The following article discusses the costs associated with the creative end of comic production, budget brackets, and both successful and unsuccessful methods to reduce these costs.
Before we get into it, I’d like to thank you for purchasing membership to the site and paying for this article. I hope everyone that visits my site recognizes it as a community for comic writers… as such, your support directly allows me the time to put out more articles and engage the community. Thank you.
It’s kind of ironic that my first paid membership article is going to be a very rough, uncomfortable one for many of you. A lot of people in the public forums don’t like me for my bold opinions. As I’ve stated elsewhere, a lot of my own clients grit their teeth when they receive feedback from me. Though they appreciate it at the end, it’s never easy for anyone to get tough love and honest feedback.
I recently finished reading Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose… You might have seen the World War 2, HBO mini-series of it. Good book, good series. So the guy who trained Easy Company (the main group of soldiers of the story) was a guy named Herbert Sobel. A real hard ass who everyone in the company hated. But after they went through World War 2, lots of guys had a different opinion on him. One said (off the top of my head) “Sobel made Easy Company. His hard-ass training saved many of our lives in combat.”
Business (and comics) is war.
You may not take a bullet or have to jump out of a plane, but when your hard earned finances are on the line, it might feel just the same.
I’m hard on you boys (and girls, of course) because I want you guys to make it through. I want you to be successful. And telling you everything is peachy, not letting you know what the real world is like out there, while that approach might get me more likes on social media, it won’t get you any closer to your dreams.
So, How much does it cost to make a comic?
The answer I’m about to give will ruffle feathers for sure. There are variables. Lots of them.
A lot of folks will argue it’s almost impossible to answer this question, that there’s no set standard definition of a comic (for purposes of this article, we’re talking print books, not web comics). One guy drawing stick figure scribbles is just as much a comic as the latest Marvel book.
Art is subjective. And the value of art is prone to follow such subjectivity.
Who’s to say Scribbles is “wrong” for charging $200/page. And even if we all think he’s crazy, what if he actually finds someone to pay it? Shows what we know…
So how can you quantify a universal price structure if one guy publishing doodles is considered the same product as a team of veteran professionals at marvel? You can’t, not really…
But since saying “there is no standard budget for comic creation” doesn’t help anyone with anything, we can do better than simply guessing in the dark.
The most accurate method may be to collect portfolios and page rates from various artists and assign your own personal ranking of quality. After you’ve collected a good body of portfolios (and page rates) you should be able to gauge what costs will yield what quality books.
But there are problems with this method.
You have to know the artists (or at least where they are). You may have particular trouble contacting and getting rates from established pros, so that half of the equation may be lost to you. Overall it takes a lot of time for this type of due diligence. And most importantly, you might not have an eye for gauging quality.
In my article Writing for Free and Being a Shmoo, I link a page rate breakdown from bleeding cool that somewhat represents this approach. It’s one of the more accurate comic page rate breakdowns I’ve seen around the web.
But for folks coming to comics with little experience, I prefer to look broadly at budgets by focusing on another part of the equation.
If you have your finger on the pulse of how long it takes to produce a single comic page. You can multiply this figure by a generic hourly rate based on experience (I know, nobody goes by hourly—relax) and come up with a usable benchmark.
Here are the steps of traditional print comic production and my rough estimate of time required per page.
- Writer 2 hours / page
- Editor .5 hour / page
- Penciler 8 hours / page
- Inker 6 hours / page
- Colorist 5 hours / page
- Letterer .5 hour / page
- Production Artist .5 hour / page
- TOTAL: 22.5 hours production time per page
Before you bark about the numbers. Of course there is variance. A LOT OF VARIANCE.