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

Comic illustration picture from Shutterstock

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 -- his Kickstarter page will give you a good idea of the overall costs involved.

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

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.


    Very interesting topic!

    Just before Christmas, I conducted a survey regarding this issue. Here are the results:

    The results vary significantly from Paul's recommendations; I can only assume that the divide between full-time comics professionals, and passionate part-time comics semi-professionals accounts for this difference. There's also a glut of wannabe artists out there desperate for any chance to get noticed, which might be relevant.

    Further complicating matters, the economics of it are difficult, and depend largely on the profile of the book. If a writer pays an artist $4000+ to put together their comic for them (before printing costs or anything are even considered), they need to sell several thousand copies of the comic to break even. Most indie projects won't even come close to that.

    One thing that really shone through in this survey was the disparity between the ideal of paying artists what they obviously deserve for their work and the reality of the situation in terms of economics.

    Last edited 06/02/14 3:01 pm

    I'm curious, What is the free software that CBG mentioned? My son is mad keen to learn graphic design with a view to comic and animation creation, but keeping him in relevant tools can be costly. (A friendly relative bought him the wacom intous tablet with anime software bundle for Christmas, so that should keep him going for a while!)

      Hi. I was using its more a website then software but its handy

    if you want some good free software use the adobe cs2 suite, it has been recenty been made free and can be downloaded off the adobe site, the keys should be on the downlad page. I use this on my light computer that can't handle the creative suite effectively. It's missing some new features but the programs are sufficent for most graphic design jobs.

Join the discussion!