For the last 8 years I have worked as a “professional cartoonist” or one who gets paid to draw cartoons. It is not an easy profession and some have even questioned if what I do is a profession, myself included. The pay can be low, you often have to work more hours than you would normally work if you took a day job or you may already be working a day job on top of your cartooning projects, and your clients do not often understand how much work “being funny” can be.
On the flipside, I have also managed cartoonists for projects and know what it is like to be a client and the frustrations a client feels. You have a final product in your head that you want to achieve and you’re not sure how to get someone else to understand. On top of that you have a budget to maintain.
HOW TO FIND A CARTOONIST
Let’s begin from the client side by asking, “How do I find a cartoonist?” Well, they’re everywhere, it’s a disease really. What you should be asking is: How do I find a reliable cartoonist who will treat me in a professional manner?” These cartoonists are rare.
The best place to start is to post a description of your project in simple terms on a freelance site. Examples of such sites are Getafreelancer.com, Digitalwebbing.com, Elance.com and Ifreelance.com. You can also use a search engine to track down a cartoonist with his own website providing the services you desire.
Like most professions, almost 60% or more of a cartoonist’s job is customer service and networking. Artists are notoriously bad at customer service; they became artists by being introverted enough to sit for hours on end and draw, not socialize. They don’t communicate well; they feel they’re underpaid and will complain about it even when they’ve accepted a job that stipulates such pay; and they don’t market themselves like you think they would with a website and contact information. Some cartoonists will even disappear after being paid without completing a project.
So when you look for a cartoonist do NOT just look at their samples. Their artwork may be fabulous! But their customer service may be horrendous. Find someone online with a website or, in the event that they do not have their own domain, someone who has an account on a portfolio site such as Deviantart.com. My personal opinion is that a cartoonist who is a professional will have a business website of their own. Unless they are working completely from personal referrals or word of mouth which is how a lot of early work came to me.
Next you have to realize that as the client you are probably going to have to manage the project unless you are paying a premium to the cartoonist to do it for you. Management in this case means typing out a project description with your expectations and setting deadlines. Don’t leave your cartoonist stumbling in the dark trying to guess what you want–you do that and you won’t get what you want.
ESTABLISHING RIGHTS TO THE ARTWORK
You will need to establish the rights being purchased for the artwork upfront. This means putting something in writing in case you end up on Judge Judy. You do not have to have a signed contract with, even though it is advised. You can simply put your terms in an email and then have your selected cartoonist reply that they agree. Save or print the email out for your files. Most cartoonists will not dispute what they obviously agreed to when it is shown to them.
Rights can vary. You may ask for web usage rights only or maybe you only want printing rights. You may be able to negotiate first time rights with an expiration date such as premiering a funny on your site and then after six months the cartoonist can display the funny on his own site or resell it. You may want exclusive rights–all rights included. Whatever you choose, be aware that the rights you request can affect the price you pay. Exclusivity, while desirable, is not always the best option for those meeting a budget.
WHAT SHOULD YOU PAY A CARTOONIST?
Along with rights being purchased comes the hardest part of hiring anyone: price? Like I said, cartoonists are usually underpaid for a service that takes years to develop. Cartooning and illustration is a skill like any other skill and you are not only paying for a piece of artwork, you are paying for the experience it took to create that piece of artwork. Unlike other skills such as engineering, plumbing, carpentry, etc., cartooning is not a necessity to a business owner (brand identity is which can involve cartooning, but that’s another article). I’m not even sure I would say cartooning is in high demand. Therefore the market determines that many times cartoonists are paid lower than they probably deserve.
And to the cartoonist it is not unfair, I believe, for a business person to get the best deal for their money. You as the cartoonist have to compete with what other cartoonists are charging, often they will underbid you. Unless you’re famous or someone is planning to start an international cartoonist’s union it is most likely that you will not be able to charge high rates anytime soon.
So what is a fair rate versus a cheap rate and what should you pay a cartoonist?
Cheap will get you cheap. It’s a gamble. If you post on Deviantart.com or Elance.com that you need a mascot and a hundred cartoon artists bid and you choose the guy who says he will do it for a buck. Guess what? Don’t be surprised if he turns in a stick figure or a doodle so bad your kid could have done it.
A fair rate will get you results; a piece of artwork that, while not always ideal, will be good. To determine a fair rate you can either look up your request in the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines or you can use commonsense. I say “commonsense” because often when you post a request for cartooning you will get artists that don’t follow the recommended rates in the GAG Handbook. Many of them will be from overseas and have never heard of The Graphic Artists Guild.
“Commonsense” should tell you that, at least in the United States, we understand what a decent hourly rate is. Find out how many hours the cartoonist thinks your project will take, choose a reasonable hourly rate, and then multiply that rate by the estimated project hours to get your flat fee. And I have to say this is where clients make the most mistakes and need to understand how unreasonable they can be with flat fees.
An easy example is one post I saw on Get A Freelancer recently of a client who wanted 50 cartoon images based on the Kama Sutra that were not explicit, but funny for 250.00 . Let’s break the request down.
Assuming that these are only line drawings of people in certain positions (I would guess this client even wanted color) I would predict the time to pencil out each one would be a half hour because of having to reference the actual Kama Sutra. To ink each one might mean less time, but let’s assume the cartoonist is a careful inker so add another half hour per drawing. That means each fully realized drawing would be take one hour. Divide 50 images into 250.00 and see what hourly rate you get. It comes to 5.00 an hour. Would you work for 5.00 an hour?
What’s worse, and this often happens on Get A Freelancer, someone from overseas comes and underbids. The lowest bid I saw for this project was 100.00. That’s 2.00 an hour!
This example shows you how to figure out what would be fair to pay a cartoonist. In some instances you may think it is worth the risk to hire a “dirt cheap” overseas cartoonist where 5.00 is a lot of money to them because the standard rate of living is lower or they’re desperate for work. However, don’t expect the average artist to work for that kind of pay whether they live in America or overseas. Overseas artists who tend to work at those rates also tend to be notorious for not understanding client projects. The complaints are numerous.
I believe a fair rate for a relatively inexperienced cartoonist should start at 12.50 an hour. The price can go up from there to 25.00 for an experienced cartoonist with referrals and recommendations. The rate can go even higher for established cartoonists with name value and then royalties and licensing fees can come into play. For the purposes of this article I am mainly talking to small business owners and individuals planning on hiring a cartoonist. It is doubtful you will get into royalties unless you’re a T-shirt shop.
The rights you purchase will also affect the rate or final fee. If you want “all rights” or “exclusivity” be prepared to pay more. If you can live with buying just the “online usage rights” then you may pay less. Feel free to negotiate. Any experienced artist should not be offended by negotiating rights. Generally speaking you will pay more for printing rights than web usage rights.
In the past, I have paid 15.00 per piece for cartooning work and I have paid upwards of 60.00 for cartooning work. It really depended on the cartoonist, the rights being purchased and the customer service I was getting as a client.
As a cartoonist, I have charged as low as 12.50 per piece for friends or as volume discounts for long term work that I knew would not be time-intensive, and I have charged up into the hundreds for work where I felt the pieces required the higher fees because the requests were very time-intensive and all rights were being bought. I have also charged more to clients who take up time and are very fussy–time is money after all.
That brings me to one of the biggest frustrations of any artist, whether it be cartooning, illustration, or graphic design, and this frustrations turns out to be true a majority of the time: “Those clients who offer the least, want the most.”
I know I’m exposing myself to the client world here, but if you plan to pay a cheap flat fee to a cartoonist for something like a mascot or spot illustration, don’t expect them to make revision after revision as if you paid hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. The artist accepted your cheap flat fee for a reason–because they thought they could do it quickly and get paid. That unfortunately is the mistake of the cartoonist, to assume the client understands this. I’ve made this mistake and it is costly. If I accept cheap flat fees now-a-days I usually preface it by giving a time estimate and after that we go to an hourly rate.
Hourly rates control fussy clients and frankly, we can all be picky when our changes don’t incur additional charges. You as a small business owner should understand why this is so. If you operate a “moving” company it is unlikely you are willing to charge a flat fee for a move because you know the customer could easily take advantage of you and eat up too much time until you have a net loss on the gig. An hourly rate guarantees you that the customer is going to aid the process in every way to save themselves money so that you end up with a profit.
If flat fees are agreed upon between you and the cartoonist then there should be stipulations as to the time expectations and some controls put in place so the cartoonist earns money and doesn’t lose out because the client is requesting far too many changes. Inevitably this is one of the reasons cartoonists disappear on clients and then you as the client wonder why.
EXPECTATIONS OF THE DELIVERED ARTWORK
If the cartoonist you have hired begins to argue with you on the delivery of the final product, how do you know you are in the right? First off, like was mentioned previously, you need to put everything in a contract or some sort of written agreement. Besides cost and rights, here is what you need to ask yourself concerning the expectations for the artwork itself.
In the case of a comic strip, political cartoon or gag cartoon: who is providing the ideas or scripts? The writing of a comic strip series is not necessarily included in the cost to create the artwork. Often the two are separate. Writing “funnies” is a craft unto its own. Rates for writing comics are a different article, but I can tell you that finding a cartoonist who can both write and draw funnies for hire is often hard to come by.
Is the artwork in color? If so what kind of color? Flat color? Shaded color? Painted color? It is recommended if you are unsure to simply find an example on the web of the coloring style you like and show it to the cartoonist.
How will the lettering be done if you’re doing a comic strip funny? Will it be hand drawn or lettered using a font. Make sure you like the cartoonist’s lettering style before ordering, otherwise pick out a font at Blambot.com and ask them to use it.
What format will the final product be delivered in and how? And will it be in the format required for your project? If you’re printing the illustration then it better be at a higher resolution than if you are using it for the web. My recommendation is to always get printer specifications in advance of starting any art related project. For instance, if you are planning to use the art to create a large sign for your business you had better have an artist create the line work using a vector program such as Freehand or Adobe Illustrator. Vector images can be enlarged without loss of quality, unlike raster images (think Photoshop) which will lose quality if they go over their saved size. This is something a printer could inform you of and save you plenty of grief later.
Lastly make sure you know what kind of credit the cartoonist expects. Most cartoonists will sign their artwork and expect their signature to remain there. Is your project one where that makes sense to do? You may have to pay a little more to get their name removed. Or are you expected by the cartoonist to give them credit on your website? One hint is that cartoonists will probably do better work if their name is on the line.
WHEN YOU FIND A GOOD CARTOONIST, DON’T LET THEM GO
Mistakes in the process of hiring a cartoonist will happen. It is inevitable. And you will experience frustration at trying to convey your ideas to an artist who may not have your sensibilities. So once you find an artist that meets your needs, keep working with them.
I know that sounds obvious, but clients will let go of a cartoonist that raises their prices slightly from year to year to match inflation. Did you just balk at a dollar more a piece to try to hire someone new for a cheaper rate? And will that someone new save you time or cost you time as you try to acclimate them to your style of working and getting them on schedule?
Sometimes it is worth the extra buck to keep someone who can do the job right the first time around and knows what you want. Cheap will beget cheap. A fair price gets results.