Six years ago, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie broke onto the comics scene with their well-reviewed Image mini-series, Phonogram. Since then, they have both moved on to better paying gigs at Marvel. But despite all the critical acclaim the series brought them, it’s depressing to hear the actual details of how little money they made off of it. Here’s Gillen, from a Comics Alliance interview a couple of years ago:
I feel frustrated. Enormously lucky, sure, but frustrated. We’ve done this wonderful thing we’re crazy-proud about. But if the whole economic system was just a couple of degrees to the left, everything would have been different. I mean, just to give you an idea about narrow the margins are between what we are and what we could be, if we were selling 6K instead of 4K, we could have done those 44 issues. The difference between breaking even and actually being able to do it in comics is insane. It’s like being kept under ice, clawing.
And this, from earlier in the piece:
There’s a difference between making only a little money and starving. We’re very much in the latter. Jamie’s lucky to get a couple of hundred dollars from an issue. While he didn’t tell me about this until after it was all done, there were three occasions when Jamie was seriously considering throwing in the towel. The problem is that Image’s deal is a back-end one. Will we make some money off the trade? Maybe. And that’s a big maybe.
That was in response to the “why not wait for the trade paperback income?” question. Since all profits from creator-owned Image comics are on the back-end, that means the creative team has to wait about three months or more from when they actually write/draw the book to see it get published, and get paid. If there’s any payment (remember, with the Image deal, they get to recoup their $2500 fee from the book’s profits first, then the creators get paid…or in many cases, are actually in the hole). Waiting for the TPB of your first arc to come out means a good 6-9 month wait before seeing any payment from that.
And this is for a series that had quite a lot of buzz, and was selling in the 4K range. One look at Diamond’s sales figures will show you that most Image books don’t even do those numbers.
The take away: you’d best be in this for the love, not the money.