Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Al Parker Step-by-Step: Part 2

* My Al Parker Flickr set.

* Don't forget! Be sure to drop by Charlie Allen's Blog where there's a new CAWS focusing on the art of the 'comp'.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Al Parker Step-by-Step: Part 1

Recently, I lucked into a nice stack of Famous Artists Magazine back issues, the publication of the "students and alumni of the Famous Artists School".

Wow, what a wealth of rare artwork, photos, and information contained in these deceivingly slim magazines! We will be digging treasure out of their pages for quite some time - beginning with this week's Al Parker step-by-step demonstration.

I know Christmas in months away, but set aside the subject matter and consider what an amazing opportunity this is to see - not so much how Parker worked with media - but how he thought through an assignment.

Illustration, ultimately, is not about technique... its about visual problem solving -- and this is why Al Parker was so admired by fellow artists and art directors alike. Parker said he often spent the first ten days of a two week assignment preparing to do the illustration, and only in the last couple of days did he work on the actual finished art. This week's demo goes a long way to providing a concrete example of "the Parker Method."

I'll be taking a back seat this week while the master does the talking. Let's listen in...

* A while ago, I was delighted to receive the following note:

I assume you know that Famous Artists School is still going strong here in Wilton, Connecticut (right next door to Westport). One of our instructors saw your entry on Robert Heindel and called the blog to our attention.

It's wonderful to see this online celebration of all these great illustrators. We're in close touch with Walt and Roger Reed at Illustration House, and they recently spent time with us going through our archives and files of hundreds of drawings for the Famous Artists Course textbooks. It's a real treasure trove; next question is how best to preserve them and make them available to students of this era.

We'd certainly love to have a link to our FAS website on your blog. Would that be possible?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Magdalen Livesey

I'm more than happy to include the Famous Artists School in my sidebar links - and ecourage readers to check out the school's website.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bu$ine$$ of Illu$tration: Comic Books

Author Fred C. Rodewald describes many art fields in his October 1954 article in American Artist besides advertising, magazines, books and syndicates. All sound like they offer varying degrees of opportunity for employment except one, which Rodewald describes more in terms of a dire warning: comic books.

"This field uses much the same type of talent employed by the syndicates," begins Rodewald, "but mostly on a free-lance instead of a salary basis."

"It is perhaps the lowest-paid field in the whole art business (twenty-five dollars for a whole page of four to six line drawings is not uncommon), and it is worth considering only as a refuge of desperation. A young beginner may glean a certain amount of valuable experience from this work; otherwise only an artist of phenominal speed or one who works on a royalty basis can hope to earn more than the barest subsistence."

Its mind-boggling to think that an illustrator of the calibre of Don Heck, who drew the page above in 1959, would be willing to pour this much quality into work that paid only $25 per page. Jim Amash has interviewed over a hundred comic book professionals from the early days of the business for Alter Ego magazine and says, "almost all of them said they had wanted to get out of the business - if they could have. Some, like Jerry Robinson, tried showing their samples to editors in more lucrative markets like book and magazine publishing. But there was a stigma attached to the comics industry, and as soon as editors saw the samples were comic pages, they didn't care how good they were, they wanted nothing to do with you."

Some artists like Jack Kamen left the comic book business for exactly that reason. Kamen, who quit the comics the same year Fred Rodewald's article was published, found he could do similar style line drawings for advertising clients at $40 to $50 per drawing. In an interview in The Comics Journal #240, Kamen says he could walk into a New York ad agency, "and walk out with $1,500 worth of work. I'd say, 'What do you got for me?' 'Well, we've got 30 or 40 drawings over hear at $40-$50 bucks a piece.' 'I'll take it.' "

Ten years later, page rates in the comics business had only gone up about ten or fifteen dollars, and even then, the business was so unstable that they would sometimes drop down to as low as twenty dollars. Long-time industry veteran, John Romita Sr., described in a 2001 interview how the comics business of the late 50's/early 60's was "a roller-coaster."

"I remember going from $20 dollars a page, pencil and ink, to $40 a page, pencil and ink. And then, the next two years, every time I took a job in, I got a cut and I ended up at $20 a page again. We were flying without a parachute. I used to be afraid of getting a mortgage."

In spite of those stressful conditions, the business was able to attract some remarkable talents. John Buscema (above), undisputably one of the finest draftsmen the comics have ever seen, was working then at Fredman~Chaite studios as a storyboard artist.

In an interview published in Alter Ego #15, Buscema says, "Advertising's a brutal life, believe me. For example, I would work a whole week and get ready to go home on a Friday night, and I'd get a call - the owner of the studio would get a call from an agency, that there was a campaign that had to be in by Monday. You know, when you talk about a campaign, you're talking about dozens of artists working on one product. It could be cars, it could be cigarettes, it could be anything, and you'd have to stay in the city. I'd have to call my wife and tell her I wasn't going to be home for the weekend."

"So when I got the call from Marvel, [then Marvel editor-in-chief] Stan [Lee] said, 'I don't know if you'll agree to work, We'll make you happy, financially, and we have plenty of work' I never thought twice and I returned to comics."

By then it was the mid-60's and page rates for top talent had climbed to around $60, according to Jim Amash, who was quoted that number by one of the industry giants, Jack Kirby.

John Buscema drew on his advertising art acumen in his approach to his comics work. Reflecting Rodewald's advice that one must be incredibly fast to make a living in comics, Buscema once told a group of young professionals during a 'chalk-talk' tutorial, "Are you guys familiar with the one line? ... You put in three or four lines, I put in one. I did that in half, a third, a quarter of the time.... We picked that up in advertising. This is a very simplified way - its supposed to be very, very sketchy. But carried it over into comics. ... You guys want to struggle along with the pages, you want to fill in a black background... what's the point of filling in a whole black area when you can just scribble it in? ... Your problem is to tell a story the best possible way, the fastest possible way. ... Do your job. If you earn your own pay, that's it. You're in this for the money!"

I asked several industry professionals for a rough estimate of page rates typical of mainstream comics today. One artist, who has been out of the business for some time now, told me he was recently offered an assignment at $300 a page, pencils and inks. He told me, "That's about what the rate was in l980."

"When I was working in comics," he continued, "it was a decent living. With royalties you could expect to do fairly well on a monthly book. Just about everything else I've worked on as an artist has paid better- animation, storyboards, advertising...probably even signpainting if I had tried that."

Other artists confirmed this number, although noting that there are some working for less. However, said one pro with more than a decade of experience, "As long as you can be consistent and get things done (mostly) on time, it's more than possible [to make a living in comics]. There's also additional income from royalties (if you're on a book that sells well enough), trade paperbacks, and original art sales. I also do commission work through my art dealer. I'm not rich, by any measure, but I manage to pay all my bills on time and I haven't had to skip any meals yet."

"It's definitely not as lucrative as mainstream illustration work, but it's a hell of a lot more fun!"

And echoing that sentiment are these sage words from one long-time professional comic artist:

"I'm occasionally surprised how much, and how little, some artists are paid per page, but you can do well either way if you apply yourself to the work. If you get into a field or have a specific career based on the potential of making money you've lost already. Having a passion for what you do will always bring a monetary reward, some will become wealthy but most will have a very enjoyable life doing what they love to do, and that ain't bad, considering."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Bu$ine$$ of Illu$tration: Feature Syndicates

Because of the intricacies of the contract process involved with securing a syndicated cartoon strip, author Fred C. Rodewald does not go into much detail about opportunities for illustration jobs in that field. His October 1954 article in American Artist mentions only that, "salaried employment for cartoonist, illustrators, letterers and mechanical men" does exist in the syndicate business. Luckily for us, there has been plenty of documentation about this field, and we have the benefit of friends with expert, firt-hand experience.

When Noel Sickles gave up his strip, Scorchy Smith, it was because of a combination of "restlessness, deadlines, boredom and money," according to biographer Bruce Canwell. In an online excerpt of an interview from The Comics Journal #242, Sickles himself mentions that his salary at the beginning of his three-year stint on the strip was $47.50 per week. In spite of his managing to negotiate it to a respectable $125 a week, Sickles quit the strip in 1936 to pursue a career in magazine illustration.

For Sickles' life-long friend and admirer, Milton Caniff, sticking with the syndicates proved to be the road to spectacular success. The caption under this 1946 photo of the artist at work in his studio reads in part, "the young cartoonist earns $80,000 a year, and will do even better when he drops Terry [and the Pirates]."

Ten years later, the title of another article, this one actually written by Milton Caniff for Cosmopolitan magazine says it all.

Caniff wrote, "Today, 100,000,000 Americans follow at least one comic strip each day." Successful syndicated cartoonists like Caniff, Al Capp, Walt Kelly and many others were akin to Hollywood celebrities, earning top dollar for speaking engagements, appearing on newspaper society pages and were much sought-after by advertisers for product endorsements.

No wonder so many cartoonists dreamed of landing a syndicated cartoon strip!

I asked Tom Sawyer, who for a time chased the dream of a syndicated strip himself, if he could give me some idea of the threshold for success in this particular field of illustration. Tom replied, "Yes, back in the sixties, I sensed that even the second-rung syndicated guys (Howard Post, Bud Jones & Frank Ridgeway leap to mind) lived pretty comfortably -- not of course on the level of Mort Walkers, Caniff or Capp.

"Stan Drake had a lot of disposable income (which he mostly spent on sports cars), and of course Leonard Starr. John Prentice likewise lived very nicely. Though I can't nail it to the penny, my impression back then was that even the non-stars did $150-200 K per year, which, back then was fairly serious money."

How does all this compare to today? Perhaps someone who draws a modern day strip will give us some idea of the range of income a syndicated strip artist makes. But based on the mini-empires built by some current day creators like Jim (Garfield) Davis, there's no doubt that the potential for success is huge.

That potential attracts many hopefuls and, for their benefit, we are fortunate today to have the following expert advice (not to mention valuable reality check!) from Brendan Burford, Comics Editor of King Features. Brendan writes:

"King Features receives and reviews up to 5,000 comics submissions a year. We launch 2 or 3 new strips a year. The odds of getting syndicated right out of the gates are not good. We can usually dismiss a large percentage of comics submissions we see fairly quickly because so many submitters haven't done their homework on what a professional submission should look like or they simply have no talent for making comics. Often times our new launches are by a cartoonist who was already on our radar -- through years of submitting, or through notoriety in another branch of comics publishing. Sometimes, we have to pass on cartoonists are are very good or even firmly established because their strip is too similar to something already out there or their strip just isn't the right fit for a mainstream comic strip market."

"All of that said, we have a very open mind about what we choose to option for syndication. The next big strip could come out of nowhere and surprise us all. It's a great feeling when, as syndicate editor, you have that "a-ha!" moment upon seeing a strip that you believe will work. I've felt it several times now, and the results have been wonderful. Take a look at our three most recent launches: DeFLOCKED, OLLIE & QUENTIN, and ARCTIC CIRCLE. All three are very different from one another, yet I think each are great examples of what new strips are capable of bringing to the syndication market."

King Features submission guidelines can be found here.

Tomorrow: Comic Books

* My thanks to Brendan Burford and Tom Sawyer for generously providing their informed expertise for today's post, and to Michael Lark for sharing the Noel Sickles scans at top from his private collection.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Bu$ine$$ of Illu$tration: Books

"Book publishers offer a considerable market for jacket designs (in the case of paperback books, cover designs), illustrations, and artwork for their advertising," wrote Fred C. Rodewald in the October 1954 issue of American Artist magazine.

"Prices vary somewhat with different publishers. One practice that may cause an artist trouble is that of offering an over-all fixed price for a jacket or book illustration regardless of its complexity or the amount of preliminary work required."

"There is considerable prestige and publicity in bookjacket and book-illustration work, particularly the latter, because the title page of the book gives credit to the artist. Artists should always sign jackets, and many publishers repeat the artist's name on the jacket's inside flap."

Recently, Mitchell Hooks explained to us that paperback covers went for about $300 when he began doing them in the early 50's and that as a member of the Graphic Artists Guild he worked to encourage publishers to pay better rates. After a few years, the average cover was going for $800.

Harry Borgman, who painted the cover below, told me the following from his own experience illustrating book covers:

"I did a few paperbacks from 1965 to 1973, probably a total of 12 or 15. For most of them I was paid $900, the first ones were a bit lower."

This is not an area I have any experience with, so I asked my friend René Milot how much he has been paid in recent years for book covers. René tells me that he has received as much as $5,000 for a cover from a major publisher... but that price has actually dropped in the last few years. $2,500 to $3,500 is now more typical, as publishers, like all purveyors of 'analog' media, struggle with diminished markets in a digital world. Still, compared to other traditional areas of illustration, I'd say that not only do books remain a safe-haven for literal, painterly illustrators, they also seem to pay relatively well.

Children's book publishing is another market that seems to continue to provide opportunities for the artist. While financial success in children's books can be hit-and-miss, those shortcomings might be offset by the potential for personal expression and artistic experimentation.

Rodewald writes, "Very frequently, especially in the case of children's books, a publisher will offer the artist a share of the royalties on the book. A contract also provides for an advance against royalties ranging from a few to several hundred dollars, depending on the estimated sales of the book."

"The royalty is based on a percentage of the wholesale price of the book, and of this the artist will get his percentage, which varies depending on the arrangement between the author and artist. Sometimes, when the art work in a children's book is as essential as the text, the artist is viewed as a collaborator, and the royalty rate is split between artist and author on equal or near equal terms."

"The rates of royalties in book work, as well as flat fees, differ widely from case to case, and each must be judged on its merits."

*Once again I must sing the praises of 5m@5hYdez, whose paperback cover archives are a visual feast the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else on the internet.

* Thanks also to Harry Borgman and René Milot for providing information for this post.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bu$ine$$ of Illu$tration: Magazines

In his article for the October 1954 issue of American Artist magazine, Fred C. Rodewald writes, "Another important outlet for the artist is the magazine field. Here prices paid may not be quite so high as those in advertising, but many artist feel that this disadvantage is more than offset by the prestige that magazine work gives them, as well as by the fact that editorial art is usually more interesting to do.

Certainly illustrators of the calibre of Austin Briggs would have agreed with Rodewald. If he was paid much less than he would have been by advertising clients, it never deterred him from taking magazine assignments. For the illustrator and the magazine, there was always a mutually beneficial arrangement. Both enjoyed greater cachet with the public when they were in each other's company.

And in fact, at least some artists were able to make an astoundingly lavish income from magazine work. Just last night, illustrator Murray Tinkelman, who teaches an MFA Illustration program at Hartford University, graciously sent along an excerpt from the minutes of a 1936 Society of Illustrators meeting. Just look at some of the following figures and consider these numbers in modern dollars:

"From $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 a year is being paid to illustrators by these ten mags:

SEP, Collier's, Liberty, Cosmo, American Mag, Good House, Ladies HJ, McCalls, Womans HC."

"From 20 to 25 men and women are making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. From 50 to 75 men are making between $25,000 and $40,000. 100 are making $15,000 to $20,000"

Harrison Fisher, $3,000 per cover Cosmo.

McMein, $2,500 per cover McCalls.

Rockwell, $2,500 per cover.

"10 men get $1,200 to $2,000 per single illus."

Of course these astonishing figures are a reflection of a time when magazines ruled the media with weekly circulations in the millions and hundreds of national advertisers taking full and double page spreads in every issue. By the late 50's and early 60's, with the erosion of ad revenue brought on by television's rise, prices seem to have begun their decline.

Murray tells me he received $1,000 for a full page illustration in The Post in 1963, and Mitchell Hooks spoke about getting only around $300 a page when his work began appearing there in the late 50's. Prices, it seems, were not standardized and were tied to some extent to the stature of the illustrator (a Coby Whitmore or a Joe De Mers would command top dollar) and the art director's perception of the 'value' of the artwork (Murray explains that paintings done by the 'clinch' artists paid better than humorous/decorative stylized artwork of the sort he was doing).

But whether the work was in the hundreds of dollars or several thousand, a dollar back then went a lot farther than it does today.

When Anita Virgil wrote about her late husband Andy receiving a 12 month commission from McCall's in 1959, she said he was contracted at a rate of $1,250 - $2,000 per illustration. That contract gave the young couple the confidence to purchase a house in the New Jersey countryside and begin a family.

While a commission of that sort would be nice even today, would anyone actually see it as a catalyst for securing a mortgage?

I can only use coffee shop wisdom to guess at how much the value of a dollar has shifted in half a century, but look at it this way: in the 1950's a candy bar was ten cents. Today, that same candy bar costs a dollar. Then, a new car could be had for, say, three thousand dollars. Today, a new car might easily cost thirty thousand. And back then, a house that sold for thirty thousand dollars would probably sell today for three hundred thousand dollars.

If you accept my logic, it would not be unusual for a modern day double page spread magazine illustration to fetch ten to twenty thousand dollars.

Has anyone reading this ever received that kind of money for your work?

From personal experience (and admittedly, my experience is from the Canadian market - a smaller market than the States) I have never received more than $1,500 for magazine work.

Or to put it in 1950's terms, a hundred and fifty bucks.

Tomorrow: The Book Market

*Many thanks to Murray Tinkelman for his invaluable assistance with today's post.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Bu$ine$$ of Illu$tration: Advertising

"Art work is bought by a great variety of businesses and for many different uses," wrote Fred C. Rodenwald in an article for the October 1954 issue of American Artist magazine.

Fifty-plus years later, Rodewald's words still apply, thank goodness. Now, as then, children who love to doodle dream of growing up and getting paid to make pictures. If not for the needs of businesses, those kids would have only the fine arts/gallery circuit as an potential source of income... and the term "starving artist" didn't come from nowhere!

But times do change - and markets for illustration are not what they used to be. Fred C. Rodewald set out to tell "where to look for art jobs and what to expect of them." I thought it might be instructive for those of us who illustrate for a living (and those who hope to) to consider what the business was like then and how it compares to the business today.

Is this a great time to be an artist... or were we born fifty years too late?

Today, let's look at what Rodewald had to say about illustrating for the ad industry:

"Advertising agencies constitute the largest and perhaps the most lucrative sales outlet for commercial artists of all kinds. However, this is also the most competitive field. It is with the agencies that the practice of the so-called "package deal" - that is, selling design, illustration, lettering, and so on, as a single unit instead of separately - has become most prevalent. This has given studios and artists' representatives a tremendous and still growing competitive advantage over the individual free-lance."

"On the other hand, since the agencies usually have qualified art directors to do the art buying, the difficulties of inefficient buying practices are reduced to a minimum. Furthermore, the agencies have been in the van of the movement for improved ethical standards, as witness their sponsorship of the two codes of ethics."

"For the artist seeking salaried employment, the agencies offer opportunities to layout designers and renderers, and frequently, in the case of smaller agencies, also to letterers, illustrators, retouchers, and what is known as "good all-around artists."

Rodewald does not discuss pricing, but I think its important to have some idea what illustrators were paid for advertising work for the sake of modern day comparison. Mitchell Hooks, whom we looked at a couple of weeks ago, told us that several thousand dollars for one major magazine ad illustration, like the Joe De Mers Pepsi ad below, was not uncommon during the 1950's.

Confiming this amount is a great little anecdote told to interviewer Rob Stolzer by cartoonist Bud Blake in the 13th issue of Hogan's Alley magazine. During the early 50's, Blake was working as an art director for the Kudner Advertising Agency in New York. On a 1952 campaign for Good Year Tires, Blake insisted on hiring Albert Dorne and several other top illustrators to do the art chores.

Blake provided the layouts for the ads and says, "I got four of the best guys in the field to do the finishes. And you have to realize that these guys weren't always anxious to work for you. They were making pretty good money. When Al Dorne came in he wanted 2,000 bucks apiece, which at the time was big money."

Blake describes how the account manager balked at Dorne's price, claiming it was too high, but, says Blake, "Al said, 'It'll take this long. I make this much. That's what I charge.' He got his money."

I wasn't able to locate the tire ad Blake spoke of, but this 1947 Revere ad by Dorne serves well enough as an example of Dorne's work from around that time. Of course not every illustrator was Albert Dorne, Joe De Mers or Mitchell Hooks -- still, they were hardly exceptions... dozens, perhaps hundreds of top illustrators across the U.S. could command similar prices for their work. And many were doing several pieces a month, month after month, for advertising clients.

Rodewald quotes the 1950 U.S. Census Report which provided the following amazing statistics:

"Of the approximately 80,000 artists in the United States, nearly 20,000 are to be found in and near New York, 7,000 in Chicago, 6,000 in Los Angeles, with the total in other cities rarely exceeding 2,500. However, since the average income of artists in the large centers is usually only slightly higher than it is in the smaller cities and in the country as a whole, opportunities for artists may be said to exist anywhere."

I can only speak from personal experience and anecdotally from the experience of my illustrator friends, but I think I can safely say that advertising illustration today is a pale shadow of its counterpart from half a century ago.

Tomorrow: Illustrating for the magazines.

Old Friend, I Never Knew It Was You

Two of my oldest friends from the earliest reading days of my childhood: Charlie Brown... and Dennis the Menace. As a kid growing up in the early 70's, I used to clip the daily Peanuts strip and Dennis panel from my dad's newspaper. I'd keep them stacked chronologically, each in their own envelope, stapled together in the top left corner. Even as a youngster I came to understand that these comics I loved were the work of two wonderful artists named Charles Schultz and Hank Ketcham. "One day," I told myself, "I'm going to be just like those two guys."

Of course I loved the colour comics section in the weekend paper as well, but for some reason it didn't occur to me to keep those...

A few years ago, a friend came across a huge stack of 1970's colour comics sections left behind by the previous occupant of a house he was renting. Knowing about my affection for that stuff, he gave them to me as a gift. And what a gift! - to be reunited with my old friends was sheer heaven!

Here's the thing... last week I learned that all those Dennis colour comics I adored as a kid were not the work of Hank Ketcham at all. They were drawn, through all the years of my childhood, by Robert Bugg.

Yes, the same artist who we looked at last week and whom several people suggested had a style remarkabley like Hank Ketcham's actually spent more than a decade working for Hank Ketcham!

That information comes from about the most reliable source one could hope for: Ron Ferdinand, who took over the Dennis weekend colour strip from Bob Bugg in 1982.

Ron writes, "Your blog is actually the first non-DENNIS art I've ever seen of Bob's and it's AWESOME!"

"When I started with Hank Ketcham in Monterey, CA in 1981, Bob Bugg had been doing the Sunday DENNIS since around 1969 from his home in Connecticut. Myself and two others (Karen Matchette and Brian Lum) had been hired to do the DENNIS comic book for Marvel. It was the start of a training program by Hank. As Bob Bugg's originals would arrive at the studio after processing, Hank would show them to us. It was very exciting to see Bob's work which the three of us were in awe of. "

"After a year of working on the comic book, Hank and Marvel decided to part ways. Hank had invested in a beautiful studio in Pebble Beach, CA. After the comic book ceased production, Hank decided to focus on training us for the newspaper duties, primarily the Sundays at that point. He had first offered Bob Bugg the chance to relocate to California and work in-studio with Hank. Hank had envisioned all DENNIS art being overseen directly by him under one roof after moving back to California from Geneva,Switzerland."

"Bob Bugg, who by that time had children and grandchildren in the Connecticut area, declined Hank's invitation. This, of course, turned into a lucky break for us trainees. Karen and I stayed on to produce the Sundays and some dailies while Brian left to work for Jim Davis and GARFIELD for awhile. Regretfully, I never did meet Bob Bugg."

I asked Ron if he knew how Hank Ketcham first connected with Bob Bugg but Ron replied, "I'm not sure sure how Hank found Bob. Bugg was probably referred to him by the Connecticut group which Hank had been a part of before he headed West. There's probably still some folks in CT you can contact about info on Bob."

If any of those folks happen to come across this post, please do drop us a line. We're all very curious to learn more about the talented Bob Bugg.

* My thanks to Marcus Hamilton, who draws the Dennis daily comic panel, for connecting me with Ron Ferdinand - and to Ron for sharing his recollections of Bob Bugg.

* My Robert Bugg Flickr set.