These days hiring talent is as easy as pushing a button… not losing or wasting your money can be a little more challenging. Here are a few tips to keep you on track.
1) Pay the Highest Rates you can Afford
Money talks and bullshit walks… You get what you pay for… People with real skill demand higher rates.
Your creative team makes or breaks your project… period.
Whatever your intended use of the book, your book is a direct reflection of you—what you’re capable of. Invest in yourself. If you’re working with good people, every extra dollar you spend at the beginning, will one way or another come back to your benefit. Trust me on that one. In contrast, cutting corners will always come back to bite you in the ass.
2) VET YOUR TALENT
High rates alone don’t mean someone carries themselves professionally. (Though in my experience, there are definite correlations between pay rates pools and professionalism.)
I find personal referrals to be one of the best ways to verify talent… of course, who makes the referral makes all the difference in the world. But don’t stop there. Ask around, kick over some rocks, really review their work.
When you find someone who’s work you like, communicate with them. Read between the lines to see how they operate as a person. This is key.
The greatest artist in the world is a disaster waiting to happen, if they don’t care about your project and don’t respect you as a client.
The greatest artist in the world is a disaster waiting to happen, if they don’t care about your project and don’t respect you as a client. NO, that’s not a misprint, I wanted you to read that line twice.
At the end of the day, look for talent who care about their name and professional reputation. Generally, these are the folks who won’t drop the ball.
3) Put it in Writing
If the book isn’t very important to you and you really, honestly, don’t care about the money you’re spending—like literally, wouldn’t care if the money just disappeared, then by all means fly by the seat of your pants… for everything else, put it in writing.
As it turns out, I have a nice Advanced Class Article called contracts 101. It’s worth the price of admission.
One of the reasons I hate going over project revisions on the phone, is that even when taking notes, people forget conversations. While emails are much better, when you have 500 emails on a project, things can get garbled too.
Contracts clearly spell out the duties and deadlines. They can be easily printed and stuck to a corkboard. This alone makes them very useful tools.
4) Always Pay Deposits, but Never in Full
Good relationships with talent function on the cornerstone of respect. You respect their time is valuable, they respect you require quality work delivered on time. If you expect someone to put any hours in on a project for free, you’re breaking this covenant of respect.
Always pay a deposit to engage your talent. Never pay everything upfront.
I don’t know any professionals that take on work without a deposit unless you’re Disney or something. And anyone willing to work without a deposit should be an immediate red flag. Keep in mind money also equates to responsibility. If money never changes hands, the project doesn’t really exist… and if the project doesn’t really exist, people tend to vanish in a puff of smoke. But I followed #3 and have a contract! Really? Good luck suing someone for bailing when no money was exchanged.
5) Know Pro Quality and Rates
You want talent relationships to go smoothly, you must be an educated consumer.
Going into an industry without knowing the standards and practices is a train wreck waiting to happen. In indie comics the variation in quality and rates are all over the place. Over the years some folks have compiled nifty charts on comic talent rates, I link a pretty good one over in the Shmoo article.
I always recommend folks turn to the professional, commercial market to gauge and set their standards.
This will take some time and effort on your part. (The less willing you are to expend effort and energy now, the more likely you’ll run into problems later on.)
Let’s put it this way, if you could get Fiona Staples, John Byrne or Sean Gordon Murphy for $500/page… how would that affect your choosing an artist who is demanding $400/page?
What about if Fiona, John or Sean charged $200/page and now how does that $400/page indie artist stack up.
YES, I know these are extreme examples… and I know, you’re unlikely to pull rates from top tier talent like this, but the point is… The more you know, the better off you are to negotiate and choose accordingly.
6) Don’t hire an Amateur Expecting they’ll Deliver Professional Results
The client service provider relationship is a two-way street. You share responsibility in the experience… In fact, as the captain of the ship, the responsibility is really yours and yours alone.
No matter who you hire, your expectations of their deliverables must be realistic.
If you’re expecting your talent to deliver beyond their capabilities and experience—that’s your mistake, not theirs… even (or especially) if they promise the world.
If you hire someone new to comics, who’s got a family and working two other jobs, don’t be surprised (or freak out) when they tell you they don’t have the pages ready because their kid was sick and they had to pull a double shift.
Don’t be surprised when the consistency of work varies… because the guy’s kid was sick and he was pulling a double shift.
One of the big differences between a pro and an amateur, Pros will always hit their deadlines.
7) Don’t Expect to Give an Amateur Little Direction and Oversight
When it’s your first time in the rodeo, you don’t know where to stand.
Talent with less experience doesn’t typically take initiative. They tend to go only as far as they’re told. They don’t have the instincts to improvise.
Expect to answer lots of questions. This often increases timelines.
And keep in mind, Amateurs tend to make mistakes. Professionals know, mistakes are not acceptable… Like being a surgeon or logger, mistakes have disastrous consequences.
8) Be Critical of Amateur Recommendations
This is not to say that amateur talent with less experience can’t have good instincts, or can’t be quite skillful in particular areas… they can… but knowing and doing are two different things.
Talent without experience can easily lead you astray, whether by ignorance or by deliberate intent trying to cover up their mistakes. This is especially relevant in today’s internet age, where people tend to google something, read the first link that pops up, and consider themselves an expert.
9) Don’t Expect a Professional to Work for Amateur Wages
Yes, I’m back to money. If comics is your business, a lot of it comes back to money…
I say this till I’m blue in the face, but people always argue against me, they cry; “Circumstances, circumstances!” Like a drunk Roman senator 1700 years ago.
I’ve been doing this for decades.
Believe me when I say; if an artist can get $500/page, they don’t take jobs for $100/page.
So if someone says they’re a “pro—veteran—or established” and their rate is surprisingly low, revisit #2.
10) Don’t Micro-manage or Tell Experienced Talent How to do Their Job
Folks newer to comics pay attention here.
When it comes to hiring an experienced artist or professional, don’t hire them if you don’t trust their judgement. I’m not talking about obvious mistakes. If your comic is a period piece set during the Civil War and your pro artist sets everybody in Revolutionary War attire, obviously your artist is in error and needs to fix the problem.
But where an element is open to interpretation, or your artist recommends a course of action, other than what you expected, that doesn’t conflict with the story or situation—trust their talent and experience. If you don’t trust them to do their craft, why are work with them?
Comics are collaborative effort.
The minute you go into production, the book is no longer your baby. It is the baby of everyone working on it. Let your artists’ voices be heard.
I highly recommend you open yourself to the suggestions and direction of professionals in the medium—the end result of such collaborations is always a superior product.
If you are going to micro-manage, hawk every move your artists make and silence their artistic intuition, let them know before you begin production—tell them you run a tight ship and you’re not looking for much deviation from the script. Be aware that many artists will turn this opportunity down, but it is far better for you to have those people step away, then to trick someone into joining your voyage who will ultimately be unhappy.
11) Recognize the Value in Professional Recommendations
I just explained this, but it’s an important point to get across, so let’s talk about it some more.
Are you hiring someone whose judgement you trust enough to question your own?
Is your image of the book open to change or are you set in your ways?
This is not to say that you should abandon your own artistic instincts and only work with people who can steer the ship. There’s nothing wrong with working with less experienced talent. What I’m saying here is you need to be clear in your own mind who you’ve hired and what kind of role you expect them to play.
The truth is, if you’re not open to the collaborative effort, you might as well save yourself some money and hire cheaper talent.
12) It’s Your Dream Project, Not Theirs
You’ve been working on your project for years. Fingers crossed, it’s going to be your Magnus Opus and crush the market. Passion flows from your every pore, you can’t even think of the title without a big grin washing across your face… so of course, anyone who signs on should share that exact level of enthusiasm, right?
Truth is most comic talent folk are pretty passionate—we tend to love what we do. And you definitely want to surround yourself with talent enthusiastic and passionate about your project…
but don’t be deceived, even a dream job, is still a job.
And you’d be hard pressed to find a freelance comic talent who doesn’t have their own Magnus Opus in some level of production. Creating is what we do.
The only sure fire way to hire someone on and have their passion meet or exceed your own for your project… is to make it their own. Tie them to the project’s success, whether by giving royalties, percentage ownership, or some other creative means. Create an environment where the harder they work, the more passionate they become, the more rewards they reap.
This is the only true way to get people to share a dream.
Hiring Outside the United States of America
The United States does not hold the patent on talent.
There are super talented people all over the world. In this age of technology, having the creative team working in the same bullpen is no longer necessary and may even be disadvantageous.
I’d reckon most indie comics these days are created by teams spread across vast geographical areas.
But the reality is, when indie comic publishers turn to out of country talent, most of the time they’re turning to a country where the cost of living is much lower than the U.S. And the U.S. Dollar is much stronger against their local currency.
Any time you cut corners, you’re taking a risk.
Unless they are established comic professionals, hiring out of country talent is likely going to take more—just, more of everything. Sometimes this more adds up to “more than it’s worth”…
But if you decide to throw caution to the wind, let’s discuss some considerations with out of country talent.
Contrary to what the U.S. Mainstream media tells you, there are indeed distinct cultural differences across the globe. If you’re not aware of them, you may be in for a rude awakening. These are differences in the way people act and carry themselves. I’m not going to discuss these specific here, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
When you deal with people around the globe, sometimes they will be from the future, sometimes you will be sending messages into the past. Generally this isn’t a problem, but it may take some getting used to. Sometimes, it does present a challenge and when back and forth communication is required, it can slow things down.
Pad your deadlines with a little extra time.
And realize that if any emergencies come up, your talent is likely to be in bed sleeping when you shoot of your panicked email.
I only speak one language (didn’t retain much high school French) and not very well at that… but when it comes to comics, I tend to write clear and precise. If English is your talents second, third or fourth language, communication is likely to become an obstacle… and remember, comic production is all about communication.
When you’re trying to explain “phone” to someone, this is not so difficult… but when you’re trying to explain the way the vampire’s claws tear out someone’s neck, turning the rays of moonlight falling through the cathedral ceiling bright red from the blood spray… this is a different story.
You may very well find yourself explaining something numerous times, in numerous ways and still have the artist miss the concept.
You may also find your out of country talent saying, “yes, yes, yes, ok, I understand, got it! perfect!” Then they deliver something completely different than the script expressed.
Simplify the language of your script to make it easier for non-native English speaking folks to understand.
Cultural Differences Landmarks and Local Biases
Here comes the cultural thing again.
By the way, I’m in no way against other cultures, the difference in cultures is what makes the planet awesome… In fact I’d argue Wallmart and Starbucks are at the heart of destroying the uniqueness—errr, ok nevermind, the point is when it comes to making comics these things really do come up… back on track…
ok, so someone in Nigeria is likely not very familiar with NYC or London (if that’s where your story is set). When your script calls for “Big Ben” looming over the woman as she exits the cab, don’t be surprised if you get a page back with a real big wrestler like dude standing over a woman as she exits a taxi.
Or if you’re working on a three musketeers story and the script simply calls for “a sword”, but your talent hails from Dubai, you might find D’Artagnan suddenly wielding a saif or scimitar.
If you’re still not convinced, what about something as simple as where the steering wheel is on a car? When you’ve written car scenes in your script have you EVER specified what side the steering wheel is on? A comic story based in the U.S. with all the illustrations showing steering wheels on the right side would be awfully weird.
Make sure your script contains enough detail. Replace generalized references and cultural references with detailed specifics.
Equipment and Technical Standards
I’m not talking about the art the talent is providing, I’m talking about the technical side of getting the art to you. If you’re working with someone in Thailand, it’s unlikely you’re going to send pages back and forth via Fedex…
So the question becomes do they have the technical equipment and expertise to get you deliverables that will reproduce properly in print.
A lot of people think any scanner and clicking scan @ 300 DPI will work…
or that the same techniques for posting an RGB color pinup on deviant art, will translate to print.
Confirm production specs and the talent’s ability to deliver before you engage in the project.
More and more I see indie productions cutting corners and not really caring too much how the final published piece, but if you do, if you want all your time, money and energy to really shine… Buyer beware.
I’ve worked with some great people all over this water covered rock, shooting through space. Every project is a unique experience and most contain their fair share of hiccups. I hope this article gives you a little insight and helps put you on solid footing for the next time you hire talent on your next great comic creating adventure.▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.