Business of Cartooning Joe Kubert Ramblings & Reviews

Making Comics – The Assembly Line

I’ve seen the top version posted here and there on social media (don’t know the artist).

The bottom version is my variation using my experience working on syndicated comic strips (Flash Gordon/Sally Forth). For Sally Forth I’m the penciller, letterer, inker and colorist (colors for the Sunday page only, the dailies are colored in-house at King). For Flash Gordon I did everything but the editing, and the editor was once at the end.

My variation puts the letterer before the inker in the assembly line of making comics. Putting lettering last can make for some badly placed type IMHO.

Here’s Joe Kubert talking about how he lays out his lettering while penciling – and how he thought laying it in as an overlay as the last step was “a little nutty.” (Go to 5:51). I agree COMPLETELY with this sentiment!

I do lettering the Kubert way – it just makes for a better marriage of words and pictures.

A quick side note: Lettering is the “invisible art” of a comic page when done well. If done horribly it stands apart from the page like a sore thumb.
Check out the Todd Klein Facebook page for examples of lettering done right.

And last but not least, a top notch production staff is ESSENTIAL and are the unsung heroes of this business. Any kink in the chain, and no matter how outstanding particular individuals are, you’ll end up with a crappy product.

That’s all for today – class dismissed…

Business of Cartooning Ramblings & Reviews

Cartooning Classes Taught by Jim Keefe 2018

I’ll be teaching Cartooning and Comics classes this summer for kids and teens at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Here’s the info (with links for full details).

Comic Book Creation I
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: June 18 – July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The Comic Book Inside and Out

Summer Pre-College Classes Ages 15-18
Dates: June 18– July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.

Instructor Jim Keefe

A graduate of the Kubert School, Jim Keefe started his career as the head colorist in the King Features Syndicate comic art department, coloring such world-renowned strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible.

From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate – currently available online at


Teaching and speaking engagements include the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Malloy College and Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs in Long Island, New York, the University of Minnesota – and most recently as an Adjunct Teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Keefe currently is the artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, written by Francesco Marciuliano. Sally Forth is syndicated worldwide by King Features and appears in nearly 700 newspapers.



And for those interested, there’s also a follow-up class to Comic Book Creation I.

Comic Book Creation II
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: Jul. 16 – Aug. 8
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00-4:00 p.m.

This class is taught by critically acclaimed cartoonist and Xeric grant recipient Caitlin Skaalrud. Caitlin also runs the local comics micropress, Talk Weird Press.

Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud's Houses of the Holy.
Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy.
Business of Cartooning Tom Richmond

Comics – Pricing your Work

Scrooge McDuck by Carl Barks

I get asked a lot what’s a decent page rate for comic book work.

First off, it’s hard for me to price a project blind without knowing the specifics. It’s like a building contractor making an estimate before coming out to see the work site, or figuring out a fair price on a used car without looking under the hood.

Generally, if it’s a small press publisher that is printing limited copies the page rate will be low. If it’s a bigger publisher with a larger circulation the page rate should reflect that. There is no standard in that regard.

To cut to the chase, here’s what the Graphic Artist Guild currently lists.

Writing (Plot & Script) $75-120
Painted Art $200-750
Pencil Art $100-400
Ink Art $75-300
Lettering $40-50
Coloring $100-150

There’s also a list that breaks it down to what the different publishers pay at

Then there’s this list from

CEO – high end
Isaac Perlmutter (Marvel Entertainment’s CEO) worth $3.9 billion
Diane Nelson (President of DC Entertainment) worth $16.6 million.

Comic Book Creator  – high end
Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) worth $40 million
Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead) worth $20 million

Associate Editor at Marvel Comics: $38,000-$41,000 a year.
A more senior editor at DC Comics can make up to $84,000 a year.

Salaried gig: $55,000
On a project basis:
Script outline $20 and $100 at the bigger publishers.
Script/dialogue $80 and $100 at the bigger publishers.

Comic Book Artist
The median comic book artist salary is $36,500

Starting rates at Marvel and DC: $160 to $260 per page.

$75 to $100 per page.

$20 and $121 per page

$10 and $25 per page


Now for the long answer…

The best way to move forward is to be as informed as possible.
A starting point is the Graphic Artist Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.

The Graphic Artists Guild also has a handy website with Tools & Resources that offer a wealth of valuable information, such as…

The Letter of Agreement
Writing Your Own Contract: Pre-Contract Checklist
Negotiate That Contract

Remember your bedrock is a good contract, as the following video will attest.
Mike MonteiroF*ck you, Pay me

Now… if you’re new to the business and just starting out, you’re chomping at the bit just to get published – Do not undervalue yourself. If you’re not careful you’ll set a precedent and never get paid what you’re worth.

Here’s some advice from the grumpy old man to a certain type of client…


Remember that part of negotiating a contract is breaking down for the client what the work entails and your worth and ability in providing this. You want to be in a position that the client knows he’s making a good investment for what he’s paying.

Tom Richmond (past NCS president and Mad Magazine artist) gave the following advice to an MCAD class I was teaching.

You’re not pricing your work based on the time you spent on it, but the rights you’re giving away. And if someone wants you to work for free claiming the work they are offering will be “good exposure” – remember, people die from exposure.

And from Nick Ubels: When to Say No to Unpaid Gigs

The balance between the value of exposure and compensation, experience and pay is contested in every creative field. For those of us who want to make it in journalism, we’re asked to commit time and energy to unpaid internships and supposedly career-advancing “opportunities” that are to our benefit. And frankly, unpaid labour is hugely beneficial to the companies providing said opportunities.

This is nothing new. To some extent, internships and volunteer experience have always been a part of these freelance-driven industries. But there comes a point at which an exchange of money for services needs to enter the equation.

What you always have in your corner when negotiating a contract is the power to decline and walk away – especially if the payment is inadequate. This should be done professionally with your “business hat” on so you don’t burn bridges – not your “artist hat” that wants to punch those bastards (who want something for nothing) in the face.

Recommended Link: 15 Ways to Negotiate Better Rates of Pay – by Jim Thacker.

Along those lines, here’s Harlan Ellison with a few choice words…


Work for Hire

A lot of comic book freelance is working on established characters under a Work for Hire contract where the artists rights are signed away and the client becomes the legal owner and author of the work.

Once again, Tom Richmond

Illustration groups like the Graphic Artists Guild and the Society of Illustrators rightly disdain WFH agreements and widely suggest illustrators refuse to work under WFH agreements. That makes sense in a perfect world, but sometimes in the real world a WFH agreement is a necessary evil.

I think you have to realistically assess the amount of risk you are taking in doing a WFH job compared to not doing it.

For much more info on Work for Hire, check out Work for Hire – The Fallout.

Back End Deals

Another popular tactic to pay the artist very little (or even get the work for free) is the bait of a possibility of money on the back end through royalties, licensing and merchandise.

From Colleen Doran in regards to “back end” deals.

You’re gambling that your work will be popular enough to pay for things the publisher does not pay up front. Most of the time, that’s a losing bet.

I have accepted work like this myself in the past and it has never panned out favorably. Looking back, I also feel I ended up producing less than stellar work – partly because I couldn’t devote the time I would have liked (as paying work had to take precedence) – but also because psychologically it ended up getting under my skin that my work was not valued enough by the client that he deemed it worth payment.

If you do decide to accept work like this, see it for the gamble it is. It’s never anything to bank on.

And keep the following in mind…



If you’re looking for more info and resources for cartoonists, check out my previous post, the Business of Cartooning

All for now – deadlines looming…


Business of Cartooning Ramblings & Reviews

Working From Home

My daughter Anna to a friend’s mother: “My Dad can’t come out east when we go because he has to get work done first.”
Friend’s mother: “But why, doesn’t he work out of the home?”

Quick aside; I moved in with my brother for about a year when we first moved to Minneapolis. He said, “I always thought working from home would be great…until I saw you do it. Realized that working from home means you NEVER LEAVE WORK.

Add to that (and in no particular order);
No paid sick days.
No tech department to fix your computer.
No health benefits.
No HR department to make sure you get paid.
No 401k.
Never mind someone “at the office” to fill in for you when you’re not there.
(Much less clean up and empty your waste basket during the night shift.)

And just to clarify, I get no health coverage through my work but I do get coverage through my wife’s job.

This is not the case for MANY freelancers who are one sickness or accident away from bankruptcy. GoFundMe accounts seem to crop up daily for fellow freelancers (sick or aging) caught in this trap.

Yup, just another day in the merry land of freelance-land!

Business of Cartooning

Working Professionally as a Cartoonist

A few things that I’ve learned over the years that have crystalized through teaching…

• Devote your time to sharpening your art skills AND your business skills – trends, networking, contracts, etcetera all.

• Don’t pigeonhole yourself to one small aspect of the art form, like limiting yourself to just comics. Remember that Michelangelo wanted to devote himself to sculpture when he was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel.

• The people who succeed are generally the people who are working their asses off. Surround yourself with people like this, people who commit themselves fully and are getting their work out into the world. They’ll generally be better than you which is a GOOD thing – that way the bar keeps getting raised.

• Working hard isn’t enough, you have to work smart as well. You have to create work that’s marketable – that will suit the needs of someone who will then pay you.

• Working long hours with no sleep to meet deadlines isn’t the answer. Your career is a marathon, not a fifty yard dash. Eat right, exercise and sleep regularly like your parents told you to.

• Start now (yesterday is even better). Research the jobs you want, look at the submission guidelines (and follow them METICULOUSLY), then work up samples that will blow the competition out of the water. Follow Steve Martin’s advice to those aspiring to enter the entertainment field – “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

• To cap this off… If you treat your skills as a hobby then that’s where they’ll stay, as a hobby – and that’s FINE as long as that’s your conscious decision – but if you want to have it as your career then you need to get on board and on track.


And that’s…

For more info, check out the following links:

Comics – Pricing your Work

Things to Consider When Commissioning Artwork

Work for Hire – The Fallout

Homage or Swipe?

Cartoon Art Scams

Getting a Portfolio Review

Comics – Tools of the Trade

Making Comics – The Assembly Line

Comic Book Inking Tutorials and Videos

Recommended Books on Drawing & Cartooning


Using Reference


When you wish upon a star…

Motivational Misinformation

Working From Home

Convention Prep – AHHHHH!!!

Networking and the High Cost of Comic Conventions

Mike Wolfer on Fan art/Homage art

Graphic Novels

Comic Book Podcasts

Intro to Anime – sorely needed…

Adventure Strip Finales

And last but not least, The Business of Cartooning.
This page has a number of subcategories, including…

1 Comic News Blogs
2. Contracts
3. Resources/Articles
4. Print On Demand Publishers
5. Self-Publishing Resource Articles
6. Convention Resources
7. Cartooning Schools and Organizations
8. Financial Aid

I started these posts after teaching Comic Art at the
Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Here’s the biggest thing I learned teaching there.


…and a special thanks to Professor Barb Schulz, head of the department, for giving me that opportunity.