The Garcia Method: How much does a digital comic cost to make?

Garcia-MethodIn his latest column, aspiring comic book writer Ryan Garcia looks at the tricky issue of money  and how best to spend it in The Garcia Method: How much does a digital comic cost to make?

Ryan Garcia.jpgOnce you’ve created your script and started considering getting an editor then the Big Question is finally front and center.  You know the Question–it’s been lingering behind you ever since you started this journey like some powerful individual waiting in the shadows.  How much is this going to cost?

Sadly, there is no definitive answer.  It’s like asking how much it will cost to build a house or buy a car or build a working Iron Man suit (mark 3 or higher).  But here are some guidelines for you to consider.

First, not to dismiss your talents as a writer, but if you are only bringing a script to the party then you have to face a heavy fact: you’re contribution was cheap.  Don’t get me wrong, your script is fantastic.  Revolutionary, even.  And I know how long it took to develop the idea, create that difficult first draft, and re-write it into the polished gem you have now.  But you can’t think of what it took to get you here, you have to think of your contribution a few years from now when you’re doing this professionally (if that’s your goal).

An experienced comic book writer can put out a great script in, what, a week?  More or less?  That still enables you to write several titles in a single month.  An artist, by contrast, may be able to do a page a day depending on the complexity.  And that isn’t counting colors and lettering and any other creative efforts that may contribute to the page.  So your time as part of the equation is a low percentage.  You are asking other people to give up significant amounts of time to work for you.  And time is money.

As a writer you need at least one artist.  Probably more.  Here’s where using a project editor can be incredibly helpful.  Not only can your editor help you establish a budget and let you know some ranges but they can also reach out to artists they know who work within that range. Assembling a creative team can be incredibly difficult no matter what budget you set.

You can certainly try and recruit a creative team for free.  Doing so means you’ll need to spend a lot more time recruiting/convincing them to work for you and you may attract a number of inexperienced artists that need to be evaluated.  This isn’t to say you can’t find a talented artist who is just as hungry as you are and believes in your project as much as you do but remember you’re asking them to work for you for free for an entire day per comic book page.  That’s a big ask.

More than likely, you’ll need to pay your creative team.  How much you spend depends on you–both how much you can afford to pay and how much you’re willing to pay.  You’ll also need to consider your financial goals for your project.  Do you want to make a profit, break even, have an acceptable loss?  How much do you want to sell your comic for and how many copies do you think you can realistically sell?  All those questions can help guide your budget discussions and then you can start considering what creative team members you wish to hire.

Although there are likely several other positions and wildly different page rates, here’s some rough guidelines for your creative team and how much they may cost.  These are all in US Dollars so feel free to Google Convert into your currency.

  • Line Art:  Your traditional sketches and final panels.  Everything but the color (although sometimes you may find a single artist who can do both line art and colors).  If your project is black and white you may consider upping this amount to hire a more experienced artist.  If your project is an original character keep in mind that this person will also likely create the character designs besides the actual pages.  And some artists may also want to hire their own colorists and letterers so you may need to expand this range to cover those jobs as well.
    Range: $100 – $150 per page.

  • Colors:  While you may find an artist who can do both line art and colors there’s a reason why all those fancy comic books from major publishers tend to use different artists for colors.  Not only does it keep the production process moving at a better pace but the skills for coloring and very different than the skills for line art.
    Range: $50 – $100 per page.

  • Letters:  Sure, you can do lettering with a computer box and a nice font but like colors there’s a reason why major books use their own letterer.  Lettering is a tricky art as well, creating the right size and placement of boxes and bubbles is harder than it looks.
    Range: $10 – $20 per page.

  • Cover:  You can certainly treat your cover page like just another page of the book but if you’ve ever bought a comic book then you know that’s not what the audience expects.  Covers are an amazing place to present a visual for your story, to set the stage for the tale to come.  Hiring a cover artist to make your comic book stand out can be a huge factor in the success of your comic.
    Range: $150 – $400.

  • Production Design:  This actually covers a number of different services.  Do you need someone to design a logo for your book?  Someone to design any text (non-art) pages?  Someone to combine the elements properly for final submission?  There are many small things that can be covered here.
    Range: $200 – $400.

  • Editing:  Last week we discussed the different types of editing so there’s no surprise at the large range here.  On the cheap end is someone who can simply help you with the script.  At the high end is someone who can project manage and coordinate with the entire production team.
    Range: $200 – $1,000.

Many factors can impact these prices and you may find an editor who says they can do all of it for less or that it will take more.  For a 22-page comic book the range here is $4,070 at the low end and $7,740 at the high end.  A large range indeed but something to bear in mind if you want to bring skilled, professional-level talent to your project and give your comic book the best shot at success.

The good news (because, yes, there is some good news here) is that if you’re planning to create a digital comic book this should be your entire budget outside of marketing activities.  You don’t have to worry about printing costs and figuring out the right balance of how many copies to print to keep the per-unit costs low while staying solvent.  That may feel like cold comfort if you haven’t set a budget yet but know that printing can be several multiples of your production costs just to have a shot at real distribution.  With digital distribution you can focus on the most important thing–bringing your amazing script to visual life!

Ryan Garcia (@SoMeDellLawyer) is a social media lawyer and professor.  He spends too much money on gadgets and just enough on comic books.  Because one cannot spend too much on comic books.  That is impossible.  Please tell my wife this is true.