The Beat points out an interesting discussion that’s happening online regarding whether indie writers should pay indie artists up front to draw their scripts. For those wondering why a writer should ever hire an artist, the argument is that art is far more time consuming than writing; a writer can supplement their personal project with paid work, while an artist can’t produce pages in an timely manner while holding a day job.
What I haven’t seen discussed as much are the different kinds of writer/artist relationships that exist in comics, and the impact that could have on the situation.
Although I don’t currently work professionally in comics, I’ve read a lot of scripts, and I could place each of them in one of three categories:
Scripts for collaborative projects vary wildly in the form they take. They can range from “Marvel style,” in which the writer comes up with a plot summary and it’s the artist’s job to flesh it out, up to a full script without panel breaks (or even page breaks) indicated.
Other collaborations might include a tight full script that includes panel breaks and direction, but after the writer and artist have discussed the story, and the panel breaks indicated can be more of a suggestion than something set in stone.
2) Singular Vision
Sometimes a story comes to a writer so fully formed — or maybe they’ve been planning it out in their head for so many years — that they’re not interested in hearing any suggestions or ideas. They know exactly what they want, and just want an artist to transform their descriptions into images.
At this point the artist has ceased being a storyteller and is simply an illustrator implementing someone else’s ideas. But some artists prefer that.
Some writers lock everything down in the script not because the story came to them fully formed or that they’re particularly invested in this page having exactly this many panels and being drawn from this particular angle, but because they’re trying to safeguard their story from an artist they’ve been assigned or are unfamiliar with who frankly may not know what they’re doing. Bad storytelling can sink even the most well-written script, and writers who are aware of this try to keep it from happening by not giving artists any storytelling decisions to make.
However, in cases where a writer isn’t particularly visual (or hasn’t sketched out the idea first to see how it’ll look), these directions can result in pages that look awkward when drawn exactly how described, or are sometimes even impossible draw.
Should Writers Pay Artists Up Front?
To me, it depends on whether it’s collaborative or not.
Personally, I enjoy figuring out how to tell the story visually more than actually drawing it. If a writer locks down the script in order to keep me from taking part in the fun stuff, it’d either have to be a really amazing project or there’d have to be money involved.
A collaboration, on the other hand, would have me just as invested as the writer in the story’s success, especially if it’s a property we’d both own.
Though as Kurt Busiek points out in the comments of that article, even when in a collaborative situation, paying your artist so they can work on the project fulltime certainly helps it happen faster.