The story behind the inception of my latest webcomic endeavor, entitled Aurel, is rather interesting and stems from the actions (or rather – inaction’s) of a negligent client. Back in 2011, I began working on a comic book for a guy named Rodney, who I got in touch with through Craiglist (ah, Craigslist). He hired me to illustrate a fully colored fantasy comic that he intended to use as a pitch piece for a larger series. I was excited to take on the project, since I had never officially worked on a fantasy comic in the past and I was promised a lot of creative freedom. Little did I know at the time that working for Rodney would become one of the greatest stresses I have faced as a freelance illustrator to date…
Things started out nicely enough. The client seemed like a nice enough guy (although we never met in person since he lived in the Bay Area and I am in the Pacific Northwest). He and I created a pretty tight contract and things were up and running. Although his writing was absolutely terrible and his story was all over the place and filled with unnatural dialogue, I had a lot of fun designing characters and the universe they would inhabit. I drew a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite artists, Yoshitaka Amano, and the project was a good excuse to by an Amano art book for reference material. The pay was ok enough at the time (technically it was very low, actually, at $60 per fully colored page page, but I was new to the industry and still had a lot to improve on, so I wasn’t complaining then; but I would certainly never take on a project of this nature for that low of a rate today and I wish I knew then what I know now about the industry). There was also no set deadline, which (as most freelancers know) would ordinarily make things a little tricky because it makes it harder to prioritize when you’re working on multiple projects. But in this case it was helpful because I had to move to a new place in the middle of production and that set things back a little bit.
The payment arrangement we agreed on was that he would pay me in 4 installments of roughly $450 per installment (chump change, as I now see it) as we went through production. He paid me the first 2 installments, and then after I spent countless hours inking the book from start to finish, he flaked out on the following payments and I never heard from him again. He simply vanished. I couldn’t reach him through email. He ignored my Paypal invoices. I sent a certified letter that got sent back as undeliverable to the address he gave me. And after a few months of trying to reach him over the phone, an old lady eventually answered and said she didn’t know who this “Rodney” person was (I fully believed her, since Rodney had changed his cell phone number several months prior – I guess he went through burners a lot).
So, naturally, I was infuriated. I was completely getting screwed out of hundreds of hours of work without so much as notification. I’m quite certain that the client simply ran out of funds and decided to cut and run, rather than be a man and inform me of the situation (he had mentioned at one point that he was having difficulties with investors who he was working with, but he assured me that production would continue and that he’d be able to pay for my work – liar!).
So I never heard from the client again, and I never got the money he owed me. What should I do about this situation? Just sit on the art and never let it see the light of day? No way. I decided that I was going to make the best of the situation and put the art to good use. Since the client broke the contract, the artwork and it’s characters remained my property, but the story and words were still his. I tried selling the rights to the artwork in hopes that an aspiring writer would take them off my hands and write a new story. There was some interest, but I don’t think anyone was really willing to pay very much for the art (understandably), so that idea didn’t pan out.
I came to the conclusion that if I ever wanted anything useful to come of the artwork, I’d have to make use of it myself by rewriting the story and posting it as a webcomic. I decided to employ the help of my writing partner (and long time girlfriend) Marisa Brenizer, who is the creative mind behind my other comics, And To Be Loved and My Girlfriend’s Dog. I showed her the pages of art without telling her the original story so that she wouldn’t be influenced by it in any way. She managed to create an entirely original (and much better) story to accompany the art. At the same time, I altered the appearance of some of the characters to better suit the new story.
And so Aurel was born, and is now up and running. A few pages had to be cut from the original art since they didn’t fit into the new story, but that’s fine with me. As a result, we will have a black and white comic that is about 25 pages in length. I had considered coloring it (since that was the original intention), but it would simply take too long and I have other commitments that need my attention. If the comic does well enough, we are considering the possibility of continuing the series. But we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes…
This is a situation that no illustrator should ever have to go through. It is clients such as Rodney who take advantage of people who are more talented than they, while making freelancing more difficult than it should be. I am certain, however, that in the end I will come out on top of the situation. It’ll just take a little extra time.
I will soon be posting tips on creating collaboration agreements for illustrators and how to avoid situations such as these. So check back soon!