|Brickman from ELEPHANTMEN comic, 2007.|
The solitude of this pandemic certainly gives us time to ponder the world and our place in it. The comics industry is completely different to how it was back in 1983 when I started out. Back then there were still plenty of comics on the newsstand from IPC, and D.C. Thomson. Even Marvel UK, who gave me my first break, were producing home grown strips.
There are far less periodical comics now but the graphic novel market has grown. This has meant a shift from weekly strips that were owned by the publishers to stand alone books where the creators retain the rights. Just like "proper" books, with proper contracts and royalties! Sounds great! However, this also means that a different approach is needed to break into that market.
Time was when you'd send off a few pages to a comics publisher and if they liked your style they'd either assign you to take over an existing strip or they'd provide a script for a new character they'd come up with. In my case I usually wrote my own material and created my own characters, so I came up with Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple for example. Once you were commissioned you'd be sure of a long run for the strip for the next few years at least for whatever set page rate they provided. Other than an occasional tweak to the scripts, the editors would let you get on with it. It was good, steady work and a reliable income.
These days, a freelancer may have to learn how to pitch an entire graphic novel, and negotiate a deal. It's no longer enough to be a creator. You now have to be a sales person as well, pitching a convincing story like a modern day Don Draper from Mad Men.
I must admit the new world that cartoonists now find themselves in is still a learning curve for me. Many artists now do workshops too. I admire anyone who can do that but it's just not me I'm afraid. I've always been happy to meet readers and fellow creators and do panel discussions at cons, but standing up in front of a classroom and doing a workshop isn't something I'm comfortable with. Most of us in comics tended to be a bit introverted. Now we're expected to be performers. It's a different mindset.
Thankfully there are still a few comics around to contribute to although making a living that way is getting harder and more competitive. I've never been a competitive person. One of the things I liked about comics was that there used to be plenty of work around and it'd be evenly distributed to contributors. Now there are less comics and more and more new creators coming in each year, meaning less work for all. Not that I begrudge any of the creators of course. We were all newcomers once and that's how it goes.
In four years time I'll be eligible for state pension. Will I carry on working? Of course! I love creating comics. It's part of who I am. Also, it won't be easy just living off a state pension, assuming it even still exists in 2025, so I can't afford to retire. As long as some publishers want to employ me, I'll keep going, health permitting.
This has been quite a ramble at 2.45 in the morning. The pandemic has taken its toll over the last year but I'm off to bed soon to hopefully start afresh tomorrow. I currently have enough work on until the end of March, so that's something to be grateful for. Hopefully there'll be more work to come. As with the pandemic all we can do is take one day at a time and keep going.