Need to create budget for graphic novel
December 2, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in hiring an illustrator to turn a recently completed screenplay into a graphic novel. Any ideas/resources I can use to create a budget for such a project? I'm looking to come up with a ballpark figure which can be fine-tuned later. Where do I start? The story is set in Los Angeles and the desert Southwest. Any suggestions regarding potential illustrators from that part of the world would be appreciated.
posted by kidkilowatt to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's going to be tough, because there's a step of adaptation to go from a screenplay to a drawing script; you need to work out how it breaks into panels, and how many panels per page, etc (comic artists are generally but not always paid by the page). There's a lot of similarity between comic scripts and screenplays, but they're emphatically not the same thing (exhibit A: Watchmen).

In the end it'll come down to how much you're willing to offer, balanced with how much of a crap shoot you're willing to take on unproven talent. It's a tough thing to budget for; might be worth seeing if Craigslist has any "artists available" listings that offer a lump sum for project basis, and working from there. But this is a long shot.

Honestly? Your best bet for actually making this happen (and again, long shot, but a better shot than trying to do it for hire) is to find someone with some art experience, get them excited about the project and the adaptation, and convince them to collaborate in return for a split of eventual proceeds. Your odds of making this work aren't great, but they're better.
posted by COBRA! at 9:27 AM on December 2, 2010

Short version: rates vary hugely, based on many factors. If you have a specific artist you want to work with, inquiring as to what their page rate is would be a good place to start.

That said...

There are two ways that artist compensation for graphic novels is usually broken down -- either by the page or by the project as a whole. However, it's generally a good idea to think in terms of page rate regardless, as that's what anyone you approach will be doing as part of considering your offer.

If you want this to be an all-inclusive sort of deal -- meaning they would create the final artwork AND do the lettering -- then you're looking at $50 a page, bare-bones, hardly-anyone-will-go-for-this minimum. I've seen outfits pay less than that -- Tokyopop rather notoriously paid artists about $10 a page for their original graphic novels -- but that kind of rate is considered a pretty skeezy deal that only desperate, first-time artists would accept and only asshole, cut-throat publishers would offer.

If you want to hire an artist with some experience and a proven track record, then your minimum will be more like $100-$200 a page, depending. Higher if you're working with an artist who's in any kind of demand. Even higher still if you want it in color.

Part of the problem here is that freelancers are actively discouraged from talking publicly about their page rates, in part because the discrepancies can be laughably enormous depending on the artist, the publisher, the scale of the project, etc.

Something else to keep in mind is that it's extremely difficult for comic artists to get paid a living wage. The hourly rate on a $50/page project is horrifyingly awful, much less than minimum wage for all but the speediest of artists. So sometimes artists will accept paltry rates out of a lack of better options. But if an artist is experienced, well-connected and busy enough to be choosy without having to worry about paying the bills...well, if you ask them what their rate is, you might be surprised.

Keep in mind, as well, that many artists have been approached over and over again by writers who want them to work on their books for little or no money. I understand that you aren't planning to do that, but it might be wise to go out of your way to make it immediately and perfectly clear that you're proposing a professional relationship and plan to pay them accordingly.

As for how to find an artist? Read lots of comics. Particularly independent and web comics, as opposed to mainstream superhero books. Find ones that have the tone and style you're looking for (even if the content isn't the same) and which have enough of a backlog that you're sure they can handle long-format projects. Politely email the artists and ask them if they're taking on new work.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also: a screenplay is not a comic script. Comics and films are paced and structured very differently, and if nothing else, your screenplay is probably way too long. Get ahold of some comic scripts* by a bunch of different writers so you can get a feel for how they're written. If you aren't comfortable adapting your screenplay into a graphic novel script on your own, then I would try to hire someone else to do it for you. In which case, finding a comic artist who can write AND draw would be ideal -- my friend Raina, for instance, was hired to create the Babysitters Club graphic novels, which involved adapting the books into comic scripts as well as drawing the artwork.

(*I'd be happy to send you a copy of one of the ones I've worked on, incidentally, just drop me a memail.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:42 AM on December 2, 2010

convince them to collaborate in return for a split of eventual proceeds

I would strongly advise against suggesting this to any potential collaborators. It will set off very loud sirens in their head. No professional artist (ie: no artist who's at all likely to finish your book) will have any time for this sort of arrangement.

The only exception would be if a pre-existing friend/colleague of yours was co-developing a project with you from the beginning, but that's not the case in this situation. You can't ask a stranger to draw your graphic novel on spec.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2010 [6 favorites]

A professional artist friend of mine (4-year art school degree, lead artist for independent video game company) suggests that the artist should be very clear with estimating his/her time. A loose guess might be one business day per page -- but that's if you agree on the content.

First question (like COBRA! said above): who's plotting it? You've already got the screenplay down, but plotting a graphic novel or comic book means you map out everything about it but the pictures. What shape are the panels? What dialogue will take place in each panel?

I would agree that finding someone with experience is your best bet, especially if you've never done this before. You'll need some guidance, and following some accepted standards will be a big help. Even (especially!) if you and your artist of choice are both working hard for each other at all times, your desire to "be polite" and "give each other room" will ruin your collaboration. [I apologize for the excessive use of quotes in this post, but srsly.]

Example: My mom is an artist/crafter who is dedicated but hasn't buckled down to the business of being an artist. She did a multi-artist show recently "as a favor," but in her quest to be easy to work with she let the gallery owner do whatever she wanted. The gallery owner is a "creative type" who kind of works on a whim because she has no real need to run a tight ship.

Aside from pricing, my mom did not come in with a set of her own standards: non-negotiables on methods of display, where things should be in relation to each other, how to sell prints (e.g. "don't sell the banged-up one on the wall; have them request a newly framed one from me"). On the other hand, the gallery owner also hadn't provided standards to my mom: who else would be exhibiting, what types of art would be there (fine art, yes, but also handknit socks?), what the gallery opening will be like (it turned out to be a fundraiser, with a raffle and a cover charge, which made my mom feel like she'd misled the friends she'd encouraged to come). So the whole thing was a fiasco, and I doubt either of them will make any money, let alone want to work with each other again.

Be as clear as possible with each other, and keep things easily accessible and in writing.
posted by Madamina at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2010

I would strongly advise against suggesting this to any potential collaborators. It will set off very loud sirens in their head. No professional artist (ie: no artist who's at all likely to finish your book) will have any time for this sort of arrangement.

I guess I should clarify: I don't think it's a great idea to do it that way, and probably not a good way to work with any pro. It'd be a long shot that could pan out if you lucked into finding, say, a gifted but unproven student or something. But the odds are pretty strongly against that working out.
posted by COBRA! at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2010

I'm an artist but I don't really work in comics, so I'm not too familiar with pricing/budgeting this kind of work. I second looking for an experienced graphic novelist/comic artist, because they will be more helpful and understanding when it comes to working out a payment plan.

How much do you want to pay? It might be helpful if you gave a ballpark figure. Like Narrative Priorities said, people often want to hire artists for next to nothing. Either they're just being cheap or they have an unrealistic view on what it takes to create art. I'm not saying you're one of these people--it's just that the cost can often be more than you expect.

I would just start by looking at it as what it is--a job. This changes artist to artist, but consider things like an hourly rate (payment for time only) + production costs (supplies involved--paper, inks, paints, etc) + copyright costs (could have a bonus cost depending on rights), etc etc. I know artists who have charged hassle fees for clients who make excessive changes. Some artists could have a base price per page, on top of everything else. This article was written for artists, but it might help outline some of the factors to consider when working out a contract:

tl;dr--I heard this somewhere once and I generally find it to be a pretty accurate. When it comes to hiring artists: Fast, Cheap, Good. Choose Two.

PS I know COBRA! clarified what he meant about the "collaborate for split of eventual proceeds" but I would also caution against this. Unless you happen to snag an inexperienced student or something, any artist is going to look at that offer and ignore it.
posted by sprezzy at 11:46 AM on December 2, 2010

Are you paying for just pencils? Or will you need inking and/or coloring too? What about lettering? What about prepress? Those are all different specialties, and you may need to hire different people to do them -- or do some of them yourself.

Unsolicited advice: if you are new to comics, I'd recommend against stepping into the deep end with an entire graphic novel. Start with smaller projects -- they're a cheaper, faster way of learning the lessons you need to learn in order to become a successful comics writer.
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:14 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check your MeFiMail.
posted by xenophile at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2010

If I read you right, and you're looking for suggestions for someone to illustrate a graphic novel, my friend has done that. Some (but not all) relevant work can be seen here, and his Contact Me link offers both his e-mail address and cell. He's lived in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, among other places. Even if he's not your style, he might be able to offer insight on a budget.
posted by troywestfield at 1:34 PM on December 2, 2010

I Am Not An Artist, but I'm a comics fan and have friends who are comics artists, and I think your wording here reflects a misunderstanding:
I'm interested in hiring an illustrator to turn a recently completed screenplay into a graphic novel.
This wording is kinda like telling a writer "I've got a great idea for a novel, and all you have to do is write it!" (Well, not quite that bad.) It's going to make artists feel devalued and annoyed at you.

Working with an artist to create a comic is not as simple as hiring someone to draw a handful of static pictures to accompany the text as in a children's picture book (though that's an underrated artistic endeavor too). Comic stories are told through the equal juxtaposition of art and text; it's what makes them comics and not "pictures with captions" or "prose with occasional pictures added." Rather than "illustrating" your screenplay, the artist(s) will be adapting it like a film shooting; but instead of a range of professionals creating what's onscreen--directors framing shots, crew adjusting lighting and props, film editors timing scene cuts, choreographers plotting movement, actors emoting with facial expressions and body language--all that visual output has to come from the artist(s). That's why creating an animated film is an incredibly intensive process, whether it's hand-drawn a la early Disney or computer animated a la Pixar.

TL;DR: Instead of planning how much money to spend on an artist, start hanging out with comics artist to learn about their craft and which ones you'd like to work with (& vice versa)--there are many comic artists on sites like DeviantArt ranging in skill from newbie to pro. And read about comics and how to make them, and the ways they use text and art together: from comics with minimal art to comics with no words at all.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:14 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you were marvel comics, starting with a screenplay you wanted to adapt, you'd have to hire a writer, penciller, inker, colorist, letterer and editor to get from what you have to where you want to be.

This is going to be more expensive than you think, and you probably need to read up a lot on what the comics book business is about before going ahead with this.

Maybe what you want is for an illustrator to do a storyboard for you? That's would probably be less expensive, and more realistic.
posted by empath at 3:23 PM on December 2, 2010

I'm surprised no one has asked this yet, but why do you want this? What's your goal? Do you want an illustrated version of your script to help sell the script? Do you just want to do make a graphic novel for fun (i.e. just for you)? Are you planning to self-publish? Are you hoping to sell the completed project to Marvel or DC? Or some indie publisher?
posted by zanni at 2:42 AM on December 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Tons of information to get me thinking/started. Did I mention that this graphic novel would be the first of a trilogy?

I picked up a couple of books yesterday to start learning: Reinventing comics by Scott McCloud, and Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. I'm also on the lookout for Peter David's Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels, as well as a couple of other books by Scott McCloud. I've also been in contact with the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Zanni asked what my desires/goals are: 1) to turn my creative love and hard work into a visual reality that others will find fun, entertaining, compelling, and worthwhile; 2) to work in a collaborative process with other artists; and 3) to use as a selling tool to get the screenplay made into a feature-length film.

In regards to publishing, I would be open to both self-publishing or working with a publisher. This is part of a larger project that will begin with the creation of a production company after the first of the year. I'm definitely a DIY guy, in that I'm self-disciplined, self-motivated, tireless, and curious (but alas, can't draw to save my life). I'm as interested in the process as I am in the outcome. Substantial hurdles do not scare me.

Any other suggestions/comments would be welcomed and appreciated.
posted by kidkilowatt at 6:33 AM on December 3, 2010

You might want to read some comic book scripts. But not Alan Moore, because only Alan Moore can write scripts like Alan Moore.

Maybe some from Warren Ellis.

They are different than movie scripts in many ways.
posted by empath at 6:37 AM on December 3, 2010

Self-publishing: you'll have to foot the bill yourself, and work very hard at promoting it (a friend and I self-published a couple of short graphic novels some time back, but we had our eyes open and our goal, which we achieved, was to break even).

Going to a publisher: you don't necessarily need an artist, as there's a good chance they'll assign one that they already know isn't flaky to you if they decide to take the plunge and publish it. Start hitting the websites of comics publisher and checking their submission guidelines, and create a package for pitching without an artist.

If you want to pitch to a company that requests you bring an artist in, you'll have to find one and either pay them for their work or negotiate a deal that, I recommend, includes a kill fee for the artist if the publisher picks up the book but goes with a different artist instead.

Either way, when it comes to pitching to publishers, don't start drawing the whole thing. What you'll need should be in their submission guidelines, but will usually include a few pages of consecutive sequential work and character designs for the artist, and a story synopsis and examples of comic script for you. Unless you're sure you're going to self-publish if it's not picked up, don't invest the energy in creating a whole book that you're going to pitch to publishers, I say.
posted by telophase at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2010

In regards to publishing, I would be open to both self-publishing or working with a publisher....I'm definitely a DIY guy, in that I'm self-disciplined, self-motivated, tireless, and curious ...Any other suggestions/comments would be welcomed and appreciated.

I can speak a bit to the self-publishing side.

Like you, I am a writer first and I can't draw at all. Sometime in the oughties I decided to be an indie comics creator.

It sounds stupid to say it out loud, but if you self-publish, you are a publisher. Being a publisher is an insane amount of work. As a mildly succesful science fiction writer, I knew maybe about 1% of the stuff I had to know in order to be a mildly successful indie comics publisher. Here's eight difficult things I had to learn:

1) Art direction. This was the single most frustrating thing about doing comics as a non-artist. Sometimes I would get pages that would look ... wrong ... and I wouldn't know how to tell the artist to correct it, because I didn't have solid command of their professional vocabulary. Artists are not alchemists; they don't magically transform scripts into comics. The artist's work will sometimes fail to reflect your vision and it will frequently not be their fault. It will be yours.

You know all those mefi threads where designers harsh on their idiot clients? If you self-publish, you're going to have to be okay with being the idiot client.

2) Management. I had to recruit and pay freelancers. Sometime those freelancers needed ... encouragement. Sometimes they would miss important deadlines. Sometimes I had to motivate my freelancers to give effort over and above what I thought I deserved based on what I was paying them. Sometimes I had to ask them to redo work because I made a mistake. That sucked. Oh, god, did that suck.

3) Prepress work. This is a wiki I made to track all the prepress tasks for getting a single issue of my comic out. There are many many ways to look like an unprofessional goofball in this field and I was determined not to do so.

4) Lettering -- both copy and SFX. As the writer, I liked having final control of the copy, and the artist preferred not to letter. Comics lettering is not a causal thing, it is a discipline with its own conventions and pitfalls. Richard Starkings' book was my bible. You'll want to read this too, even if you don't letter.

5) Print buying. This wasn't such a big deal for me; I printed short runs and there aren't many vendors who will do that sort of thing. I used Ka-Blam and was pleased with the result. If you're printing bigger runs, I don't think you have many options either.

6) Marketing. You gotta take it to the people. I go to two or three conventions a year. If I were serious I'd go to at least four times that many. If you're wondering why I don't link to my websites, it's because they're embarrassingly stale.

7) All the biz stuff too: setting up the business entity and the accounting to handle the cash and pay the freelancers and so on.

8) Oh, there was the writing too.

I left out fulfillment. I've never had distribution, I sell at conventions only, so I have no idea what you do if you want to put comics in the hands of distributors.

I don't mean to say this because I think you need to be discouraged or anything. I wish you the best of luck and success. I just wanted to be straight about the challenges I faced.

I'm as interested in the process as I am in the outcome.

Then I repeat my recommendation: writers who want to become indie comics creators may be well-served by experimenting with small, low-stakes projects. Look at it this way: if you were an architecture undergrad, would you start by trying to build your showcase?
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:21 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

First off, I probably should have mentioned earlier that I'm a professional comics writer who's also done a moderate amount of screenwriting. Most of my friends are a part of the comics community, and many of them are artists who have done work-for-fire projects like the one you're proposing, sometimes for comics or graphic novels that I've written. I've also spent a fair amount of time speaking with the editorial staff of various comics companies, sometimes professionally and sometimes socially. So that's where I'm coming from when I'm replying to this post.

ANYWAY, all of that that said.

With regards to your stated goals: "to use as a selling tool to get the screenplay made into a feature-length film."

If you decide that you want to try and hook up with a publisher, I would strongly urge you not mention this when discussing your goals for the project. Comics editors hate that the medium is so often seen as a jumping off point to something else, particularly film or television. They want you to be writing comics because you love comics and feel that sequential art is the very best way to present your story. They don't want to hear that you couldn't sell your screenplay, so you're hoping that maybe if you had a comic version of it it'll look more appealing to studios or investors. They don't want their books to be a means to an end. Even small publishers get thousands of submissions every year. If they suspect that you're in the I-want-a-comic-to-help-me-sell-my-screenplay crowd (which is a pretty big crowd, incidentally) then it won't matter how awesome your pitch is -- they'll already be prejudiced against you, if not outright insulted to be seen as a fallback plan.

As a first-time comics writer, you will probably not have much luck pitching yourself to publishers without an artist attached. It sucks and it's unfair, but that tends to be how it works. Of course, no artist at all is better than a mediocre one, and if you can't find a good match then just try your luck going it alone. But I would put in a reasonable amount of effort to find yourself a collaborator to create a pitch with if you can. Probably, you would want to pay them to drawn 10-20 pages of finished comics to include in your pitch pack, although as others have stated different publishers have different guidelines.

If you're considering self-publishing, take the time to seek out a local comics convention of some kind -- either a small indy show like MoCCA or Stumptown, or the artist alley of a larger convention like SDCC. Look at how other creators are presenting their work, and see which formats resonate with you. Do you want to do photocopied, stapled minis? A webcomic with occasional booklet anthologies? A professional-looking perfect bound graphic novel that you'll release all at once? A series of glossy pamphlets that you'll later collect as a trade?

If your ultimate goal is to reach a wider audience, then you should absolutely do everything you can to find a publisher. They'll handle distribution, both to comic shops (which is done through Diamond, a company most of us kind of hate) and to bookstores. They'll carry your book at cons, even when you can't make it to them in person. They'll pay the up-front costs of printing. If they're big enough, they'll even market your book. It's gotten much harder to get self-published books picked up by Diamond, and the only way you'd get yourself into a bookstore would be through personally negotiating with the buyers for smaller, independent shops. Going to conventions will help, but you'll still be limited to the crowd of people who attend those conventions. Webcomics have been very successful for some of my friends, but some publishers (and more importantly, the buyers for big chain bookstores) are dubious about trying to sell content that was given away for free online.

I'm honestly not trying to discourage you with an avalanche of anecdotes and information. I just want to stress that the comics world is large, diverse, and competitive, with a whole mess of variables to balance against each other. You'll be much better off if you think about these things now, at the beginning of the process, such that you can make informed decisions as to what your next step will be and what strategy you'll adopt.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:59 PM on December 3, 2010

My friend Jim Munroe wrote a graphic novel recently. He can't draw, so he pays artists. He is unusually fair, so in a recent blog entry, he said this about the split:

"So basically, Shannon put in 80% of the time even considering I took on publicity and publishing roles. (If I was just doing the writing, it would have been closer to a 90/10% split.) We’re dividing the money we make 80/20%, but it still feels weird. I mean, I knew it took a long time to draw, but it really takes a long time to draw. This wonky division of labour is something to keep in mind when if you’re ever approaching someone to draw a comic. Even if you’re a slow writer and they’re a fast drawer, you’re still asking them to spend much more time realizing something than you spent creating it. What are you bringing to the project beyond amazing ideas and sparkling prose?"

He has also written a primer about how to self-publish comics. He is very DIY. He has self-published his own books, created videogames, filmed movies. And he is one of the nicest men I know. I would suggest you take some time browsing his site. He aims to educate because he wants everyone to create their own media. Years ago he was managing editor at Adbusters, and left a HarperCollins publishing deal to self-publish his own book.

I agree with a lot of what people have said above. Particularly about preparing a package for publishers before you get an artist to work on the whole thing. One publisher who's known for leaving the ownership of the intellectual property in the hands of the creators is Image Comics.

Good luck.
posted by Sully at 10:06 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info. I appreciate everyone's willingness to chime in and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to my question.
posted by kidkilowatt at 9:13 AM on January 2, 2011

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