i’m not sure it’s possible to talk about this without sounding preachy, self-congratulatory, and/or smug. no one likes to talk about morality and trying to talk about morality and art with artists is like trying to talk to a really dense brick. the conversation often devolves into juvenile fandom discourse about whether or not it’s okay to jack off to children and i really don’t want anything to do with people who consider this a major concern in their lives. i’m trying to think beyond dicks here (impossible, i know).
one of the main things that alienates me with w/ regards to my peers is my primary effort being trying to maintain some level of moral dignity in a field that is inherently slanted toward exploitation and humiliation. i am aware of “how it sounds” to talk negatively about obtaining money in a subculture (web comics, but also comics in general) that is populated largely by minority artists who view it as an avenue for financial freedom that was once closed entirely to us. but: i have no idea where the perception of online art as a source of financial security came from; an artistic career is famously synonymous with poverty. why would online be any different? why would you not anticipate the years needed to build an appreciative audience for your work? or the years of “making your bones”?
as a result, many people (i’m talking the ones who don’t have external financial assistance from friends/family) obviously struggle to maintain a job based entirely on their own work. as a result of that, there seems to be a general presumption that all methods and avenues by which an artist makes money are virtuous because they provide income to a struggling person (you, the artist). to criticize the ways people make their money (for example, taking work from companies known to be abusive to their employees or encouraging the creation of art with a factory line, quantity-over-quality mentality) is read as an attack on the viability of the profession itself. to express disgust with how someone earns a living is perceived as, in the most dramatic instances, wanting artists to starve, suffer, or die (as if the only options in life are to take bad jobs or die; there are alternatives! come on! its intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise.). somehow, the same people who are deeply convinced that art works influence reality cannot be dissuaded that the jobs they choose to take have consequences outside of the immediate financial comfort it offers to them, the artist.
i refuse to entertain the notion that a subculture built on mutual support and a DIY punk attitude should become a safe house for the financially driven. i do not believe it is acceptable to expect and defend every instance of an artist making a financially beneficial decision over a moral one. to criticize an artist for their financial/moral decisions is not an act of targeted cruelty unique to them only. i do not support a mainstream web comic scene based on gaining the respect of corporations or finding validation in brands.
freelance artists today are blessed to live in an era where becoming an artist for a living is no longer a empty pipe dream that only a tiny handful of already wealthy and connected people can obtain, but financial success is absolutely not even remotely guaranteed despite the accessibility of the career to new artists. the world at large remains hostile to arts funding and the creation of novel ideas and visuals is not of financial interest to the people providing careers (which i’ll define as “a full-time job where you get health insurance”) to artists. when you choose to become an artist for a living, you are making a conscious choice to prioritize your artistic passion over security. and i understand you, if that’s you.
no one becomes an artist to become rich except for maybe the biggest, most naive dopes on the planet. you would have to ignore over 100 years of american sneering at art and the mere concept of paying for it. you can see it in the naked contempt our peers have for art that is genuinely unusual, off-putting or “undeserving” of its status in the artistic canon (i remember some truly idiotic posts about “the comedian” aka “the banana duct taped to the wall”. no one who hated it bothered to research the artist, his work, and what he’s trying to achieve. i’m being mean now: there’s a gaping void where their intellectual curiosity should be that they filled instead with the emotional equivalent of packing peanuts.)
we choose to be artists knowing that financial stability will never occur unless you win the literal or metaphorical lottery. to be an artist as a living is to prioritize your emotional needs over practicality. AND I GET IT. i draw for a living because i think i would be in a padded cell otherwise. there is nothing i wouldn’t give up to continue doing what i do because it’s fulfilling something nebulous and impossible to define in me that gratifies me more than any meal, any medication, any good nights sleep. there’s something wrong with my brain lol. this kind of attitude is certainly not normal.
there is nothing certain, stable or beneficial to being a freelance artist; you will need to make peace with poverty and uncertainty. you can skip this if you don’t want my life story: i started my comic in 2013 while finishing school and working a graveyard shift at the university library. i graduated and drove a small uhaul of my crap up to oregon where i lived with 3 other people who taught me how to sign up for food stamps and medicare. using government benefits, careful spending, and basically only spending my fun money on weed (lol this part i dont recommend but it made “being alive” better), i lived near portland for 4 years on my own money before picking up and moving to rhode island 3k miles away using my savings i’ve built up since i started working at 15. i’ve been living with adam for 4 years (! wowzers!) during which, for about a year, we made approx. the same amount of money lol. a dual income helped, but we were still scraping by at the time. i used my remaining savings last year to put a down payment on our house. it is literally only this month that i am starting to feel financial comfort but its because of adam’s job (which he has worked crazy hard on. manual labor is a class all of its own). however, with the 15% of my income the u.s. government takes, an economic downturn that leaves our supporters with less fun money to spend, and a society that seeks to reduce art’s virtues down to its financial worth, it is a horrible time to be an artist. i have been realizing that if i were still living with roommates, the current american economic landscape would have made it near, if not entirely, unfeasible for me to have continued working as an artist full time. and i used to work with my gloves and coat on so i didnt have to run the very expensive heat during the winter. i was already cutting a lot of corners.
when confronted with the question “then how do we make money off our art if we are expected to ALSO reject jobs on moral grounds?!” the answer is: you don’t. you already are not going to make a living off of it unless you are willing to chase down major corporations for literal years to get the 200 dollars they owe you. you live in and are arguing for the right to contribute/support, without criticism, to a society that does not believe your work has value beyond making the maximum amount of money possible. if i had to, i would rejoin the workforce at least part-time and do art on the side like literally everyone else on the planet has ever had to do (and as i did when i was building my audience). i realize that suggesting this to artists today is like suggesting they lay in the road and die. but if we are going to operate within reality then we need to accept some universal truths:
- no one is too good to work minimum wage.
- a practical solution to a problem (no money) is not an argument that your work shouldn’t have financial value.
- there’s nothing anyone can do about people not purchasing your work. if it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell. there is no guarantee that your work will connect with an audience with spare cash or the desire to fund more. that’s entertainment!
if my options for artistic financial fulfillment were limited to propping up the success of companies i am morally opposed to, i would drop art as a job. i would go back to doing it for my own gratification only and start churning out literally a thousand drawings a year. i’ll work for a company that crushes pigeons into cubes before i’ll ever work for dc/marvel (and let’s cut this off at the head: im not chomping on sour grapes here. i am not jealous of people who work for major comic corporations. when you ask them how union building is going they completely flip the fuck out because they know any sign of solidarity in public threatens their bag. and im supposed to applaud this?? lol)
i have to anticipate this: people will bring up being marginalized as a reasonable excuse and im not really sure what the fuck is up with you that you think life works like a points system and you’re just evening out an unseen scale. fuck you! hold yourself to a better standard!!! don’t throw up your hands!!! is a web comic subculture that revolves around making money, creating algorithmically exploitative works, and sharing tips on how to maximize your output (while doing the least amount of actual work) the community you want to ally yourself with? because i really really don’t and feel mortified to be associated by proxy.
my general negativity and constant stream of criticism (lol i know. i know. i dont like being this way either. i feel perpetually aggravated by the inherent evil of life) causes people to make assumptions about my financial status, my upbringing, my political, and moral beliefs and my racial background (and so on and etc). in fact, i will admit i am still burned abt being called privileged over suggesting that there’s more to life than money lol.i think this is a cowardly reaction to someone challenging you and a frantic flailing attempt to justify yourself to others by forgetting the lesson hammered into you by nearly every single literary, visual and audio artwork ever created. i guess now we have confirmation that art has 0 effect on reality.
i feel like a dick, regardless. complicated.
i dont really know what i want from this except to get it out. actually, i do know: i just need a check on how detached this mentality is from “the scene”. if this is met with universal booing, i can be placed back in my habitat so i stop bothering people who fundamentally don’t agree with me.
but man. the only thing you take with you to your grave is your reputation. when they bury me, i hope they say “she was a rotten bitch but at least she gave a shit”
post too long. die now.