to create their work at breakneck speeds because of time and money constraints.
Unreasonable deadlines and the desperation of trying to make a living on sweatshop wages ends up producing more and more subpar work. Attempting to talk with other comic artists about changing the industry is often met with jaded sighs because from within the torrent of constant scripts that need to be drawn it looks impossible. The demand is there and you can only hang your head and move your hand limply over a blank page, hoping to finish at least a few pages today so you’re not working for $4 an hour.
Working in this manner brings down the industry on multiple levels. New artists trying to “break into comics” work for nothing just because they think the publishers will bring them into their warm comic bosom once they pay their dues. Even seasoned artists still sign WFH agreements guaranteeing them no pay if their employer decides the completed issue they drew wasn’t right for them. The constant stream of new inexperienced artists who think this is “just how it is” end up making the veteran artists bring their rates down to compete with theirs which is basically just pennies.
Publishers complain that artists aren’t reliable and are prone to flaking out on jobs when the source of this unreliable nature is usually caused by having to take on day jobs and sleep 5 hrs a week just to get an issue out every month because they can’t trust their publishers to pay them or they don’t get paid enough. Both sides of the industry are unable to stop eating their own tail or else one risks starving and the other risks not making as much money. Keeping the industry in this chaotic state is more advantageous for employers because then they can play legal games with you, throw you WFH agreements that guarantee you rights to nothing or surprise you with a deadline that is impossible to meet and therefore the 21 out of 22 pages you finished are void.
Art-wise I think producing so much rushed content brings the entire medium down, the medium that we all struggle to have recognized as legitimate art. This doesn’t concern me as much with creators because I think if you have taste and develop it, the empty IP farm comics just become white noise. However for readers that see 100 mass-produced cape comics for every indie comic its incredibly damaging because it warps the idea of what is considered comics and may even turn someone off from medium altogether (e.g women, people of color, everyone not into spandex etc).
Some things off the top of my head that might improve comics as an occupation, a medium and industry are: putting together creative teams that actually work well aesthetically. Establishing actual work contracts that insure pay for the creative team and content for the commissioner/employer. Scheduling well in advance and establishing deadlines within the contract so there isn’t room for either to back out. Including rush fees in contracts when one member of the creative (maybe writer or artist) goes over their deadline. Establishing a minimum wage for artists (or the subsets like pencilers, inkers, colorists) so there isn’t any undercutting or taking advantage of creatives with lesser experience in the industry.
The industry is a mess and the lack of standardization in wages and payment plans makes working in comics incredibly unstable. The instability is such a trademark that the only thing publishers can promise is “exposure” which they wield like actual currency and which tons of artists still clamber on board projects for. I think the changes I listed can take place in all parts of the industry whether its a publisher or someone kickstarting a project with a creative team. I’m not just focusing on the Big 2 or other large publishers because this is a problem even in the smallest of freelance gigs.
Demanding what you’re owed is hard in a community that is known for success being procured by knowing someone that knowns someone. Everyone tries hard not to step on anyone else’s toes (except for Brandon) in case we ruin our chance at success in some way. Everyone in comics is friends! Even that gross editor dude that came onto you in an email while he was offering you paid work for the first time! No. Stand up for what you’re owed and speak out against being treated poorly just because your young or inexperienced or were told thats just the way it is. Passivity doesn’t breed change.
Comics are a luxury product and it takes decades to become proficient in the art of creating one. I love comics. Ugly comics, silent comics, gross comics. I’m just not in love with the way the industry treats creators. Constantly thinking and being critical of your craft as well as being aware of the flaws in the industry you’ve chosen to work in is important to its development and our collective livelihood.
And I’ll probably keep talking about it until it changes.