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There is this one comics artist I know… (Actually, this is a story I have seen repeated over and over again.  You may think I’m talking about you.)

He was your typical aspiring comics pro.  He had some talent but needed experience.  He was approached by an aspiring comics writer to draw a book for him.  It was the best comic book script of all time and was going to revolutionize the industry, if only some artist would actually draw it. 

(Okay, maybe it wasn’t THAT good, but the writer had faith and it wasn’t that bad, either.) 

Our artist quoted his page rate.  Our writer quoted the fact that he didn’t actually have any money, but told the artist he would be the first to be paid when the book actually sold. 

The artist listened to the advice he had so often received and walked away from the project.

One year later. No, that script did not revolutionize the industry and make the writer the most powerful person in the industry. 

On the other hand, the artist was not paid by anyone else to draw a book.  In fact, he didn’t draw a book at all.  He drew more figure work and cover style art, but no interior story pages. 

One year later and nothing to show to an editor that he was capable of producing professional comics work. 

Many people think that to be a professional you must be paid.  You don’t pay me, you don’t get my work. 

That is true, but only up to a point. 

You can’t imitate the standards of a long-time comics pro before you are a pro.  Artists are understandably worried that people will take advantage of them.  It is true that an artist takes more time drawing a story that a writer takes writing it. 

Shouldn’t people be properly compensated for the time they put into a project? Yes.  Ideally.  But at first you must practice and practice and practice until you are clearly of professional caliber. 

Never turn down paying work to do a script that will not up front. 

On the other hand, you need to draw story pages, if only as practice.  Drawing a story from another writer that you may or may not ever get paid for is, at worst, good practice.  You need to draw anyway.  Now at least you have completed story pages to show the quality of your work.

You still need to look out for your own financial interests in the work you do.  A verbal agreement is never enough.  Write up a simple contract stating the writer and artists ownership and share of profits in the work.  If the writer insists on keeping all rights to the work, this is where you need to get paid up front or turn down the script.

Artists draw, whether they get paid for it or not.  Since you need to draw anyway, sometimes having a completed project is the best form of practice you can have. 

It may never see the light of day or make you a penny, but it can make you a better artist.