Saturday, May 27, 2006

Exploitation and Self Exploitation in Comics

Don't Sell Yourself Short

Exploitation and Self-Exploitation in Comics

We all love doing comics. That's why we are here. We all love doing comics so much that we're willing to do it for free. I've been there before. Early in my career I would have worked for free if only I could just do comics. And I have. And many of you still do, and will. And that's where exploitation starts.

A lot of industry people who have been in the business for years know this, and will have no shame in taking advantage of that. They can see it, they can smell it. They can see it in your eager eyes and your shaking hands as you show your portfolio. They know they have you. They know you'll sell your own sister just to get into comics. And the grin that you mistake for friendliness is the grin that really says, HAH! You're mine now, fucker. I'm going to make lots of money out of you, you little brown bastard.

I received an email from an overseas company looking for artists to work on their books. The payment they're offering is pathetic. And probably convinced I'd be bamboozled by the paltry amount of money being offered to me (Ten US dollars a page), they even boasted that they've already got another artist in the country working for less, so I'd be getting much more than him. They added that since it's work for hire, they would OWN all original art, and for the sake of marketability, we can't use our real Filipino names. We need to "Americanize" them because they admitted, they don't want people knowing Filipinos had done the work.

I don't have the words to express how furious that makes me feel. So I'll stop right there.

But it's true, and it's happening. These people came to this country not too long ago, and they may well have found Filipinos willing to work under those conditions. Can I really blame these artists? For all I know they may well think of it as a jackpot. They may think they're getting a lot, not knowing they're actually being exploited. Or maybe they know. They just don't care.

All they care of course, is getting food on the table for their families. Nothing wrong with that, except of course, it does make it harder for other Filipinos looking for something better for themselves. The moment we start asking for more, these exploiters could so easily say, "Well, we've got this bloke in Bulacan doing this for far less than what you're asking for. Why should I get you?"

And so the value of our work as artists will always be as low as the exploited artist is willing to go. Is that what you want?

For those of you who are aware of your own worth, please don't sell yourself short. I said no to this job. Not only did I say no, I reminded this company how unlawful it is, according to Intellectual Property Laws both in the US and the Philippines, for any publisher to keep the original art. That belongs to the artist. It is also immoral to pay so low, and it's even more immoral and even racist to deprive an individual the use of his real name and nationality.

Some may contend that it would be easy for me to refuse because I'm this DC and Marvel artist, and I make a lot of money. Dudes, this is NOT about me. Part of the reason where I got where I am is because I did not stand for getting less than I should. If I did, I would have never worked for Marvel and DC and just stayed home in a shack here in San Pablo doing work for an overseas company paying me bullshit money with bullshit terms. I'd be well fed by instant mami, and people across the world would be reading a book by Gerry Gallant and nobody would know or care it was by me.

It's about YOUR self worth as an artist. Call it ego if you will, but an artist without an ounce of ego will get nowhere fast. As artists, you've GOT to know in your mind and in your heart that you are GOOD, and that you are WORTH more than a pathetic few dollars they are waving in front of your face. Knowing that you and your work are WORTH something will make you always demand for something better.

I can say the same for those making their own comics. Eager to please, we would price our comics as inexpensively as we can, oftentimes we make no money out of it at all because we sell our comics for the price of the photocopying cost. Sometimes even less. What about the work you put into it? What about the value of your worth as an artist? That's where self-exploitation starts.

Years ago, I sold my Crest Huts for almost the same as the cost of photocopying them. I added just a few pesos to round off the number. I wanted more people to be able to afford to buy it. I made no monetary profit from it. I just got back my photocopy money and the ride to Manila and back. And I was happy with that. But did you know I even got complaints that my comic was too expensive as there's this other guy selling his comics for half? Dude, I'm already working for free and that's not good enough? You want ME to pay YOU to read my comic book? That is what you're asking if you want to buy my comic for less than how it cost.

As an architect, it's all too commonplace to see clients recoiling in shock at the professional fees we are asking. And yet those are fees that are standard and regulated by our architect's nationwide organization. "Why is it so expensive? It's only paper!" is the common feedback, referring of course to the paper in which the plans are blueprinted.

Well, OF COURSE paper is inexpensive. You can get a cartolina at your local store for three pesos. Get ten of those and you only pay thirty pesos. Cheap, isn't it?

But what a lot of people don't seem to get is that it ISN'T a few piece of paper and a couple of staples they're buying. It's the hard work that went into producing whatever is on that piece of paper. The years of education, the training, the experience, the talent, the ideas, the hours, long nights, sacrificed relationships, blood, sweat and fucking tears that went into producing those things on the paper. THAT is worth something. That is worth so much more than how much that paper costs. When you sell your comic book for the price of the photocopy, you give all of that for free. You are saying your hard work and sacrifice is worth nothing.

We need to stop selling ourselves short.

It's all well and good to work for free once in a while, specially if it's for a good cause and/or a good project, but for someone who wants to do comics for a living, for our industry to get on it's feet, we need to start making money from doing comics. We can't go on just working for free all the time. Because making money from comics would ensure more commitment than just "free time" an artist with a day job is willing to give. Think of it. You've got a nice job with an advertising company, animation company, or a call center or an architectural firm. You're not about to quit that to make comics for free full time, are you? The best you can do is do comics in your free time. But what if you are making money from your comics? GOOD money? What if comics can be THE job that you do for a living? That would be great, wouldn't it? Specially if comics is what you really want to do.

Then let's start by not selling ourselves short. You are in your offices and jobs right now and most likely you stay because you may well like what you're doing, and secondly, it pays well. You accepted the job and the pay in the first place because you DIDN'T sell yourself short. You WANT to be paid well because you feel your work is worth it. I'm sure that you won't hang around there long if the janitor is making more money than you.

Well, comics deserves your self-worth too.

And even more so, specially if you love the medium and you love creating comics.

When you sell your work, please add in the worth of your work and yourself as an artist, and sell them for more than the cost of photocopy.

When a company asks you to write, draw or color for them, don't work for less than what you feel your time, effort and talent are worth. Work for free if you must, or if you owe any favors, or if you believe in the project, but never work for free for the same company more than twice.

If an overseas company or even a local company approaches you with terms that are exploitative, stand up for yourself. Tell other artists about it. Write it in your blog. Tell ME and I'll write about it here.

Good luck to all of us!


And for our readers, thank you for all your support, and I hope I could beseech for a little understanding. Creating comics is no easy thing. Oftentimes, we just work out of our houses, powered only by a few hundred pesos. We haven't got a nationwide network in which to distribute our comics, and we have no big print runs that ensure a lower retail price. We can never compete with the big companies and their nationwide ( or even just metro-wide) distribution with print runs so large they can afford to sell their comics cheaper than us.

We can only distribute to a few select stores who are sympathetic and willing to carry our titles. If you want to support our comics, please help us out by either getting in touch with us for your copy or if you're able, do a little bit of legwork to get to where our comics are. And we would be very appreciative of your patience and your effort.

And if you are buying a photocopied mini-comic, it would be a great convenience if you don't insist on a receipt. I mean, would you ask for a receipt if you buy a 1.5 Coke and bag of Chippy at your local sari-sari store? The BIR does not require them to issue receipts and yet they make more money than your average mini comic book maker. To insist on a receipt will require the small time mini comics maker to pay thousands of pesos in fees and lose a couple of weeks of man-hours just to get the proper permits to give you that receipt. Many of these mini comics makers will be considered as "marginal income" by the BIR anyway because they make very little money. They'll end up paying more fees than what money they can earn from their comics.

Once again, thanks for the support! It really is very much appreciated.