Below are the results of a survey of comic artists about their identity as artists and their relationships with nonprofit organizations (NPOs from here forward). The survey ran from April 20th, 2020 until June 30, 2020. The purpose of this survey was to begin a discussion about the needs of comic artists and to frame those needs in the perspective of what actions NPOs can take to address those needs on behalf of the artists.
This survey is very much meant to be a conversation starter in the comic arts community. I would very much like to hear your opinions about the results, including but not limited to what aspects of the comic artist identity do the results confirm for you, what opinions are challenged by the results, and what courses of action by NPOs does this survey indicate to you?
You may contact me at email@example.com. Please use the subject line "2020 Comic Artist Survey Results."
The survey had 240 total respondents, using a two phase approach to recruit survey respondents.
Phase 1 was to conduct direct outreach to the artists. This phase relied heavily on the network created with my 10 year career as an artist and micro-publisher.
79 responses from 154 emails sent (51.30% Response Rate)
65 responses from 120 Facebook messenger DMs (54.17% Response Rate)
45 responses from Twitter DMs (40.00% Response Rate)
Phase 2 was to distribute the survey through social media posts with some direct requests for signal amplification from existing NPOs and from community members with interest the comic arts community and who have a network of connections as large or greater than my own.
51 of the 240 responses came from phase two work.
1 of 4 NPOs solicited helped amplify my signal with social media posts
3 of 8 individuals solicited helped amplify my signal with social media posts
I have presented this survey as one step in generating a larger conversation about the comic arts community. Further conversation, of course, requires a willingness to engage with the answers to this survey and to participate in further research.
208 (86.67%) respondents indicated that they wanted to be sent the survey results.
209 (87.08%) respondents indicated that I could contact them through email for further research.
All questions were optional, but respondents responded at a rate of at least 97.08% for every question.
Feedback on Survey Engagement:
One respondent and one non-respondent indicated that the inability to see the entire survey at once was a negative in their decision making process of taking the survey.
One non-respondent indicated the survey questions were too invasive.
One non-respondent indicated that they didn't have the time to take the survey.
One non-respondent indicated that they were retired from comics work and felt that their answers would skew my results.
What Are Your Sources of Income
Response Rate: 239 of 240
Average # of income sources: 2.67 with a skew towards fewer
Range: 1 to 6 sources of income
Part Time Job: 22.08%
Full Time Job: 52.92%
Freelance Art: 66.25%
On-Line Sales of Art: 41.25%
Sales at Conventions: 45.00%
Student Loans: 1.67%
One respondent indicated that the list of options should be expanded to include freelance work that was not actual creation of artwork and suggested that Patreon might be distinct from "on-line sales."
On personal reflection, grants would be another source of income that I did not list.
What year Did Your Comic Career Begin?
Response Rate 237 of 240 with one response error*
Average Career Length: 14 Years
Median Career Length: 12 Years
Range: 1970 to 2019
*Response error was that individual listed career beginning in 2022.
How Many Hours a week do you work on comics?
Response Rate: 240 of 240 with one response error*
Average:14.01 to 21.15 hours
Median: 10 to 16 hours
Range: The lowest response was a flat 0 hours/week to a high range 80-85 hours/week
*Response error was that the individual did not give any number of hours or range of hours.
This question requested a range of hours per week but had an open text field so many respondents offered qualifications to their answers.
2 Respondents indicated a change in work hours due to Covid 19 isolation (1 was working more hours per week, the other less.)
11 Respondents indicated that the nature of project work created significant periods of down time where work hours would be less.
6 respondents gave only low end of the range with statements such as "40+ hours"
6 respondents indicated that their answer would likely change in the future or would have been different in the past, such as "0 hours currently" or "20 to 30 hours now but likely to go up soon."
6 Respondents indicated their work estimates on comic arts was easily confounded by time spent on other work or art forms.
Is Your Day Job Comics related?
Response Rate 228 of 240
118 Yes (51.75%)
110 No (48.25%)
Do You See A Clear Path To Achieving your Artistic Aspirations?
Response Rate: 240 of 240
119 Yes (49.58%)
121 No (50.42%)
Do you identify as a member of a community that is frequently and/or historically the victim of discrimination and bias?
Response rate 239 of 240
103 Yes (43.10%)
136 No (56.90%)
One respondent was concerned that the categories listed as examples were limited and did not address individuals with intersectional identities that may face bias from multiple directions
One respondent was not sure if it was appropriate to answer "yes" as a person of Jewish heritage.
As a personal reflection, I am disappointed in my own outreach efforts. Hacking out the numbers in my head, at least 50% of artists should be women and a percentage of the remaining 50% should include people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. I would also expect some responses from people who suffer from discrimination based on less discussed matters such as age or body type.
What types of activities would you like to see NPOs take part in to address the problems facing comic artists?
Response Rate 239 of 240
Range: 1 to 10 services with an average of 5.51 per respondent
Increasing # of Buyers:68.20%
Increasing # of Sellers: 40.59%
Mitigating Participation fees: 57.32%
Informing Buyers: 62.76%
Creating Industry Standards: 28.45%
Addressing Discrimination and Bias: 61.09%
Addressing Social Service Gaps: 65.69%
Training: Craft of Making Comics: 31.80%
Training: Business of Making Comics: 61.92%
Legal Support: 71.97%
What functions do you wish to see comic arts NPOs performing to address problems facing the comic arts community?
Response Rate: 233 of 240
Range: 1 to 4 functions with an average of 2.56
What values would you expect to guide a comic arts NPO?
Response Rate: 234 of 240
Range: 1 to 10 values with an average of 6.97 selected.
Feedback on section two was not about specific questions or options, but instead reflective of the set of questions as a whole.
One respondent commented that all of the services, functions and values were framed as positives and wondered why they wouldn’t select all in every category.
One respondent stated that the values and programs of NPOs should mirror progressive ideals and platforms, specifically mentioning the values expressed by the Sanders presidential campaign.
One respondent indicated that all values, functions and services were important but that dismantling existing social and institutional barriers should be the top priority.
How representative are these survey results of the entire comic artist population?
The results of this survey are very biased due to the selection method of participants. 80% of respondents came from my personal network. Only about 50% of the artists I contacted responded. This leads to all sorts of nonrandom sampling errors.
This is most evident in the question regarding bias and discrimination. Going in to this survey I anticipated difficulties in reaching individuals from disenfranchised groups and identities, and believe that difficulty is manifest in the responses to the question on discrimination and bias. In my original Indie Comics Fair Survey, 71.43% of respondents stated that they identified as a member of a group that is frequently and/or historically the victim of bias. That 71% result is in line with the demographic results of Sasha Bassett’s Comics Workforce Study 2019.
I very much believe that a census of the comic arts community would be the most valuable tool that could be created for anyone seeking to work in comic arts advocacy, activism or nonprofit work. The census could not only be used to identify issues faced by the entire comics community, but also to identify what resources the community has available for problem solving.
How much does personal utility affect comic artists in marketplace choices?
One of the complexities of artist rights and conditions in general is the personal satisfaction artists gain from the act of creating and distributing their artwork. This is particularly true in the comic arts community where many artists consider themselves fans of the art form and consider working in comic arts a "dream job." (Some statistics on the prevalence of those thoughts in the Comics Workforce Study 2019.
I would like to know more about the choices that comic artists make in regards to acceptable pay, pricing, and contract terms. For instance do the approximately 40% of respondents to this survey who have income from conventions and festivals generally come out in the black in these events? Or do they feel that there are positive externalities to vending at these shows that offset the loss of money?
The preference of doing comic arts work can lead to exploitation (intentional or not) on the part of more empowered stakeholders in the comic arts community such as publishers, distributors, and even NPOs.
What do the survey results say about the assets and resources of the comic artist community in addition to the problems it faces?
One trap that it is easy for activists, advocates, and NPOs to fall into is framing target populations as victims. It is important to remember that all actions for social change require the evolution and improvement of the positives among the target population. It is as important to identify the strengths of a community in need as it is to identify their problems.
Most problem solutions require resources to be initiated. For example, there is certainly community buzz about forming some sort of comic arts union, guild or business rights association. Forming such an organization requires money, time, and administrative skill. I don't think that many people would assume that any of those resources are in ample supply among comic artists. The survey respondents though indicate that over 50% of comic artists maintain a full time job. How many of those jobs would give the artists the ability to contribute money to a professional association in the form of dues? Do those jobs create a barrier to amount of time that could be volunteered to a professional association? How many of those jobs involve the same administrative skills viewed as lacking in the artistic community?
What can be done to create a "condition of affluence" among comic artists?
Whether a NPO's mission is specific to comic artists as beneficiaries or not (some may view readers/fans or communities not directly tied to comics as their beneficiaries), all NPOs should have a stake in providing a condition of affluence among comic artists. The word affluence in the term is a little misleading, it doesn't mean that comic artists should be wealthy. Instead it means that comic arts should provide an environment that rewards comic artists sufficiently to consistently produce their work and thereby perpetuate and advance the art form.
There are indicators in the survey results that a condition of affluence does not exist. Nearly two thirds of respondents indicate that freelance work is a source of income, but less than a quarter indicate that they receive royalties. What NPO initiatives could be enacted to close this gap? Some artists report working on their comics in excess of 40 hours per week (i.e. a full time job), indicating that both money and time are in short supply. What can NPOs do to address resource issues that are more abstract than financial success, such as a lack of time? The majority of respondents report career lengths under the median 12 years, indicating an ongoing attrition from the community and a limited ability to maintain a career. What can NPOs do to lengthen artistic careers?
Which minority opinions in the survey deserve a deeper look?
It is important to remember that activism, advocacy and NPOs exist in part to address the limitations of a democratic process. While majority needs are important to address and majority opinions can be a deciding factor in actions taken, it is important remember that doing so also often leads to gaps in voice and service to populations that are already disenfranchised. A democratic process is only as just as its participants are representative, educated, compassionate and open to change.
While this issue is generally thought of in terms of insidious negative aspects of our culture, such as systemic racism or the glass ceiling faced by women, it is also important to examine minority opinions on less dire matters. For instance, only 28% of survey respondents stated that they would like to see some industry standards set on format and pricing of products. A NPO cooperative of artists could promise increased volume of work to printers and thereby leverage lower prices for all cooperative members. I think a higher percentage of respondents would see that specific example of a program as desirable.