When you first start out in comics, there’s a lot of details about the business you need to understand. Everything from how to find work, to what to look for in a contract, to making sure you get paid are all things you have to take care of in addition to making great art. Not only do you have to digest a lot of information, but aspects of the comics industry change from publisher to publisher and from month to month. One of the most important and the most fluid aspects of freelance comics work is how much each publisher pays per page. I’d like to make the process of determining your page rate a little easier by talking about what a page rate is, what the common rates are and how you can keep track of changing rates in the future.
What is a Page Rate?
Different professions get paid according to different measurements. Lawyers get paid by the hour. Sales people get paid based on commissions. Freelance comic book artists (and some creator driven artists) get paid a page rate. The basic idea is for every page you’re hired to work on, you get a set fee. So if you get $100 per page and the book is 32 pages, then you get $3,200.
A page rate is a base number. It doesn’t take into account incentives like royalty pools, recoupment, back end participation or anything else that could muddy the waters. It’s a straight forward transaction; one page for one price. As long as you know what the price is, everything else is based on that.
What Were the Current Page Rates for 2016?
The confusing question is ‘what is the right page rate for you?’ Your page rate can and will vary based on your experience, skill level, established fan base, prior projects and the publisher you’re working with. While several factors are subjective and based on you as an individual, there are some baselines you should keep in mind. Thomas Crowell, author of the excellent book Pocket Lawyer for Comics Creators recently offered this snapshot of the industry at the 2016 New York Comic Con:
- Writers: $25-$220 per page
- Cover Artist: $200-$750 per cover
- Pencils: $100-$250 per page
- Inks: $75-$200 per page
- Coloring: $35-$150 per page
- Flatting: $8-$20 per page
- Lettering: $10-$50 per page
This list is not a guarantee. You might be offered less than the numbers above. You can always ask for more. This should just serve as a guideline to what you can expect when you deal with a publisher. Other factors will play a role, but this gives you somewhere to start from.
How Can I Keep Track of Page Rates?
As a freelance artist, you’ll get a sense of where the market is in terms of page rates as you spend time in the industry working on different projects. Publishers can alter their rates at will, so it pays to keep in touch with other artists in the field, pay attention to message boards and discussions and talk to your editors and publishers on a regular basis to find out their individual positions. There are also ongoing resources you can use and participate in to make page rates more transparent. The list above was derived from a site called Fair Page Rates that isn't perfect by any means, but it attempts to track rates for various US publishers in a system that is inherently subjective.
Once you understand what a page rate is, how you can figure out your page rate and who pays what, you have a lot of information to help you chart your freelance comics career. If you know how many pages you can do a month, you can calculate your maximum potential income. If you know how much you need per year to work on comics full time, you can figure out what page rate you need and how many books you need to work on to make freelancing a viable job. Then you can spend some time actually practicing your craft and making great comics.
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