Shooting for the Stars

On Patreon, a commenter stumbled onto one of my pages and asked the following question:

Stev Jobs:

How is $60K a year not enough for you to work on comics full-time? Just curious ;p

I actually haven’t ever made the claim that it wouldn’t be enough (and in fact, one of my Milestone Goals that we’ve already hit says the opposite), but Stev’s question gave me an excuse to talk about something that’s been on my mind for a bit. Something I’ve wanted to share with other creators.

This was my response:

Howdy Stev!

Thank you for your question.

I have a longer answer below, but here’s a short one: at the moment, I’m not actually getting $60,000 a year to use to cover my personal expenses. After accounting for Patreon and credit card fees as well as failed credit cards, Patreon just deposited $6300 in my bank account for this month. So, should that continue and you multiply that by 12, you actually get more than $60K a year, which is really awesome and makes me feel very grateful to my amazing readers.

Of course, I pay my artists a real page rate and the production costs for 2 pages/week are around $3K/month, so my personal income from Patreon would really be about $3300/month (a little under $40K/year). And right now, because I’m working with a guest artist while my main artists build up a buffer of pages, I’m actually paying for 4 pages/week with that real page rate – so, even though the Patreon support has made a huge difference in my life (really, it’s been life changing), I’m sure you can see why I’m still having to say yes to some day job work right now.

But I suspect that you didn’t ask your question because you were concerned about the long hours I’ve been putting in balancing full-time work in comics with additional day job work (editing video projects that typically involve 10–12 hour days). Let me see if I can’t get to the meat of your question.

Let’s say it really was $60K/year in my pocket which, even after taxes, would definitely be real money. Having that happen from my comics work alone is definitely one of my goals. If that were true, this would be the point where many creators would feel the need to be defensive. A good number of people believe that choosing to make your living as an artist should also include a vow of poverty. And I’ve seen many artists internalize this belief (particularly female creators) – that if you have success, you need to show that at best you’re just scraping by, that receiving anything more than that is just plain greedy.

Even at $60K/year, I could make a case for that. I’m a full-on grown up who lives in the Bay Area who has people rely on him – I have serious rent, health insurance, food, travel, and medical expenses; a mother in Assisted Living that’s only going to get more expensive as her health declines, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s the really important thing about my answer to your question: I don’t intend to just scrape by as an artist. I want to flourish. I want to show that making comics with diverse, LGBT heroes has real value, as much value as telling stories that feature straight, white male heroes.

It’s well-known that being a successful creator of genre entertainment featuring straight, white folk can be a path to riches. Of course not everyone gets there, but it’s the brass ring that motivates many writers, directors and other artists who follow that muse. It is also a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to do the same thing with LGBT heroes, you’ll have to set your sights much, much lower. Like, “vow of poverty” lower. Especially if you want to do that in comics.

Well, I think that’s a story like any other, and I think we can tell a different story.

With the Internet, creators don’t have to beg the permission of (often white, straight, male) gatekeepers to get their work in front of a worldwide audience. And with crowdfunding resources like Kickstarter and Patreon, you don’t need to beg for funds from (often white, straight, male) rich people to make really high-quality content – a bunch of regular folks can band together and do the same thing by combining much smaller payments.

A huge reason I write what I write is to entertain, to enhance people’s lives, to redefine who gets to be seen as a blockbuster “hero.” But I also write to inspire other creators. I want lots of people telling stories with diverse LGBT heroes. I want some LGBT kid to see what I’m doing and not only think it’s possible, but that it could even be a path to great personal success. I want that kid to feel just as excited about a life of creating awesome LGBT genre entertainment as the straight, white boy next door, dreaming their own dream of great success telling stories featuring heroes like himself.

Will I be able to make that happen? Will I ever have the kind of success of a Robert Kirkman or Ed Brubaker or Neil Gaiman? (All of whom I admire and wish even more success to, BTW.) Well, only time will tell.

But it’s important to let you know that I’m going to try. I’m reaching for that brass ring. If you need the artists you enjoy to take a vow of poverty, I’m not your man. But if you like what I’m trying to do, if you think LGBT comics should have just as much value as the hetero stuff, if you want to see someone who creates work featuring LGBT heroes have blockbuster success just like his straight colleagues, then know that I’m going to try my best to make that happen.

$60K/year might indeed be enough to get by making comics full time. But I’m not going to settle for just getting by. For myself and for the sake of any other creator who is watching what I’m doing, I’m shooting for the stars.

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