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On Doing Free Work

IMG_6822We had dinner with a good friend recently and she was very excited about my new career as a comic book creator because she had an idea. And her idea actually did sound really good but I needed to make sure she understood what was involved in producing a regular comic. So this is what I emailed her.

Hi Cherry,

It was great seeing you and the family.

As far as a “mom” cartoon” strip, the first thing we need to figure out is why you want to do this.

99% of cartoonist are not able to make a living off cartooning. They do it because they love doing it and are willing to commit themselves to producing a strip consistently week after week, month after month, year after year.

The next thing to decide is, are you willing to shell out any money? Because most writers and cartoonists will want to get paid. It takes me anywhere from 5 to 12 hours to do a page. That’s a full-time job right there!

If you don’t want to pay someone, then you have to find people who believe in your idea as much as you do and are willing to do it for free in exchange for part-ownership. And they truly have to believe in it because you will be asking them to work for HOURS for FREE week after week, month after month, year after year with no guarantee of a pay-off down the line.

The truth is, coming up with ideas is fairly easy to do. Writing and drawing quality work on a regular basis is not easy and is actually work.

Now as far as monetizing, the model that seems to have worked for that 1% is to put the strip out regularly for a period of time (more than a year), build up a fan base and sell merchandise to them (books, shirts, posters, etc).

If you’re lucky, a publishing house will pick up your strip, but that just means, they are willing to put up the cost of printing and distribution but you still have to promote it yourself because you only get royalties (money) after the publisher has made their money back on sales plus extra.

If you’re REALLY lucky, some studio may want to make a movie out of your property but that rarely happens and when it does, it’s with stories that no one has ever seen before and already has a significant fan base that can guarantee ticket sales.

So this is what it takes to do a comic. Would be happy to discuss further. Call anytime!

I’ve heard stories from lots of cartoonists, writers and artists of people coming up to them offering great ideas. I thought this was a pretty reasonable response. And I guess we’ll see how far my friend is willing to go to make her idea a reality.

UPDATE: I noticed people on Facebook are interested to know what my friend’s response was — she actually never brought it up again.

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