Interns are not the only ones providing free labor to build resumes.
The leading issue facing cartoonists in the digital age is how much free artwork they are willing to produce in order to get exposure, according to a panel discussion titled “Comics on Assignment” at The Small Print Expo.
SPX, described on its website as “North America’s premier independent cartooning and comic arts festival,” attracted thousands of people this past weekend. Each year, hundreds of exhibitors gather to display their work, interact with other artists and attendees and participate in panel discussions that explain what it is like to “navigate the contemporary publishing landscape,” according to its website.
A central theme discussed at the “Comics on Assignment” panel involved the delicate relationship between editors and artists, specifically when online publications expect artists to produce comics or graphics for free. The incentive, editors argue, is that eventually the artwork will be available for mass exposure and lead to future paying jobs.
Panelist Lauren Weinstein, a cartoonist with work featured in the New York Times and Glamour magazine, said she recently saw a friend’s Facebook status that read: “Work like a pro, get paid like a pro. Never do anything for exposure.” Although Weinstein said she was impressed by her friend’s ability to take such a strong stance, she felt torn on the subject.
On one hand, she said, bigger organizations approach her with major exposure benefits but offer no compensation. On the other hand, smaller agencies are willing to pay but do not carry the same prestige and would not open very many doors for future opportunities.
Other panelists held firmer opinions about producing artwork for free, like cartoonist Susie Cagle. Most of Cagle’s work involves investigative reporting, including her most recent piece titled “Down in Smoke,” which covered Occupy Oakland.
Cagle said she tells editors that people look at images three times as much as words.
“Social media is visual,” Cagle said. “It goes on Tumblr and Pinterest, people share it. You say these magic words and they [the editors] write checks.”
One opinion that Weinstein and Cagle seemed to share was the fact that neither of them would create a comic or cartoon they were morally opposed to, no matter how much money was on the line.
Unlike the other panelists, Cagle sees herself first as a journalist with a social responsibility to cover and report certain events through images instead of words.
“For people that know me well enough, they know I will cover an event and tell the story,” Cagle said. “But I won’t reflect their preferred perspective for money.”