Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login
×

:iconseangordonmurphy: More from seangordonmurphy


Featured in Collections

journals by animatorjourneyman

Comix N Stuff by StephenSchaffer

Articles by legrosclown


More from DeviantArt



Details

Submitted on
December 27, 2011
Submitted with
Sta.sh
Link
Thumb

Stats

Views
26,166
Favourites
53 (who?)
Comments
66
×
I've spoken as guest speaker a number of times over the years (come visit me at SCAD Atlanta in January).  While I'm not the best or most patient teacher, I think my strength is my pragmatic and blunt approach to the business side of comics.  In order to help the students think of a "5 YEAR PLAN" (more on that in an upcoming post), I'll often break down the different page rate levels of comic book artists as a way to help analyze the playing field of our industry.  If there's a ladder to success, what's wrong with defining each rung?  I imagine such a breakdown helpful for moving up in most any industry, not just comics.

Here are the 5 LEVELS of comic artists as I see them--NOT based on talent but on page rates, popularity, and the prestige of the titles the artist works on.  You might define them differently or have more than just 5, but I find that less-is-more when it comes to people being able to retain information.

LEVEL 1
I'm guessing that only 1% of artists fit into this category.  These are the marquee players in comics--they get the top page rates, they have the biggest sales, and they're put on larger "event" titles advertised most heavily by the big two.  These guys also have more say over the projects they choose and are more aware of future projects (sometimes) years in advance so the company can plan whom-will-get-what-book early on.  Many of these guys even have representation to help them with contracts and with their back-end bonuses.  While most artists might dream of Level 1 status, there's also a lot of politics at this level that most artists aren't aware of.  Which is why I think Level 1 success is a bit of a double -edged sword.  Companies will label you with your probable sales.  And if your numbers aren't high enough, you might not get onto the book you want.  And it has nothing to do with how well you draw.

LEVEL 2
While not as well paid or popular as Level 1 artists, these artists are consistently fed with work throughout the year (many of them are under contract) and manage to carve out a comfortable salary (assuming they can stay away from drug addiction or bad financial planning).  Most of the books they work on are mainstream Marvel/DC staples that most people are aware of.  But you can also find a few of these guys on large Dark Horse and creator owned Image books.  I think that there are a few "artist's artists" in this category whose cult following has brought them very high up, but their distinct style of drawing often excludes them from larger "event" books.  Some Level 2 artists are happy to stay at this level because they have no interest in being a marquee player.  Some were marquee players but decided to drop down to Level 2 in exchange for more control over their careers.

LEVEL 3
These artists are mostly found at smaller publishers, although many of them are grateful for the rare Marvel/DC offer.  I don't imagine most of these guys having consistent work, but rather putting out a few issues a year and coasting toward the next gig on whatever money they saved.  Some of them do have consistent work, but it's mostly on titles that pay leaner rates.  Whenever I hear about someone "paying their due" I imagine them stuck at Level 3.  Too much time in Level 3 can often leave you jaded and bitter, because barely paying your bills SUCKS when you're working your ass off.  I speak from experience on this one.

LEVEL 4
These are often the students who are running the convention circuit while trying to get that first gig.  They're hungry enough where they'll take anything--even if it only pays on the back-end.  Many of these guys get burned by publishers or private individuals who promise them a rate.  Level 4 artists usually have a daytime job and draw comics at night.  Or they still live with mom.  It's a rough life, but at this early stage the artist still has his optimism intact, making it a bit easier to trudge forward.  Fair warning: getting that "first gig" does not guarantee you will advance to Level 3.

LEVEL X
A Level X artist is out to do his own thing once he's had some form of success.  What makes these guys different is that they have no interest in doing mainstream comics.  Many of them are indy artists while many of them have an illustration career and dabble in comics from time to time.  Some of them will do a mainstream "event" book, but it's usually only for a limited run.  I think most "artist's artists" are in this category because having a Level X mindset frees you from conforming to the normal comic book styles.  You're more likely to find Level X art inside an "art book" and not within a comic.  Or maybe they just do covers.

Again, this isn't based on an artist's ability.  And it's not meant to judge working comic artists in a mean way (I stopped myself from naming examples in each category).  Most artists work their way up from Level 4 while others seem to appear suddenly at Level 2.  Most artists probably fit into more than one level.  Obviously the nuances of different careers defies the idea of such classification, but I still argue that it's helpful from a student standpoint.  Or from any standpoint where you're looking to move up.

Later on I'll post more about the "5 Year Plan"
  • Listening to: Charlie Rose
  • Reading: Trotsky
  • Watching: Top Gear UK
Add a Comment:
 
:icontcookeart:
TCookeArt Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2012  Student
So, I'm guessing you're at level 2?
Reply
:iconmanoelricardo:
ManoelRicardo Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2012  Professional General Artist
Yo, sean! Aways clever and useful content! thank you very much for sharing!

do you have any "3 year plan". I need to be successful before the crisis of 30th birthday. hahhahaha...
Reply
:iconolgaulanova:
OlgaUlanova Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011
Thanks for the rare look inside the industry, Sean. I find the business side of the creative endeavors almost as fascinating as the art itself.

A good reality check, this kind of info also lets the aspiring artists play with a fuller deck, so to speak. Looking forward to your post on the 5 yr plan. :)
Reply
:iconrazor-rabbit:
razor-rabbit Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011
Interesting. All the guys grinding out pages at the company Im at, would all choose Level X I think. I guess its because we've all about the level 1/2 within our country and within our 3rd world market. Im making an ok living, but the deadlines and pressures are high, the amount of creative control is low. The idea of working for the big two, no matter the salary, holds little appeal for me. I can only imagine if its anything like what I do now it'll be, "Sorry Bob, Spiderman has four sets of webbing on his head not two. Please adjust on all pages."

No, the light at the end of the tunnel we all look to is the successful creator owned book. Thats the dream.
Reply
:iconuberfeist:
uberfeist Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011  Professional General Artist
Thank you for this general overview! If we stay hungry, grateful, humble, and positive, which almost always comes back to you, it will make that journey through these levels all the more worth while. Easier said than done, but totally possible. I am creating a book from scratch, and hoping to carve my name on one of these level walls, the journey itself is just reward.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011
Good luck man! And thanks for reading.
Reply
:icontommyphillips:
TommyPhillips Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011
Thank you for taking the time and writing this. I just got my first big project at Arcana Comics. HI have just finished the book. The dead line was crazy, I penciled and inked 55 pages and 2 covers in 7 weeks. I am hoping it is a good kick off.
Reply
:icondian3:
Dian3 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2011
i like the idea of level X
Reply
:iconfermentedmind:
fermentedmind Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
Level X should be winning out because of the Internet (Conceptart.org, Zazzle, Kickstarter, etc).
Reply
:iconjazz2780:
jazz2780 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
Is drug addiction big in the comic art profession?just curious.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
Not huge, but it does happen I think.
Reply
:iconrichardpace:
RichardPace Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional General Artist
Nice, thoughtful argument. I'm looking forward to your five-year plan piece, especially since I probably should have made one of those at some point.

I _guess_ I'm Level X, since I do turn down mainstream work while having opportunities to do other mainstream work when I want and really would prefer to just do my own projects while I pay the bills doing artwork in other fields.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
Level X seems to really appeal to people. It's good to hear because I don't think trying for Level 1 is for everyone.
Reply
:iconjamaligle:
JamalIgle Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
I gave up on Level 1 a long time ago. The politics alone will drive you made, let alone the deadlines.
Reply
:iconrichardpace:
RichardPace Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional General Artist
Toyed with that in the 90s -- felt foul drawing mindless, badly-written super-hero books and made it too easy to step away from comics to do other things in 2000.
Reply
:icondio-03:
dio-03 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Student Artist
I know that maybe It would seem like you're judging other artists (hey, Dave Johnson does it all the time with his cover blog) but it'd be great to see what your take is on other artists and fitting them into these categories. I know the typical Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola, or even people like Stuart Immonen are at that top tier now a days, but I'd wonder where you'd put people like Pope or JP Leon, or Eric Canete etc. etc. It'd even be cool to see where you put yourself in the whole thing. Plus there's a ton of creators that are garnering a whole lot of great internet buzz like Brandon Graham, and James Stokoe that I wonder where you'd fit in with your theory.

Just a thought.
Reply
:iconfabiancobos:
FabianCobos Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional General Artist
wow, Interesting thoughts about the artist status, I think I'm between level X and 4, I need to work more for to get at the level 3, I think I want to be at the level 2.
Reply
:iconbigox2dabox:
BigOx2daBox Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
thanks sean
Reply
:iconshaotemp:
shaotemp Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
EXCELLENT! You ever coming to speak in the NY or NJ area?
Reply
:iconautsa:
autsa Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Also there's the Level 42 artist: all they do is thumbs, and never progress to anything else. Half joke, half sad situation with some artists who could be really awesome if they just drew some damn comics.
Reply
:iconjonathan-moore:
Jonathan-Moore Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Love this--you're one of the best sources of industry insight (if not the best). When exactly are you speaking at SCAD? Is it open to the public?

The one thing that's really started to bother me--especially to be found in early players that are in the Level 4 or "amateur X" (if you will): the amount of reinforcement people are getting from their peers on really substandard work. Stuff really devoid of fundamentals. The word "style" gets tossed around so much that a lot of young "indie" artists are believing what they do is nothing less than just style, and couldn't use accurate perspective or anatomy to save their own lives. Then comes the reinforcement I mentioned. I can't tell the number of times I see an artist post a really inferior drawing and he or she gets 20 "AWESOME!" posts on facebook or whatnot. Basically, I feel like few people know how to improve anymore. They don't think they need to! The internet is coddling many who would become good artists.
Reply
:iconfuture-parker:
future-parker Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional General Artist
Can't wait to read more, very interesting.
Reply
:iconkambadais:
Kambadais Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
I'm at level 4. Actually it's only a year since i start thinking the possibility to work as a proffessional comic artist(since i lost my other job). And sometimes i feel lost. I don't know what to do and what to improve to my drawing style. I'm from Greece, and it's very difficult for me to find jobs in the comic industry, i can't go to conventions and most of the publishers doesn't accept submissions via email anymore. And the publishers here in Greece can't afford to pay much to their artists. Right now i'm working on a gig for a graphic novel, with back end payment, and i don't know if that will helps me very much, because the writer pushes me to finish it quick and that affects the quality of my drawings. We don't even have a colorist and he wants me to color it too.
Anyway, i'm trying to be optimistic and i hope i'll find a way to go to level 3. And i keep dreaming to go to level 2. I don't care if i ever go to level 1. I'll be more than happy to go to level 2.
Reply
:iconemmanuelxerxjavier:
emmanuelxerxjavier Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Artist
as an artist at your caliber, you write so very well!. :). i'm a level 3 i guess, but what the hell, does being happy whatever level you are make you a level x? :)
Reply
:iconangilram:
Angilram Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
For some reason, I like Level X.
Reply
:iconjchouston:
JCHouston Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
As a student, I agree. Hearing this does help keep things in perspective. I'd like to add that I was able to get the Deluxe Edition of Joe the Barbarian over the holidays. I really love the extras in the back.
Reply
:iconhobo92:
Hobo92 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
Not to dig too much into your personal life here, but where would you say you fall? I know that you posted that you have experience in Level 3, but is that a thing of the recent past for you, or your current state of artistry? It seems by the amount of projects you post you're more so in the Level 2 zone.

Be as modest or arrogant as you want. Both are dandy.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
I'm a mix of level 2 and level X I think.
Reply
:iconhobo92:
Hobo92 Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
Mm, it seems like they would fall in conjugation with one another.
Reply
:iconcidvicious831:
cidvicious831 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
i can say that im in level 4 :) not living with mom though. working a full time job and having a lovely wife who supports me helps big time! i work from 4am-10am and draw the rest of the day till 9ish. actually i need to go to bed! good night Sean!
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
Good night!
Reply
:icondemiton:
Demiton Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Student Digital Artist
That was actually a very informative and helpful. It is nice to have a guide that quantifies the broad spectrum of artists in comics in an easy to digest read. I am glad to have read it; thank you for writing it. I look forward to the "5 year plan" in the future.
Reply
:iconmatiassoto:
MatiasSoto Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
So I'm guessing that I am a barelly level 3 by now? I've started working professionally almost 3 years ago now, but I've worked only in Indies. I just want to be ready with skills and training, and have a more stable state of other affairs in like other than work before taking a head on plunge aiming for at least bigger Indies, so If I'm guessing that if I could work my way to at least level 2(and I I'm not that interested in level 1 as it seems, at least today) it's gonna be by working my ass off =P .Still, though I do want to work at the big two, I want just as much to do creator owned titles.

Longing to hear about the 5 year plan now ...
Reply
:iconvoipcomics:
VoipComics Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow, the gap between comics and Graphics Design is like night and day.

In my field there are no Marquee designers. Generally people fresh out of college are on a level playing field with long time pros because they have the latest know how on the new wave of programs.

Not to say artistic design doesn't play a role but a much different one. Were as in comics you are judges by the style you can draw best in, graphic design tends to reward a more lateral approach. People who have extreme versatility and can do many styles pretty well will beat out people who can only do one style very well.

I have to say I can appreciate the grit it takes to survive your industry.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
Great point my friend. I never would have thought about how it might be reverse in other industries.
Reply
:iconmummy-boy:
mummy-boy Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
Good stuff! I think I pretty much fall into Level 4 lol
Reply
:iconyaky-urane:
Yaky-Urane Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
nice , im looking for ward to read aboutthe 5 year plan
Reply
:icongoodgrace1:
goodgrace1 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
First journal i have fave that mean this is good stuff
Reply
:iconwarder120:
warder120 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional General Artist
I think this is extremely informative. As a young person trying to break into the comics world, I really appreciate the people who will be blunt about how the business works. So, Thank you, Sean.
Reply
:iconfishcat101:
fishcat101 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
thank you for the run,nice and clear.look forward to the five year plan.
Reply
:iconblackstar-shabach:
BLACKSTAR-SHABACH Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
yooo this is sooo dope, I love this perspective. What category is the artist who wants to self pub with no desire for the mainstream at all?
Reply
:iconjusdog:
jusdog Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011  Professional Filmographer
Broke as hell...
Reply
:iconblackstar-shabach:
BLACKSTAR-SHABACH Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011
depends on your hustle
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
Level X I guess. :)
Reply
:iconspacefriend-krunk:
Spacefriend-KRUNK Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Artist
i'm level Z.
Reply
:icontheceoofdeath:
theCEOofDEATH Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
I read this post and I was going to say that Murphy missed Howard's level... I scroll down to post and what do I see? Effin Zach Howard, himself, beat me to it!
Reply
:iconspacefriend-krunk:
Spacefriend-KRUNK Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2011  Professional Artist
=) great minds think alike!
Reply
:iconvrblknch:
vrblknch Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional General Artist
Level X is where its at. I would need to look deep within and establish what "some level of success means". Need the SCAD ATL dates, unless I'd need to pass through a retinal scanner and donate an organ, I'm there.
Reply
:iconzepeda:
Zepeda Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
A very interesting read. There is a lot of truth in what you say. A friend of mine is in level 4, he's an inker. Me, I've done some stuff but I think I'm not even in the ball park, for now I've got my name in print big whoop. Love your work man!
Reply
:iconcarnivalofsins00:
carnivalofsins00 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2011
I don't know why, maybe because you present yourself so well in your writing, but with each blog post, I want to see what you can do on the writing side of Punk Rock Jesus.
Reply
Add a Comment: