Bryan Caplan  

Can I Buy My Way Into the Comic Book Industry? Should I?

#552!... Me on the BBC, Part II...

The first draft of my graphic novel, Amore Infernale, is now complete. To say that it would be cool to have it illustrated and published is a great understatement. It would be... the coolest thing in the history of mankind!

But how can I get from here to there?

My best idea: I find a good artist who already has some publications, and offer him a substantial up-front cash payment. This is a tough industry, and I imagine that there are lots of talented people who wouldn't say no.

In economics, this would be a crazy idea. If I tried to buy a Harvard co-author, for example, I would expect nothing other than horrified looks. There's the reputational cost if word leaks out, of course. But on top of that, a cash-for-co-authorship deal is so weird that even a cash-hungry professor would be very skittish.

Somehow, though, it seems like the comic book industry plays by totally different rules. Outsider though I am, I strongly suspect that money talks. So what do you think? Would it work? If your answer is "It depends on how good your graphic novel is," feel free to read it and give me your conditional estimate.

OK, suppose I could buy an artist collaborator. Should I? Would the work somehow be stigmatized and unpublishable in virtue of its history? Got a better idea?

Oh, and if you're question is: "You don't think you're going to make any money on this, do you?," my answer is: Of course not. No doubt about it: This is a geeky vanity project. Got a problem with that? :-)

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Gabriel M. writes:

Do it. What is there to lose? Plus, it's a very "Economist" thing to do!

Perry E. Metzger writes:

It might work, but I'd say you would be better off contacting a good agent in the publishing industry. There are some that specialize very strongly in graphic novels, and could probably both help team you up with a good artist and with a publisher.

It is true that you wouldn't "lose points" for paying someone to work with you, but you probably will do the best by following the industry norms for getting published, and the biggest step on that is finding an agent. There are many publishers who won't touch unagented books, and an agent is bound to have better contacts with artists etc. than you ever will.

Franklin Harris writes:

Actually, what you have in mind is a lot like how the comic-book industry actually works. It's a strange form of publishing, in which self-publishing is looked at as the purest form of the art, whereas in the regular publishing world you'd be derided and ignored as a "vanity press."

I find a good artist who already has some publications(...)
why rely on the most expensive mechanism of signalling if you can simply announce an open competition - "draw one page and tell your price"?

the definition of 'good artist' is fickle, some great newspaper cartoonists can't draw at all, but they have their own definite style of not being able to draw :) that's not to say something like Mooninites would be the best but it certainly must at least a little bit weird.

after all, if you've already broken some of 'industry norms', breaking more would help increase publicity.

Steve Miller writes:

I don't know how you should proceed, but that Bionic Assassin is a great character!

Melissa writes:

I say go for it, why not make a comic about economics?! You probably could make some money off of it as well. You might be able to sell it to schools, because some kids learn better with pictures and cartoons then just reading a text book. You could help hundreds of kids all over the nation understand your novel. You could probably sell a lot more copies then you would think. It would be really fun and neat to say you have your own comic!

edhopper writes:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with what you propose. This is pretty standard for artist to do work for higher off a completed script. I would say that most artist would want some guarantee that the work would be published before putting the time in.
May I suggest too forums. and Comisbookresources. (
Both forums have many professionals who regularly post.
Sign in and tell your story. You will get valuable feedback (as well as a few snarky comments.)

Rasmus writes:

Cool, two favorite subjects in one blog. And yeah, that's just insanely geeky.

Try for Brian Templesmith, there's no way you can go wrong with talking corpses and general post-apocalyptic doom. ;)

Pretinieks (on artist competitions), I imagine that doesn't work so well due to the demand for good artists. Someone who draws really well has better options than taking the cost of entering competitions.

So those having the time to enter is most likely not very good. Meaning the competition risks commiting to a crappy artist. And if there isn't even a guaranteed prize the average quality of the entrants will be even lower.

This sort of approach might work for someone like Warren Ellis or Neil Gaiman if they would want to produce some low-budget project for some reason. Otherwise I don't really see it happening.

Rob writes:

I am not educated in the comic book industry yet I see great potential with the idea and the way you want to publish it. I am actually just a college student but the idea of a comic about economics seems like a great idea that could have a great impact of educating kids about economics while at the same time supplying the entertainment of a comic book. I would agree with advice to follow common routes for graphics and publishing. And who knows, a company may hear about your comic and check it out. If the right company sees it then they could make you an offer to ditribute your comic through an educational system they have for kid´s or something like that. Maybe it could be one of the resources the kids receive along with their textbooks. The Harvard idea could possibly work but as you said they may decline which is unfortunate because such professors could be more open to ideas like this. Best of luck with your comic.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Have you at the very least consulted the various Writer's Market guides?

Obsequiosity writes:

They already have artist classified ads, where you can shop for a collaborator.

It's definitely a penciller and inker's market, as everyone thinks they can write, and with a little practice and a bootleg copy of photoshop most people can color. The ratio of wannabe writers to decent-artists-for-hire is so huge that even if you land a good one they can't be counted to stick around for long. Flakes on both sides abound.

Personally, I think that someone who had a strong enough legal background to protect writer's ideas to the point that they could give a much longer pitch without fear of plagiarism, as well as draw up and arbitrate/enforce contracts between a writer and his contracted artist, could build a profitable empire in talent clearancehousing.

Chris Rasch writes:

I'm not particularly a fan of either his writing or the artists who illustrate his work, but Harvey Pekar has gained a degree of fame by hiring a series of artists, including Robert Crumb, to illustrate his American Splendor comic series. See the wikipedia article about him:

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