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:

  1. no one is too good to work minimum wage.
  2. a practical solution to a problem (no money) is not an argument that your work shouldn’t have financial value.
  3. 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.

7 thoughts on “the financial concern

  1. “an artistic career is famously synonymous with poverty.” i don’t think most of these people think of it like that. they probably think it’s decently possible to make it a career with out being in poverty. they probably also view poverty as literally just being homeless and everything else it middle class or rich.

  2. i have to admit i hadn’t checked in on your work in a while. this post was great to read. i hadn’t realized you were doing long-form blogging; would like to read more!

    really feel the part about minimum wage jobs. feels weird to say it, but often, i encounter other artists who don’t see that as a expected or normal thing. i don’t know what to tell them.

  3. Yeah, i think saying things like “noone is too good to work minimum wage” is what has people calling you privileged. Try being “not good enough to work minimum wage”. Because thats the reality for all too many people. The physical and mental health required to hold down one (or three) of those jobs is considerable. Not to mention these jobs are not always in plentiful supply. When they arnt? thats when the jobs go to the most able workers, and the rest dont get any work at all.

    When your in that position, you have to try find more creative ways to make a few pennies. “doing stuff that amuses people on the internet” seems like its at least possible. A slim chance instead of no chance. And it doesnt have to be “ART” it can just be entertainment and/or porn. What does it matter? its all culture. Personally, i see no difference anyway.

    A lot of webcomicers say things like ” I have to do this, its the only thing im good at”. It isnt even about wanting to be an “artist”, often its about just wanting the validation of making a modest living doing something you are genuinely competent at, something capitalism has robbed most of us of. Sure, thats an emotional need, but its closer to the bottom of maslows heirachy than you seem to be suggesting it is.

    When you literally live in a third world country, drawing furry porn for 10 USD a time is pretty good money. If your stuck living with your boomer parents for the forseeable future, then 50$ or 100$ a month patreon money at least lets you have a tiny scrap of autonomy and dignity. Its something instead of nothing, and thats a very big difference.

    People trying to make a living with a webcomic are not “financially driven”. I know “financially driven” people, and they dont have any commitment to any particular way of making money. They will try to sell you a broken TV, buy NFTs, mine the latest scamcoin, always looking for something, anything they can buy low and sell high. Always with a new idea after the last one fails.
    Sad fact is, everyone who “needs to eat” is at least a little bit financially driven. Fucking capitalism, what can i say. You want to reject the idea that its “take bad jobs or die”, but all jobs are bad. Some worse than others. There is no way to keep yourself pure. And even if there was? What would that do? Make you a shit artist is what. Yeah, art affects the world, but the world affects the artist too, thus affecting the art. It doesnt matter if its wads of cash or delusions of purity that are insulating the artist from the world, you seperate the world and the artist, the art gets seperated from the world too, and thats why people sneer at “high art”. It genuinely isnt meaningful.

    This isnt about the 20th century fantasy of the life of the “artist” anymore. Gotta have a really fat trust fund to afford the rent on that draughty loft in paris you know. This is just people doing what they can, how they can, and finding a sense of purpose and community wherever they can. That american white picket fence “stability” was a lie all along. You are talking like its actually POSSIBLE to “sell out” these days. How can you sell out when they aint buying?

    And why do your moral principles extend only as far as work involving art? It is wrong to “take work from companies known to be abusive to their employees” if it involves drawing pictures, but how are you going to get a minimum wage job to support your art if you hold walmart etc to that standard?
    You are basically suggesting that to be a pure and proper artist, you have to compartmentalise your moral compromises. Minimum wage at the soylent green factory by day, so you can be an oh so pure artist by night.

    You make a lot of assumptions about the kind of options that other people have open to them. assumptions that yeah, display privilage. The bastards in charge of everything have decided. Money is food, Money is shelter. Money is medicine. Money IS life. So when you say there is more to life than money, that must be from the perspective of someone with enough money to live.

    I mean, you bought a house. You are literally invested in the status quo. Literally as in a thing that is true in a non-metephorical way. So here you are, advocating for something that was barely viable 10 years ago for an american college graduate. I mean, the boomers “sold out” shamelessly and profitably. The gen Xers came along and said they would never sell out! until they did.. for half the money. Then the millenials came along and made ironic jokes about selling out, because nobody was buying. And now? gen Z barely understand the concept of selling out. So what meaning does your message have left?
    You are just presenting a false dichotomy between morality and money. or something. I dunno, I couldnt afford to go to college so what the hell would i know?

    • cosigning this.

      “[art] gratifies me more than any meal, any medication, any good nights sleep” — no. basic security w/r/t food, shelter, and medical care are not negotiable benefits. even if you think *you* can skimp on these things, to your own personal tolerances, how dare you preach your choices to others? congrats to you that you found food stamps and no heating preferable to compromising your personal artistic integrity. that’s a choice that shows a high degree of personal resilience. it’s ridiculous of you to prescribe it to anyone and everyone else.

      there isn’t a single industry that isn’t rife with abusive employers — there isn’t a single job, skilled or unskilled, in which workers can’t be replaced — and if you care so much about the impact of the individual worker’s complicity in laboring for “companies [you] are morally opposed to,” how can you propose ‘minimum wage jobs to support your art’ as a better alternative? do you have any meaningful notion how one ought to measure the total worldly negative impact of ‘sucking it up and working for marvel’ against ‘sucking it up and working for amazon?’ do you suppose that every human being who feels the need to create art should find the demonstrably shortened life expectancy of minimum-wage existence a fair price to pay? you admit yourself that you are “perpetually aggravated” and yet your advice to everyone else is to choose to be as miserable as you.

      more importantly, though, why do you insist on placing the entire onus on the struggling individual, while shrugging off as inevitable that “an artistic career is famously synonymous with poverty,” letting off scot-free the profiteers who collude across industries to make it that way? the skilled/unskilled thing is hair-splitting — walmart can’t sell its goods without “unskilled” employees any more than marvel can sell comics without artists and creators. of course you can’t do much as an individual to dethrone the billionaires, but don’t delude yourself that your protest vote of *not taking a comics job* will serve to dent them in any meaningful way either. if you don’t want it, don’t take it, that’s your call — i wouldn’t want it, either! — but don’t present yourself as a pragmatic voice and then offer poverty, with all the risk and suffering it entails, as the preferred solution.

      what this bootstrap sermon is really serving is your own sense of, as you put it, reputation. you’re really tipping your hand with that last line… what is morality to you? is it the good and harm you do in the course of your life, or is it just ‘what people think of you?’ the former will outlive you — the latter won’t do you any good when you’re dead. you seem to devote a lot of your waking hours to sneering and bitching at people online. your reputation may not be what you think it is.

  4. John Kensmark says:

    It’s a great post, with a ton of good takes on an impossible situation that permeates everything. I think the larger problem is the societal insistence in our culture that if you don’t have enough money, it’s your own fault. The reason for this attitude isn’t that it’s justified but that it’s justification for people not to sympathize with or do something about poverty.

    In a sense, no one’s too good for minimum wage, but in another sense everyone is too good for minimum wage, because in this country minimum wage isn’t good enough for people. Meanwhile, everyone’s gotta do what they gotta do, because society here in the US ain’t helpin’. So no one should sneer at a minimum wage worker.

    The reality is, our society heavily harms itself by forcing people to live horribly and work horrible jobs to earn the right to scraps. Probably our best contributions never materialize because the people who could’ve designed buildings, cured cancer, written astonishing novels, made kick-ass films, produced life-altering webcomics, and whatever else — they were too busy trying to just get through their Another Box of Potato Flakes lives.

    The measure of art isn’t whether it sells. Art can be commercial, but it doesn’t have to be — unless the artist needs to sell it to eat. We’d get more great art if artists weren’t starving. Meanwhile, you can’t blame a starving artist for needing a sandwich. But if you turn your art production into the equivalent of working at Walmart in the hopes of making as much from it as you would working at Walmart, I dunno. You’re right there, no question. What’s the point?

    Years and years ago, I floated a screenplay at a major Hollywood studio. It was about two kids who have an extra day in their week, that no one else has, where the world is simply empty of other people for twenty-four hours. They’re having problems with their mother, who’s never caught on to her kids’ surreal calendar issue, and they decide to use their extra day every week to search for their missing father.

    Anyway, the studio producer said he liked the screenplay, but could I change it so that they were sexy teenagers saving the world from nuclear war? Because he didn’t want to buy it otherwise.

    So I said no, and I didn’t get any money. And I would’ve liked the money; I was eating rice and beans twice a day. I wouldn’t look down on someone else who would’ve said yes and somehow rewritten the thing in hopes of the studio actually buying it, but it wasn’t for me.

    You gotta do what’s right for you. It’s just a shame that money is the club we use to crush most of our cultural creativity.

  5. Whenever I see you online, your first line of defense is to tear down your peers rather than offer resources to help them. If you know everything, why the fuck aren’t you offering those outlets? Why the fuck are you blaming creators for buying into these predatory companies? Young ones at that?

    Time and time again, it’s rare to see you be the first to offer help. It’s always everyone else who’s suffered under these companies’ thumbs trying to help newer creators while you’re on Twitter, quote-tweeting and laughing at their mistakes. I dislike predatory companies like everyone else, but I especially dislike people who’s first line of defense is to laugh.

    And now you wanna talk about some moral high-ground? Fuck you.

    The true moral high ground has always been to help your peers as best as you can. Not fucking sit on a high horse when you’re proven right. Because what then? Are you gonna fucking help rebuild your community? Are you gonna help point people to better options?

    Or do you wanna sit alone in your corner and continue being right by yourself?

    I expect companies to always bite me in the ass.

    But I don’t expect my peers to laugh when it happens. You think you’re speaking out against these big-corps, but you’re truly just adding to the predatory atmosphere that allows these companies to remain so shit. People don’t dislike you because you’re right. They dislike you because you think shitting on them when they’ve been fucked over is some badge of honor.

    Do better — you’re old enough to build a fucking house, you’re old enough to have dignity as a person.

    When you die, no one will think “man, she was right”.

    They’re gonna think “she was right — and she didn’t do a damn thing to help out, so what was the fucking point?”

    • outside of physically taking the mouse out of your hand and throwing it in a blender, i’m not sure what you expected me to do about the droves of dumb herd animal cartoonists eager to throw themselves into the webtoons meat grinder except bitch very loudly for years in order to warn people what they were getting into. it sounds like you ignored me and blundered ahead only to realize you’re sucker holding the bag at the end of a long con, and now you are looking for someone to blame for your actions that isn’t you. everyone who works with webtoons chooses to sign up, chooses to make comics day after day, chooses to sign contracts and chooses to ally with a corporation over the interests of their peers. its a series of choices. no one is being forced into this. get down off the cross.

      i’m unwilling to show people who turned their back on their peers any solidarity. i will laugh at their easily avoidable failures. i will also laugh when the subjects of these failures send me hysterical, cry baby shit about how i didn’t use my x-men abilities to save comics. tf you expect me to do.

      we didnt build a house silly. who the fuck can afford that.

      anyway lol. lmfao. ahahahah

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