Ask LH: How Much Should I Pay Someone To Illustrate My Comic?

Dear Lifehacker, I have been working on a comic series for a while now, using a free software with a limited sprite library. I am now getting to the point where I want to have it illustrated so I can sell copies at conventions and the like. My question is: how much I should pay the illustrator?

Should I give them a percentage of the profits (if there are any) or pay them a flat rate? Maybe a hybrid of the two? Keep in mind I will still be responsible for getting it printed, advertising, selling and all the other management issues that go with a project like this. Thanks, Comic Book Guy

Dear CBG,

As luck would have it, I happen to have a friend in the comic industry who is suitably qualified to answer your query.

Paul Caggegi is a graphic designer and comic book creator who's been involved in everything from an illustrated adaptation of the TV show Heroes to various projects for Nickelodeon Jr. He's currently working on a self-published science fiction project called Pandeia and the web series Homebased.

As both a writer and illustrator, Paul has a pretty good understanding of what's involved when it comes to negotiating payments and the standard asking rates you can expect to encounter. Here's what he had to say:

There are pros and cons to both profit splitting and a flat rate. I'll try to be succinct.

Bottom line: an artist has to eat. They make their living through illustration, and giving them a large workload for eventual money that may not come at all will usually be frowned upon. Not only are they postponing potential payment, but they have nothing to live off in the meantime. This means while they are working on your project, they are rejecting possible jobs that could earn them cash in the short-term.

Profit split will sometimes work if you have a long-standing relationship with the artist. Maybe you went to school together. Maybe they're your cousin or sibling. Maybe you had a beer together and decided to write a comic. In this scenario, you will ride the highs and lows together, splitting all costs and reaping all the (usually meagre) rewards.

As far as flat rates go, you're going to get a lot of variation here. The Australian Society of Authors recommends the following rates:

    Black and white book illustration

  • Quarter page or chapter head = $215
  • Half page = $340
  • Full page = $455
  • Double page spread = $575

    Colour book illustration

  • Quarter page or chapter head = $300
  • Half page = $475
  • Full page = $675
  • Double page spread = $900
  • Cover = $1300

You can also find a list of recommended page rates specific to comics and graphic novels here. The secret is most local artists are aware of sites like eLance where you can source VERY cheap talent from overseas for as little as $200 per completed page. Some locals are attempting to match that, but as with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Expect to pay somewhere in-between.

If you're a first-time writer, going into the market prepared with this knowledge will put you in good standing. We have a very small but dedicated community here in Australia. We will support you if you prove your worth, and doing a little research into what it's going to cost you will go a long way to gaining respect as a writer/creator.

So there you have it. Unless you have a mate who's handy with a pencil, getting your comic illustrated probably won't come cheap. Alternatively, you could always try doing it yourself. You can find some great creativity tips and software suggestions via the Gizmodo article Comic Book Creation: A Geek's Guide To Fame And Fortune. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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    CBG could also get an artist to produce sprites/sketches. This is cheaper and more flexible than illustrating whole pages.
    I worked with an artist to get a set of 12 characters (sketches and a few rendered 2d sprites that i could modify) that I then used as mascots and comic characters for a company education program.
    The ASA guidelines suggest $100 a page for colour concept sketches (each character has 2 pages).

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