How much do comic book writers/artists get paid?

I was trying to figure out the economics of the comic book industry. Does anyone know how many copies the average comic book sells?

And how much do the creatives get paid? Do the writers/artists get paid by the page, or by the issue? Or is there a standard?

Not a burning question, just mild curiosity.

I once wrote Marvel and DC this exact same query and got bumpkus for my trouble.

Purchasing A Writer’s Guide to the Business of Comics by Lurene Haines in 1996 got me a little more information; the author includes a couple of sample dummy contracts in the appendixes quoting fees like: “For a fully executed script for six twenty-four page issues… Publisher shall pay writer $85.00 per page plus 1% royalty on wholesale prices for sales over 50,000 copies,” for a work-made-for-hire.

The other sample contract reads… “Publisher agrees to employ the writer to produce a 32 page, one shot graphic novel… agrees to pay the writer a $500.00 flat fee advance against 7% of the wholesale, after printing expenses as compensation for first printing rights.” Plus late daily charges against the publisher if the fee is late, and late charges subtracted from the writer’s flat fee if the work were late.

I imagine all the fees quoted have gone up, though it’s hard to say by how much. None of my subsequent comic book reading has gotten me any more information about this subject. If anyone has any updated hard numbers, I’d like to hear them – so I’m subscribing to this thread.

I figured it was per page, but $85 is higher than I expected. At that rate, in a year, that’s about $22,000, which explains why most comic writers seem to write two or three books.

It’s a fairly closely guarded secret. They used to publish the numbers, but for some reason about a year or so ago (the retailer industry site, rather than a fan site) stopped publishing numbers and went to percents (percents as much as the #1 book that is, so if the #1 book sold 1000 and the #2 book sold 900 copies, #2 would be listed as 90%).

It’s surprisingly not as many as you think. Selling 5000 for an indie is unthinkable and selling 1000 would make most people happy. I recall from way back when they still published figures that really only the top few books (maybe top two or three) sold more than 100,000 copies. I recall that the top five generally sold more than 75,000 and the top ten around 50,000. After that it dropped off alot. Of course, monthly releases and special events would skew that generality.

Humorously, the big books now sell less than the cancelling threshold during the heyday of the early '90s.

Of course, there may still be figures out there, but I’m not aware of any. may have figures.

During the boom in the '90s, it wasn’t uncommon for second tier pencillers to make $100,000/yr. I have absolutey no idea what the guys at DC and Marvel make per year currently, but from what some indie guys charge (at least pencillerwise), $100/page wouldn’t be terribly out of the ballpark, but I think a “name” talent would have to be paid more. Still. it’s a little depressing: $100/page, 22 pages/book, 12 mo/yr. = $26000. Considering that the standard to calculate pages is 1/day (or 8 hrs/page), I’d hope they’re paying more.

Of course, I’ve heard of letterers charging $50/page, so I imagine that a top penciller would be making substantially more.


spectrum. That $&5.00 per page in that particular contract also buys all rights, so if the story gets reprinted, turned into a movie or introduces a new character you created who later becomes wildly popular – you STILL only get 1% per 50,000 units and none of the film income or merchandising. How’s that for a pension?

I’ve always wondered if that $85.00 per page represented a top wage or industry average at that time or what.

Chairman Pow makes some good points, along with some good information, too. But even though the numbers of some top-selling titles have gone down, trade paperback sales are way up over what they were ten years ago – and the availability of ESSENTIALS titles and older miniseries makes collecting those affordable and puts them right into the publishers pockets. The current mode of story arcs and decompressed storytelling keeps driving the publishers to make recent storylines into trades. The creator(s) must be compensated for that some kind of way.

My burning question: how does a writer/artist like Paul Chadwick get paid for his new *Concrete * mini-series?

Thanks astro. My only problem with lists of this sort are that they NEVER include wages for a newbie, journeyman, or “hot” writer or letterer.

Rather interesting point from astro’s cite:

On interiors, pencillers can get 2-3 times what a colourist will get.

On covers, it’s the reverse.

Since the penciler and inker are in pretty much the same proportions for interior and cover, this surprises me.

It also seriously depriciates the role of the writer - and ignores their pay scale, which is a bit annoying.

From the end of Barton Fink

            I tried to show you something beautiful.  Something
            about all of US -

This sets Lipnik off:

            You arrogant sonofabitch!  You think you're the
            only writer who can give me that Barton Fink 
            feeling?!  I got twenty writers under contract
            that I cna ask for a Fink-type thing from.  You
            swell-headed hypocrite!  You just don't get it,
            do you?  You think the whole world revolves inside
            whatever rattles inside that little kike head of 
            yours.  Get him outta my sight, Lou.  Make sure he
            stays in town, though; he's still under contract.
            I want you in town, Fink, and outta my sight.  Now
            get lost.  There's a war on.

Hope this isn’t a hijack, but what’s the big deal with letterers? I’m mostly familiar with the Marvel/DC style comics, and the lettering all seems pretty much the same. Is it a lot harder than I evidently think? I’m surprised they don’t use a computer font for that.

Or are we talking about those big sound effect type letters that spread across the page. You know, the really big bzzzzt! when someone’s getting blasted?

Computer lettering is getting very common, you can by all sorts of professional comic fonts.

There’s still nothing like a good hand letterer. The only one I could name by looking at their work was Tom Orzokowski (sp?) who lettered X-Men forever.

The letterer does all text as well as most of the sound effect lettering, unless the sound effect is incorporated into the art (Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon is a good example of huge sound effects worked into the art, and a great comic as well!).

I used to work on the bottom rung of the comics industry.

Much of what I did was helping other artists - I did a lot of background coloring under the direction of another artist, who told me what he/she wanted and I delivered. Payment could be by the hour or by the page. Hey, it’s one way to break into the industry, get a feel for the work, and so on.

Mind you, the artist(s) in question were paying me out of their own pocket, usually because they were behind on a deadline and paying me to help them was cheaper than taking a late fee penalty.

The reason you don’t get just one figure for payment for a task is because it varied all over. Your pay depended on who you worked for (DC or Marvel paid more than, say, First Comics of Chicago), what you did (as pointed out, interior inkers got more than interior colorists, and letterers were another group entirely), how experienced you were (the better known/established artists do get paid more). An established artist doing work for a smaller company (perhaps to get their own ideas published) might well be paid more than a less known artist doing similar work for a big company. How well you yourself can negotiate also had a profound effect on pay scale, especially when you leave the land of flat fees and enter the realm of royalties.

And yes, lettering a book IS harder than it looks. Sizing the letters to the space, and being absolutely consistent in your font, are just two of the many factors involved.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the numbers quoted are almost always gross wages - when I was involved in this (oh, gosh, over 15 years ago now!) artists were independent contractors. That meant the comic company handed you a check and YOU got to pay all the taxes out of it. Also, any business expenses, such as studio rent, supplies, shipping materials (When we worked for Marvel the work would need to be FedEx to New York) and yes, additional help to meet those deadlines came out of YOUR pocket. No benefits - no paid vacation, no health insurance, no 401(k) plan, nada. Most of 'em hired an accountant at tax time, and also used a lawyer to go over contract details, which were additional expenses but if you didn’t pay for them you had a very good chance of getting screwed by either the employer or the IRS.

I enjoyed the work, but at the end of the day I had worked really hard for not very much at all, dollar-wise.

I’m guessing they stopped published wage numbers because every wet-behind-the-ears newcomer was demanding at least average wage. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way. If an artist fails to meet a deadline, or does substandard work that another artist must fix, it can get really expensive for the publisher, they’re taking a risk, too. You start with low pay and spend time making your deadlines and doing good, reliable work - THEN you can ask for more money. Trust and reputation can be extremely important. I knew someone who was a fantastic artist, but as soon as deadlines started being missed people stopped hiring. One company actually refused to pay, and when the complaint arrived threatened to take the artist to court for breach of contract. Very, very ugly. Let’s be honest - I worked for that person at one point and stopped doing so when I wasn’t getting paid regularly, the erratic behavior got totally out of hand. I then picked up some work when the artist hired to finish the project hired me to help maintain some continuity in the artwork but there’s only so much you can do. Some of the book’s fans noticed and complained (they also noticed it came out late) but what can you do? Their favorite artist was fired, plain and simple, and was never going to be hired by that company ever again. That person’s failure meant the publisher had to get what would normally be 6 weeks of work done in two, which meant hiring bunches of warm bodies to work 12 hour days (no, we didn’t get overtime - we’re independent contractors, they don’t get overtime). Thi$ wa$ expen$ive. When the dust settled that one issue cost four times what it should have to get it out the door.

Anyhow, like I said - I mostly enjoyed the experience but I eventually moved on to other things. There are easier ways to make a living, and quite a few of them pay more, too.

I have a family member who is an independent contractor that works as a colorist. He worked for one of the big places for many years for not a lot of money but did a lot of work just to get his name known.

After fifteen years he is making a comfortable living. Works out of his house, sets his own hours pays his own insurance. Still has to hustle for the next job, but loves what he is doing.

This is true not just for comics but for the publishing industry as a whole.

I can immediately recognize Bob Lappan’s lettering, after he did Justice League International, America, and Europe for so many years.

Bubbele, it’s bupkes. Sure, some other variations are acceptable. But, there’s no m.

I’m confusing bumpkin and bupkes. Thanks for the correction.

WAG I think it’s due to computerized coloring. The colorist can now do a lot of things that were impossible before. It would drive the price through the roof if they paid the colorist to take that much time and detail on every page. But, for many people the cover sells the comic. The penciller and inker will put more time and effort into the cover than the rest of the comic. But, this is just a matter of more detail, being more careful etc. The colorist OTOH will be using a much larger pallete than on the interior pages, multiple image layers, etc.

Why is there no letterer love? Actually, a letter’s work is considered good when the only people who notice it are other letterers. As an aside, please don’t start analyzing lettering. It will ruin your life.

That’s because it’s basically two or three guys/studios that do them all. :slight_smile: Studios (Comicraft, Virtual Calligraphy, et. al.) try to standardize their look so they can guarantee things like being able to do a lot of books at once and guarantee quantity/quality. If one guys gets swamped, then another guy who has finished his load can help the first guy, or if there’s a same-day turnaround required (which I’ve heard tell of), two guys can work on a book at the same time.

Generally, the reason they all look the same though is that with computer lettering, there’s a limited number of ways of doing things without getting really complicated and having found the “best practices,” the most efficient way is what gets done. Also, the ability to copy/paste everything saves time, but makes things look the same. Remember that since a) nobody notices lettering and b) you’re paid on a page rate, you can get away with it. Also, there’s a certain style to lettering that comics today have that they didn’t in say the 40s or the 60s or the 80s and that’s reflected in the style.

It doesn’t help that the letterer is usually the last guy in line and the padding in the schedule is often eaten up before he gets the pages and has to rush it to keep the dates. Also, based on the artwork and how it deviates from the script there are sometimes last minute changes to the script and what needs to go there.

Is it a lot harder than I evidently think?


Absolutely. Generally, the difficulty is trying to deal with either a) too much damn dialogue, b) poor panel compisition or c) godawful page composition. A letterer can do a lot to fix bad page comps, but the first two are absolutely maddening.

They do. You wouldn’t believe the fascinating letteres have with fonts. It’s ridiculous. Hand lettering, while held in high esteem is an art that’s hard to find these days. Now that Sim’s gone, I can’t think of a single hand letterer still working on a mainstream (or big indie) book.

Of course, most have a fascination.

I’m very dubious about the cover colorer price. IME, colorers are paid only slightly more than letterers. I wonder where that guy got his numbers from.