Comic book artist David Cassaday is one of the most well-known names in the comic book industry today. This 36-year-old began his career in filmmaking school but found fortuitous luck when he presented his drawing portfolio to a few publishers at the San Diego Comic Book Convention in 1996. “He knew how to draw mood and emotion and not just pole-dancers in superhero costumes,” noted editor Mark Waid.
Making stories live
Once he established his contacts, the work began to arrive, first with smaller publishers and then with the likes of DC and Marvel Comics. Cassaday went on to illustrate “Astonishing X-Men,” “Captain America” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Cassaday says of his job:
“I get to clock in every day as a kid and make stories live. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Types of work
The nature of a comic book artist’s job requires that you be a self-starter who can multi-task, meet deadlines, be disciplined, weather the bad times and ultimately work as a freelancer. Early in your career, you will need patience and your assignments won’t necessarily be handed to you. Some artists work on contract for long-term projects that span an entire comic book series, while others procure work on different comic books graphic novels from varied sources.
How much will you be paid?
Generally, the good graphic novels fetch $100 – $300 per page, although professionals who have been in the industry for a long time can command as much as three times that amount. In fact, one elite illustrator commanded as much as $1,000 a page (on a 22-page comic book)! Most of the popular titles that artists, like David Cassaday, work on are monthly issues, which end up providing him with a six-figure salary. The back-end royalties on merchandise, trade paperbacks and movie royalties are also generous.
Your success is often dependent on your own personal motivation. Mike Mignola, Hellboy’s comic book creator, says he works seven days a week from 9am – 9pm at his home studio, taking breaks throughout the day as needed. That is one perk of this job; that you are relatively free to craft your own schedule, although there are deadlines.
“If you’re working for a comic publisher like Marvel or DC Comics, you usually have to turn around a five to six page strip in about three weeks,” says British comic book artist Jim McCarthy. “A graphic novel takes much longer – it might be eighteen months to two years from the original inception to a finished book.”
The state of the industry
The good news about the comic book industry is that it seems to be doing very well, particularly given the box office success of the comic book movie offerings, overall. Therefore, it’s likely that there will be plenty of jobs for the particularly talented comic book artist in the future. There are also other perks to being an established comic book/graphic novel artist, notably publisher-funded travel.
“I’ve probably flown to do signings within every major city in the United States,” says Dave Dorman, a freelance artist who has worked on “Star Wars,” “Aliens,” “Indiana Jones” and “Batman.”
Artists love the creativity, the wide-open schedule and the glamour. Artist Tom Mandrake admits, “You become very famous in a very small market. It’s great to go to a convention and hear people say they’ve been reading your comics their whole life.”