Robot 6 has covered cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks on multiple occasions concerning her comics, but this time we’re discussing something new: what kind of living she makes as a cartoonist. Hicks recently opened up about the financial realities of her life as a working cartoonist in a blog post supplementing her current webcomic Friends With Boys, which First Second will release later this year as a graphic novel. Hicks isn’t the first to share such intimate details on the business of comics, but the picture she paints with it is surprising in many ways.
“First of all, never in a million years did I think I would be able to pay my rent by drawing comics,” Hicks wrote, “or even through doing the freelance art thing. Sometime I cringe inwardly when I tell people that I write and draw comics for a living, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like that; it’s more like I’ve taken a vacation from some real job to draw comics, and eventually I will return to the workforce when I run out of money.”
Hicks became a full-time comic artist only because she lost her job. Until 2008 she worked as an animator, but as her company’s contracts dried up she was let go until their prospects improved. While she was waiting, mainstream comics publisher First Second offered her a contract drawing Brain Camp, a comic written by someone else. That one-time opportunity eventually blossomed into an ongoing commitment between Hicks and First Second, with the artist now working on her fourth book for the publisher.
You might ask, what about Hicks’ work before Brain Camp? Although Hicks garnered acclaim with her webcomic Demonology 101 and two graphic novels for SLG Publishing, it turns out that it doesn’t pay nearly what you’d think. SLG, like most small publishing houses, doesn’t pay royalties or a page-rate for creator-owned work, with the creators only making money on the back-end. According to Hicks, her two SLG books — Zombies Calling and War at Ellsmere — sold about 2,000 copies each, with her receiving 7% (no misprint, 7%) of the cover price. Those two books were sold for $9.95 and $12.95, respectively, which works out to a total of $3,206 earned for those two books.
“Part of the reason for this pessimistic view is that currently I’m living off advances from [First Second], and supplementing that money with grants and freelance work (taking illustration jobs for clients, doing the occasional workshop, drawing commissions, etc),” Hicks went on to say in her blog post. “I do not have a hit graphic novel that I receive a steady royalty income from. Not yet, at least. I suspect I would feel more secure in my line of work if I did.”
Hicks goes into more detail about the financial life of a cartoonist, and into how she spends her limited income. Truly an insightful piece for pros and fans alike, some of whom chimed in with comments on Hick’s post.