Art by Julia Wertz/www.fartparty.org
“I’d rather eat Cup-o-Noodles every day and be proud of the work I’m doing than be eating sushi and embarrassed by my work,” Julia Wertz said during the course of our conversation about the business side of being an indie comics creator.
Julia’s the writer/artist of The Fart Party (www.fartparty.org), and damn, she makes funny comics. But she’ll tell you, as will most small-press and/or independent creators, making comics is only a part of the job.
You’ve got to get out there, sell the book. You’ve got to keep creating.
Oh — and you’ve pretty much got to eat too.
There’s a certain kind of raw honesty at the core of any small-press book. A purity that’s really respectable and appealing, even if the work itself isn’t to your taste. To most of these creators, squeezing money (like “pay my rent” money) from their comics work is something of an elusive dream. When you see the creators at cons, hustling their wares, the books are about little more than passion and art.
Miriam Libicki is the creator of Jobnik!, an autobiographical account of her experiences in the Israeli Army (recently collected in a trade; www.realgonegirl.com), among other works. Her thoughts on earning money through her comics work seem to encapsulate the feelings of most of her peers.
“My crazy, pie-in-the-sky goal is that comics and illustration should support me,” she said. Miriam’s goals don’t include being “rich & famous,” but, rather, “just making enough to not have to do something else.”
Accordingly, I wondered how she defined success at this point — where she tends to find the little victories that keep her going.
“Success, enough to keep going for me today, is making back (in sales) my table, flight and lodging at a con . . . or making enough money to pay for getting to the next con,” she said. But aside from the money standpoint, she values “good press and industry contacts” as well as the fact that she still has fun attending shows. Together, she said, it contributes “to a feeling of worthwhile-ness.”
In mid-2007, Matt Silady published The Homeless Channel through AIT/PlanetLar, for which this then-largely-unknown creator earned an Eisner nomination. Even that early recognition doesn’t spare him from the elbow grease. The Bay Area-based creator splits his time between giving comic book seminars at the California College of the Arts and his art studio in Berkeley, working on his next project. Until fairly recently, he also filled in the gaps by selling comics at Isotope, one of San Francisco’s best-loved comic stores.
“Personally, I’m very lucky,” he told me. The way he splits his time allows him “to make comics, help others make comics, and to help others find the comics that they will cherish and enjoy.”
But, he cautions, don’t confuse the day job with the career.
“Making comics is the career,” he said, “It’s just not a lucrative one. Sometimes more hours are spent on the day job than on making comics. The lucky ones have found a day job that’s important to them and that they enjoy.”
Libicki admits she’s nervous about the prospect of a nine-to-five.
“I don’t currently have a day job,” she shared. “In fact, I haven’t had a real job since the army.”
Her conflicted feelings about taking a traditional job are directly tied to fears of how it will impact her art.
“I’m afraid of what will happen to my productivity,” Libicki said, “and I really don’t know whether an arts-related job or a punch-the-clock type job would be better for my ultimate goal of keeping on and improving in my comics work.”
Despite those fears of impinging her productivity, Libicki is dipping her toe in the traditional employment waters, albeit in an “arts-related job.” Starting this fall, she will be teaching a class at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, Canada, her alma mater. The subject? Creating memoir comics.
While she admits that the position doesn’t cover the rent, she’s confident that “it’ll be better to have a bit more stability in my life money-wise.”
“People I know who leave their houses occasionally seem to enjoy it,” she joked.
Wertz has felt the imbalance of artistic fulfillment and income in some interesting ways — with one art project that ended up taking time away from her more personal, cherished work.
“Fart Party was published by a small press, meaning the royalties I do get are so paltry it’s almost nothing,” she shared. “‘I Saw You’ . . . the anthology of missed connection comics I did, was lucrative enough that I was able to take a few months off, move to New York, and start another project. So, from an outside point of view, it would be seen as a success.”
However, she laments that it’s misrepresentative of her main body of work and where she plans to go as a creator.
“Fart Party, however silly it may be, is something I’m proud of and I love working with Atomic Books.” To her, it’s more important that Fat Party’s been well received amongst the comics community, and that’s the kind of success she takes pride in.
The missed connections anthology, while being a comic project and for all it afforded her in terms of conventional success, may have been even more of a creative obstacle than her punch-clock jobs. In fact, those jobs fueled her creatively.
“If I’m just sitting in my studio drawing all day, where’s the story? Also, sitting in a studio drawing day after day makes my brain turn to mush. The stress and inconvenience of a day job keep me motivated,” she said. “I think that most artists — but definitely not all — should keep some kind of part-time day job, just so they can stay grounded. Oh yeah, and pay rent and stuff.”
Accordingly, Wertz’s recent transition to a full-time comics career has represented challenges both creatively and financially. Wertz doesn’t seem as concerned about the creative part, since her latest projects are mostly mined from past experiences. And she’s pretty frank about the financial aspect as well.
“It’s still basically like working for minimum wage,” Wertz said. “And I’m still poor.”
But she maintains that, “You can make a living off of comics, as long as you live simply, are single, and keep your standards of life low. Which works perfectly for someone like me,” she quipped, “who’s unattached, has minimal responsibilities and doesn’t require expensive things like cars.”
Hitting cons, publishing mini-comics, pitching publishers, maintaining a Web site, working any number of full-time jobs for that all-important true career, as Matt Silady put it . . . it seems that oh-so-many indie creators are burning the candle from both ends. But they don’t want it to end. Perhaps they can’t.
Libicki’s goal of her convention sales supporting all such travels becomes even more daunting when you realize that she hits about a dozen shows a year, all across the U.S. and Canada. She even done signings in Israel. She surmised that she had one free month last year. But that’s how she prefers to get her works out there.
“Talking to people one-on-one about my art is really my comfort zone, as opposed to organizing & cold-calling,” she said.
But Silady knows, as they all seem to, that it’s profoundly important to persevere.
“I’m falling down tired at the end of the day more times than not. But I’m living the dream,” he said.
“And that’s what counts.”
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