Reactions to Village Voice non-paying issue

The comic industry is a buzz by the latest issue of The Village Voice’s Comics issue and news tucked inside the ironic article “If Cartoons Are So Big, Why Don’t They Pay?” that reported the paper commissioned cartoonists to contribute for “good exposure.”

Here is a round-up of some of the industry reaction:

From Tom Spurgeon:

I gave the Voice piece a lot of thought yesterday, and after some test conversations, I think I may be alone in suggesting that the Voice not paying many of its comics contributors in an issue in which an article about non-payment appeared isn’t as interesting an issue in and of itself — although it is a valid issue, and they deserve to be mocked for both the non-payment and for having this piece up in hilarious proximity to its own contributing practices — as it is a compelling gateway into the whole idea of free as it pertains to comics. I’m having a hard time seeing, and perhaps this is my own limited perspective on the issue, how what the Voice is doing represents a difference in kind from everything else in comics that runs on free, or a through a diminished, exploitative price, many of which things come with the same promises of exposure, experience or getting in on the ground floor. It’s a difference in degree, sure, when someone like the Voice does it, and represents an extra dollop of gross as a result, but I’m not sure the basic issues aren’t roughly the same, and I wonder if the one thing that we can all do to combat this kind of thing is to make asking people to work for free unacceptable in comics culture on every level except for charity. Somewhere out there someone just may have written about this article and the nonpayment issue for someone who will get paid for hosting that piece while that person does not get paid for writing it — if that didn’t happen, it’s an accident of coverage.

Tom references Mimi Ponds who’s post on Facebook was captured by Drawn And Quarterly before it was removed.

Village Voice, you have some nerve printing this story after you asked me and god knows how many other cartoonists to contribute free work for this issue – with the stipulation that it would be “good exposure” for me. You can go f*** yourself! You used to pay me decent money back in the 80s to do full-page cartoons for Mary Peacock’s V section. The 80s were very very good to me. I had a real career as a full-time cartoonist and illustrator. I stopped for a minute to have children and then when I looked up again, my career had fallen off a cliff. So thanks, Village Voice. Thanks a lot.

R. Stevens on Twitter:

Remember this, artists: Free work for yourself is good. Free work for exposure often leads to dying of exposure.

Kris Straub on Twitter:

comics pay. at least the ones who turn down the village voice and anyone else offering “exposure”

15 thoughts on “Reactions to Village Voice non-paying issue

  1. Last time I checked you couldn’t pay for your car with exposure. I’m also pretty sure that the supermarket won’t take exposure as a form of payment…..

  2. I’m sure a lot of perspective on this relates to where you are as an artist. There are so many cartoonists out there trying to make a name for themselves, I can totally understand anyone supplying a comic to that article – even based on the subject – to get some exposure.

    I would have done it without hesitation – especially knowing the controversy the article would generate. Anything that drives traffic back to my site with my comic is a good thing. Maybe it falls under the “no such thing as bad publicity” rule.

    But I tend to agree with the tone of the article, in that there’s really very little money in cartooning. I see it when I talk to my cartoonist friends.

    So if you are in it for the money, I see how this is really frustrating. If you aren’t in it for the money specifically, I can see why cartoonists would line up to give art for ‘exposure’ even in an article like this.

    I did notice the article completely glossed over webcomics, with just a basic mention of PA. There are people making money there, but of course the question is what kind of money. But that’s a whole other terrible, awful subject 🙂

  3. Maybe I need some clarification here, but did the Village Voice, in the same issue that it solicited comics from cartoonists without paying them, TELL everyone that it did so? I’m hardly a fan of doing work “for the exposure,” but I’d feel doubly screwed if I was in an issue of the VV that tells people I did it for free.

    What a quick way to label me as an amateur! As an artist who can’t find enough paying work and is willing to give it away. What a great way to repay me — so to speak — for being willing to donate my work to them. That kind of exposure I don’t need.

  4. There’s no question that the people at the Village Voice are f#cking a-h@les. To take advantage of people’s desperation when you can well afford to pay them something, even if it’s not that much, is horrible, especially for a paper that’s supposed to have leftist sympathies. I can’t imagine why anyone who’d already been in the Voice would agree to it( it’s true that if you haven’t been, it’s nice to be able to add it to your client list).
    It’s also true that it’s probably harder to make a living as a cartoonist than it was 15 years ago, though it wasn’t easy then.
    But let’s be honest–the kind of comics the Voice is running in this issue–personal, non-mainstream comics–have never made money for ANYONE. As a veteren of the 90s alt comic scene I can say with confidence that no one involved made a living on their comic work alone, at least not for more than a couple years.
    All of them, biggest names included, made most of their cash doing illustrations, working on videos, screenwriting, etc.True, they got this work through their comics, but the comics themselves were always more of a promotional tool than an occupation. Cartoonists continue to make livings in the more traditional forms and(in some cases) on the web. But the notion that there was a time when people doing the kind of personal, artsy stuff that we associate with the graphic novel movement never had to do anything else is nonsense.

  5. “especially for a paper that?s supposed to have leftist sympathies.”

    I think we may have isolated the problem. This the same hue / cry we heard a couple weeks ago re: Huffington/AOL merger that stiffed contributors who were shocked to find the much advertised leftist compassion window…closed.

    When we were young and not very good, we gave it away. That’s what it was worth. But if you’re lucky enough to make it as a professional you hurt your brand when you work for the same as the beginners: exposure.

  6. I love the idea of ‘exposure groceries’ and an ‘exposure car.’ That made me laugh… and cry.

    I honestly don’t understand why a paper won’t pay $10 for a cartoon. That’s almost no money and with a token payment they could claim they’re paying what they can. Not paying at all is just a big fuck you.

    Is it a question of supply and demand? Excess supply and little demand?

    We cartoonists are screwing ourselves by giving it away for free. .

  7. As far as the VV having ‘leftist sympathies’…the VV cashed those in when they dumped their cartoonist, Jules Feiffer in the late 90’s.

    This latest VV episode is proof that editors not only don’t appreciate cartoons or comics but actually have a distinct love/ hate relationship for cartoonists…..they love to hate them.

    This VV ‘exposure’ is the epitome of the old adage….no good deed goes unpunished…..and with friends like the VV who needs enemies.

  8. How ironic that the VVoice silenced another voice by removing Ms. Pond’s comment.

  9. Ways Cartoonists can make Money #1: The EPA is offering Grants to kill Bed Bugs. So, draw a cartoon, spray adhesive on cartoon, place on bed. Wait for Bed Bugs to crawl on the paper to read the cartoon (oh, they will) and as they do they get stuck to the adhesive coated comic and eventually croak. Now where’s my $500,000 grant?

  10. There are certainly circumstances that justify a freebie. I’ve asked for, and received, reprint permission for cartoons used in educational supplements, but that was when I was working at a newspaper that paid the syndicate regularly for features. “What have you done for me lately?” is a perfectly good question, as is “And what do I get in the future?”

    And “lately” is key — the Village Voice of a generation ago is history. They didn’t just “sell out” in an abstract sense. It’s not the same people, either, and, whether they make their money from a combination of ad sales and reader pay or entirely from advertising, they’re in it for the money.

    If they offered to print the MOCCA program for free, with all ad revenues going to the cause, well, being part of that would certainly be okay. But this is a profit-making venture, and the fact that they aren’t ashamed to print work without even making a token payment ought to be a clue as to who you’re dealing with.

  11. If the VV was using published-for-the-first-time cartoonists, that would be one thing (but still not a good thing). If they used semi-professional/professional cartoonists, then there’s no excuse. Only the cartoonists who agreed to it are to blame, and if they were content not being paid, it’s a non-issue.

    That said, cartooning no longer gets the respect it once had. This, combined w/ people expecting EVERYTHING for free thanks to the internet, have set new sub-standards for all creative people looking to earn money from their work. Not that you don’t already know any of this—I just love to hear myself fume.

    I don’t think it’s impossible to make a living as a cartoonist today. (I don’t, but the bulk of my income comes from cartooning.) You just need to be creative in seeking out markets and opportunities, and you may have to work your butt off in a bunch of small-paying markets instead of a few big-paying ones. And though I complained about the web above, I have faith that someday there will be a way (other than merchandising) for cartoons to earn $ on the net.

    Terry, loved your books for Fantagraphics in the 90s!

  12. Just a followup

    Quote from the article:

    “I wanted to have a big special comics issue, but I had a limited budget. So in a well-meaning effort to make this work, I asked some cartoonists to provide work without compensation. In the last couple of days, it?s been pointed out to me quite clearly that this was not the best way to help out the cartooning industry. The thing is, we?re not a company that expects people to work for free for the exposure. And I?m making this right: I?m paying all of the artists in the special issue.”

  13. The cure for a “limited budget:” Unlimit the friggin’ thing.

    People at companies that want cartoons yet have “limited budgets” use the term like was carved in stone. Silly question to ask: “Well why would you limit a budget for something you clearly want?”

  14. Clearly, the world needs to laugh now more than ever. Cartoons should be featured in greater numbers the ever before, not placeed in the dusty discount bin print or digital entertainment . People like cartoons and publishers may find greater readership and greater revenue if they all threw in some more laughs. It’s a harsh world and people need us now more than ever.
    Ok everyone, lighten up, have an ice cream cone and read the funnies!

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