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February 6, 2013
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While I used to see "art sales" simply as bonus money coming in on the side, over the past few years it's become enough of an asset that it justifies an art dealer, record keeping, insurance, and taxes at the end of each year. It's currently 25% of my total income, and that has a lot of impact over my work. And just like storytelling, design and page flow--abstract principles that keep my career afloat daily--art sales also deserve to be studied, theorized, and understood.

These are guidelines, not rules. And while most of them usually work for me, they might not all work for you, so keep in mind that my market might be different than yours. Because not only do we not draw the same, we probably have different sorts of buyers.

1. Don't stay on a book for too long

I find that doing mini series of 4-12 issues is optimal for selling art. If you spend a year doing one-shots or 2-3 issue minis, you'll be hard for buyers to keep track of because it's too infrequent. And it's hard to make an impact on a title or a character with such a brief window. However, if you spend years on something like the Punisher, eventually you'll saturate your own market--people who already have your Punisher pages are less likely to buy your new Punisher pages. But if you do 5 issues of Punisher and 5 of Spider Man, the same buyer will likely want a page from both titles. A career is more stable with long-term projects, but it's not optimal for art sales.

2. 5 second panels

I remember in college hearing my professors say, "don't spend too much time on one panel. People are only going to look at it for 5 seconds." People who say things like that probably never sold a lot of art. In other words, hard work usually pays off in pages. Sure, I've seen Batman pages by name artists who can design their way around not having to draw backgrounds. And some sell for very high. But I think that pages that show patience, hard work and lots of elbow grease usually look better framed on a wall--thus they sell faster and for a higher price. The more you hand letter your street signs and avoid using Photoshop for things like copying-and-pasting panels, the better your chances of selling pages.

3. 6 month window

According to my art dealer, the general guideline is that artists will get their best prices in the first 6 months of the work being released. Within 6 months the art is still fresh, the Punisher storyline the pages portray is still a current event in the series, and buyers have a bit of time before deciding on which pages they'll pull the trigger on. After 6 month, the pages might feel stale, the Punisher storyline has moved on, and the market is saturated with hundreds of other comic pages which have stolen your buyers' attention. After the 6 month period, you'll usually end up dropping your prices. But not always.

4. Stand out

If you have a popular, unique style that's getting a lot of buzz (or a book with a lot of buzz), don't be afraid to charge more. Standing out with a unique style can make it hard to get mainstream monthly superhero titles, but it's great for selling art. Mike Mignola is a perfect example: if you want Mignola styled art, there's only one place to get it, and that's Mike. He even breaks the 6 month guideline--I'm pretty sure Hellboy prices have gone up over the years, as well as anything else he's drawn. He's the kind of artist who's so renowned that when he draws Batman pages, people are likely buying them firstly because of Mike, and secondly because of Batman. It's usually the other way around, of course. Very few artists are bigger than the characters.

5. Know your readers

I drew a Punk Rock Jesus page that included panels of Carl Sagan, Lincoln, and Galileo. It didn't have anything obvious that usually sells a PRJ page: Thomas riding his motorcycle, a sci fi background, or a polar bear. But I knew it would sell because I know my readers from meeting them at conventions, and I know a lot of them are science/history buffs like I am. So I told my dealer to charge $600 for a page he would normally asked $300 for. I think he thought I was being silly, but the page sold in a few days (I probably should have asked for more). Most people tend to think of buyers looking for 2 thing when it comes to comic art: splashes of Batman and girls with big breasts. And while those things might be true, there are many other buyers out there that will purchase "nothing really happening" pages if you know what to include (even if it's not in the script). I have buyers who are nuts for certain cars, insane backgrounds of cities, musical icons, animals, locations close to where they live, plants, you name it. If you've got a talking heads pages, I suggest drawing the characters talking in a 1960s Mustang--you'll easily get twice the money for it.

Other tips:
1. Using higher quality ink and paper is a positive. Markers fade over time.
2. Drawing at the 10x15 size of normal comic paper (or whatever it is) is a positive. Buyer usually don't like small pages, and HUGE pages can also be a problem.
3. Be nice to people at your table at conventions. Sounds obvious, but remember these people aren't just buying your work, they're buying you. Spend time showing them through your work but try not to pressure them too much. If you're an awesome artist (and I know you are), the pages will also sell themselves.
4. Messy pages don't always detract from the value. Mine can be pretty gross, but my buyers like them that way because they can see faded linework that didn't make it to print.
5. If you've got a ton of old stuff that hasn't sold, give it to your high-end buyers next time they make a purchase. They'll love the gift and usually come back for more.
6. Keep the contacts of your high-end buyers. If you've got something that's up their alley, they might be interested in buying some art before the book has even come out (just ask they they don't post them for a few months).
7. Having too many pages for sale on your table is bad--people get overwhelmed and can't make a decision. Better to have your choice pages out and organized in a single book, then keep the rest of it behind the table. If people want something that's not in the book, you can get it for them or invite them to cruise through the pile if they like. Having the bulk of the pages off the table keeps order.
8. Convince as many artists as possible to go digital. The less original art there is, the more money artists like us will make (if Fiona Staples had hand-drawn Saga, I would have sold a lot less PRJ pages, guaranteed).
9. Printing blueline onto the board and then inking it will usually mean lower sales. Better to use pencils (or blue pencil), and then erase completely.
  • Listening to: Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Reading: Attack of the Theocrats
  • Watching: Science Channel
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:icontaufanakt:
taufanakt Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2014
damn... what amazing tips
cant agree more bro...

the point is create something simple, standout, exclusive and get the right market
nice tips bro :la:
Reply
:iconmichaelaliensbiehn:
MichaelAliensBiehn Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014
sehr interessant
Reply
:iconanghorkheng:
anghorkheng Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Now these are GOOD tips...even though point 8 is a bit devious...

Thanks for sharing, man!
Reply
:iconcoolbeanjeans:
coolbeanjeans Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2013
hahahahaha i love the comment about getting our friends to switch over to digital.
Reply
:iconpfendino:
pfendino Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013   Traditional Artist
agree :D
Reply
:iconcetriya:
Cetriya Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2013  Student General Artist
since you add all those details into your page, about how long does it take to do 1 page (not a spread) on average?
Reply
:icondarkrobin78:
darkrobin78 Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013
Wait! I meant actual blue lines with pencils, not digitally!
Reply
:icondarkrobin78:
darkrobin78 Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013
Just an opinion from a purchaser side. I bought an Amercian Vampire page from you and I have bought from Dustin Nguyen and Skottie Young in the past. I would say pretty much everything you say above is correct.

Especially the part about putting the work in and backgrounds etc. The page I bought from you I chose specifically for the apartment background.

The only thing I disagree with, and it is just opinion, is the blue lines. I bought a page from Karl Kerschel and one from Paco Medina and I LOVE the blue line. The construction lines feel like they show how the artist was thinking or even an alternative pose etc and emphasises that is really is hand made.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013
Thanks for the purchase.

The blue line is the part where a few artists are disagreeing (Skottie included). I think artists just get self conscious when they're made to feel like they're cutting corners in any way. In my experience, the digital blue line is never worth as much as hand draw blue line. For all the reasons you mentioned.
Reply
:iconwhitevillage:
whitevillage Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013
I'm going to have problems using markers and fineliners for art selling... Thanks for the tips, although making pages for a story is more important for me at the moment, but I understand that comic artists keep an eye on the after (art) market.
Reply
:iconryanottley:
RyanOttley Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2013  Professional Artist
Is ten years too long?!
Reply
:iconerdna1:
erdna1 Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Hahaha
Reply
:iconjonathan-moore:
Jonathan-Moore Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Do I dare be the asshole that says it's impossible to draw characters in a 1960 Mustang? :)

I won't be that guy. Joking aside, this is a great cache of info. I've always had a hard time trying to price art. Me and every other artist, I know.

I'm just glad I bought a page a couple years ago when prices were a little lower and I could swing it. It is very proudly displayed in the studio. Sometimes when I'm stuck I'll take it off the wall and study it for a while.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2013
Oops--forgot the "s" after 1960.
Reply
:iconpagodacomics:
PagodaComics Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank you very much for your valuable information again! I save this for later use. Maybe later it will apply on me, too. :)

Haha Tip#8 was priceless: "Convince as many artists as possible to go digital. The less original art there is, the more money artists like us will make" - awesome, and so true :D
Reply
:iconrodgallery:
RodGallery Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2013  Professional General Artist
Hey Great advice man. Thanks a lot.

I hope to chat with you when you come to FIQ in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, this year.:)

Huge fan of your work and professional career.
Reply
:iconartificiallyawake:
ArtificiallyAwake Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the good advice, I'm trying to get into the industry myself but finding it very difficult because I don't draw the way most people do these days and feel like that might be why I have a hard time getting clients. At least now I have a hope that might be what makes me stand out at an interview! (Also you plan on being in San Diego any time in the near future?
Reply
:iconmatiassoto:
MatiasSoto Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you for being always so generous with your knowledge man, apart from a great artist you're a great professional so it's always interesting to read these journals. :)
Reply
:iconmelomonaco:
MeloMonaco Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
point 8 is the best! eheh
Reply
:iconbamf27art:
bamf27art Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013
appreciate the knowledge. Definitely try and utilize this the next time I hit a convention.! BTW....Punk Rock Jesus is awesome so far. I'm only on issue 3.
Reply
:iconmickeythewicked:
mickeythewicked Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013
thank you much!
Reply
:iconpipin:
pipin Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013
Thanks for sharing. These are nice guidelines (especially point 8)... :)
Reply
:iconjoeweems5:
JoeWeems5 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
"Convince as many artists as possible to go digital. The less original art there is, the more money artists like us will make".

This made me giggle, I am SO adopting this attitude from here on out at shows.
Kinda' scratching my head now in hind sight as to why I've been fighting other Pros to stay traditional.
Reply
:iconatlas0:
Atlas0 Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Wow, nice. When I saw the title, I thought this was gonna be one of those "humble (degrade) yourself and lower your prices and kiss ass 5-Art-Selling-Tips journals," but it's anything but that. Great tips here!

And, come on, Sean, that 8th rule is just gangster :P :XD:
Reply
:iconartistjerrybennett:
artistjerrybennett Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Professional General Artist
Niiiice. Now I might just jump back in traditional. ;)
Reply
:iconborilzaf:
BorilZaf Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks for sharing,mate.
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Ah yes. I remember Fiona Staples from back in the day at the old Calgary drink and draws.
She wasn't as much into digital back then, but was interested in getting into it more at the time.
Guess I shoulda hung out with her more and maybe rode some coat tails. hahaha. ;)
Reply
:iconbalancomics:
BalanComics Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
These are great! Thanks for illuminating on an often under-discussed element of a comic artist's career.
Reply
:iconsmallguy718:
smallguy718 Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
#8 was pretty funny hahaha :)))
Reply
:iconschlockprobation:
SchlockProbation Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Very interesting thoughts and perspective. Truly valuable and helpful information. Thank you!
Reply
:icondieselnyc:
DieselNYC Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Hobbyist
Great post! As an artist and an original art collector I agree 100% here. (Although I do wish that a few of my favorite artists weren't working digitally...)
Reply
:iconstucklessportfolio:
stucklessportfolio Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for sharing Sean. I'm still navigating around this comic-art-world...
Reply
:iconcidvicious831:
cidvicious831 Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Now i feel like shit drawing digital :(
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
I don't want anyone feeling that way. The most important thing is creating good work. Who cares if you're not selling stuff on the side. Don't feel bad. :)
Reply
:iconbrattyben:
BrattyBen Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Great advice.
I'm confused though, when you say buyers don't usually like small page as I have seen your table at conventions and your boards seemed rather small. What size are they? I was under the impression that they were 8.5X11. I could have been wrong though. I wanted to ask, but you were busy talking to Dave Stewart, LOL. Plus I was shy. Double, LOL.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
They're drawn on the same size board, but they used to be a bit smaller than normal size. And a few times I shipped them away and the buyers weren't happy that they were a tad smaller. :)
Reply
:iconbrattyben:
BrattyBen Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013
Cool. Thanks for the clarification. :)
Reply
:iconel-douglas:
el-douglas Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional General Artist
hehehe #8: I started doing digital stuff for lots of reasons... but after I so your work went back to traditional media... tracing paper, light box, ink, opaque projector and paints... nothing beats the feeling of real material and of course the final piece: a unique original...
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
That's the best compliment.
Reply
:iconel-douglas:
el-douglas Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional General Artist
It's the whole truth. I also remember something you wrote about downsides of digital inking, that made a lot of sense to me.
Reply
:iconsebastiandrewniok:
SebastianDrewniok Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
"Convince as many artists as possible to go digital" :D I had to lough at this point, but its absolutely right.
Because of this thinking, I'm switching always between digital and traditional line art for over a year now...
At the moment I'm drawing digitally, print it out and light box it directly with ink (sometimes with pencil first).
Otherwise if I'm painting I prefer to do it digitally.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Painting digitally makes a lot more sense.
Reply
:iconatomicageethan:
AtomicAgeEthan Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Very interesting and helpful tips, Sean. In the last 2 months I've been taking more commissions so this really helps me understand the art sales avenue much more. Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work!
Reply
:iconkgaring:
KGaring Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional Artist
Wow! Thanks for this advice. I needed it!
Reply
:iconlookhappy:
lookhappy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for all that Sean! Once again always fascinating getting your insights! It's so rare that any body offers tips and advice on things like this, so it's awesome that you do.
Thanks again!
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Thanks for reading! Yeah I don't see this topic written about much, so I gave it a stab.
Reply
:icondash-x:
Dash-X Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
This is good advice... And I'm not even a comic artist. You should be charging for this.
Reply
:iconrandomacity:
randomacity Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
Awesome!

I use blue lines but I hate how they stay. I haven't tried normal pencils yet because I was afraid they would end up ripping off the ink from the page. Haha, it might be a silly fear, but is it legitimate at all? Are there ways to be "nicer" to your artwork?
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
The blue line is harder to work in than regular pencil. The waxy build up can affect inking, whereas normal lead doesn't do that.
Reply
:iconrandomacity:
randomacity Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2013
that's good to know, I think I've actually noticed that. Thanks, I'll try normal lead :)
Reply
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