Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ComicsBeat: "Graphic novelist quits making graphic novels after trying to live on $10k/year for three years"

Above: a preview page of Hannah Berry's new graphic novel LIVESTOCK.

Go read "Graphic novelist quits making graphic novels after trying to live on $10k/year for three years." by Heidi MacDonald.

It's about Hannah Berry, a British "up and coming" graphic novelist whose career was going along great: her first GN,  BRITTEN & BRÜLIGHTLY, was nominated for a prestigious Angoulême prize. She has a weekly comic in the New Statesman magazine. Her new book, LIVESTOCK, is coming out this month from respected publisher Jonathan Cape.

But she's quitting.

From Heidi MacDonald's article:

"Her advance for LIVESTOCK was £10,000 (about $13,000 depending on the exchange rate.) Of that she got £5000 in advance, and she also applied for an Arts Council grant and got another £10,000. Throw in about £9000 in additional freelance income, and it comes to £24,000 over a three year period, or living on about $10,000 a year for three years."

She says she's a "simple girl with a simple lifestyle," and she thanks her "wonderful, long-suffering, devilishly handsome partner" for supporting her.

"To make a graphic novel takes me three years of blinkered, fanatical dedication, and I realised while working on LIVESTOCK that I just can’t do it again. I’m done. I’m out. And from quiet talks with many other graphic novelists, ones whose books you know and love, I can tell you that I’m far from being the only one."

There's a lot to, as they say, "unpack" here. It's a tragedy that a talented person who has achieved professional recognition is walking away from their chosen field.

She could consider radically changing her style. I was at the National Cartoonists Society Reubens weekend, and just saw Oscar award winning animator Bill Plympton present some of his short films and talk about how he's able to create a movie by himself. One thing: He can do a finished drawing in about ten minutes. With ballpoint pens. And he works A LOT; like from 8am to 10pm. So, production is key!

Has Hannah Berry considered this? Well, I bet she already thought of altering her style to a less labor-intensive one. And perhaps she dismissed it for personal reasons of integrity. It's a shame, since creating good work on an assembly line basis is key for being a creative person who wants to have a commercial career.

1 comment:

Brian Fies said...

Mike, I posted some of these thoughts on Facebook but thought I'd reply here so they'd stick around longer than a day and a half. You commented that "You can't make a living drawing graphic novels if it takes three years to make one." You are correct!

Elsewhere I've seen Berry taking some flak for betraying her talent and being a quitter, like she owes it to the world to keep going. I gather that other cartoonists who've moved on hear it all the time (Kyle Baker and Julie Doucet come to mind). My take's different. I see nothing wrong with someone saying, "Hey, I gave it a shot, and this just isn't the best use of my time." I think that's a conversation we should all have with ourselves regularly.

Your thought that a different style might make for a more efficient production process raises tough, interesting questions. Her process is her process; that's the kind of work she enjoys doing. Maybe she could streamline and do it differently, but then the question is "Why?" Just to get more done faster? That'd be a perfectly acceptable goal for some artists and a soul-destroying compromise for others. I lean toward the latter.

Another thought, one I don't often share: after you've gotten your first book published, it's common to take a deep breath and say, "What now?" Oftentimes, just getting published has been a singular focus for so long that when it's done there's a letdown (not just me; I've heard the same from others). It's just possible that putting out a couple of GNs has scratched that itch for Berry, and now she's ready for something new. Been there, done that, moving on. I can't argue with that.

A follow-up thought on the math: let's say Berry does streamline her process to work three times as fast. What used to take her three years now only takes her one.

Who says anyone wants to publish her once a year? Even if she could get a $10,000 advance for each annual book she produces, is THAT even enough to live on? She'd need to put out four or five books per year just to be middle class (assuming none of them becomes a big hit whose royalties exceeds their advance, which is a fair assumption for most books).

In general, I think people underestimate the time and effort it takes to make a GN if you're the writer, artist, letterer (and sometimes colorist). Raina Telgemeier's a machine who works harder than anyone I know, with a cleaner streamlined drawing style than most, and it takes her two years. Then there's the publication production cycle: layout, printing, publicity, BS. That adds six to twelve months or more.

I guess I'm saying you could make it as easy as you want and it still ain't easy. I totally get someone saying "I did all this for $10,000?!" and walking away.