Week 7 update: Time and money / by Benjamin Woo

Happy New Year from the Work in Comics project! It’s week 7 and, as of this writing, we have 429 completed responses. That’s pretty good, but I think we can do better! Please consider taking a moment right now and letting your friends and colleagues in comics know about the survey.

Here at the University of Calgary, people are starting to come back from the holiday break, and the class I’m teaching starts up on Thursday. This term, I have to watch how I budget my time between this research project and teaching, and so I thought I’d take a look at how cartoonists derive their living from different work sources that compete for their time.

But before looking at the details of how people spend their work time, it might be worth reviewing a couple of basic facts.

On the left, we have a breakdown of how people describe their employment status in comics. As you can see, 7% describe themselves as amateurs and 38% as self-publishers, while 43% are freelancers (with or without an exclusive contract) and only 6% are direct employees. On the right, we see the responses from people asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, “I am given enough time to do my work to my satisfaction.” Although most people agree (at least somewhat), there is a significant minority of people who feel squeezed for time. (And I’d imagine that separating out the self-publishers might make a difference here.)

I think it’s a good idea to keep these things in mind – as well as the usual grain of salt – as we go over the self-reported figures of hours spend working.

I did some very basic cleaning of the data when obvious problems jumped out at me. For example, I set aside a record for someone who said they made 100% of their income from a day job but reported working no hours per week, or, conversely, if someone said they received 100% of their income from their creative work in comics but left the total hours worked blank, I copied the amount of time they reported working on comics over to the total hours column. I left some oddly low-looking reports intact, as I couldn’t be very sure without looking at how much money they made whether 6 hours of paid employment made sense as a primary source of personal income.

However I did set aside records where someone said they spent no hours a week making comics; this probably reflects people who only occasionally take on comics projects or used to work in comics, and while their information is valuable for a lot of other questions, they don’t strike me as very good indicators of the workloads of active creators.

With these changes made, the average respondent spend 47 hours a week working at all forms of paid employment, 28 hours a week doing creative work on comics, and 5.6 hours a week pursuing future work.

For some respondents, the amount of time spent making comics is part of (perhaps even all of) their working hours at paid employment. For others, it’s a sideline or even a hobby. We can get a better idea of the relative importance of these different categories by looking at the breakdown of income sources people reported.

Logically speaking, the income sources we’re interested in break down into four categories that describe a two-by-two matrix. Imagine on one axis you have creative or not and on another you have comics-related or unrelated to comics. Thus, we have (a) wages and salaries from creating comics, (b) income from other work related to comics such as original artwork sales or teaching comics, (c) creative work outside the field of comics, like prose writing or editorial illustration, and (d) non-creative work done outside comics (i.e., a day job). I also added an option for “other sources,” from which only a small proportion of respondents suggested they derived any significant income. (I should also note that when putting these figures together, I assumed a blank spot was equivalent to a 0.)

Frequency counts of self-reported proportions of personal income for each work category by decile. (Click to enlarge.)

The tall columns representing “10% or less of your income” in all four graphs looks disheartening. And I think to some extent it is. Less than 50 of the 429 respondents make more than 90% of their income from their creative work in comics, while nearly 100 of them rely almost exclusively on a day job.

However, it’s also slightly misleading, since a diversified (and so hopefully relatively stable) career would spread income sources around, resulting in higher counts in the lower ranges of the graphs. Once more detailed analysis can be done, we’ll have a better idea of how these proportions relate to income levels and some of the other factors related to income insecurity that I’ve already written about on the blog.

As always, while I hope this is an accurate picture of what’s going on, I recognize it might also be partial. Do you work more or less than the average? Is everyone you know in comics is able to derive most of their income from their creative work? If you’d like to see our findings reflect your own experiences better, take the survey and share it widely.