This is a public service announcement for all of those working to get into the game.
I have, officially, been a working artist since 1994.
I’ve actually been getting paid for making art since I was a teenager. I was getting paid for my craft since I was, about, 13 years old. For real, my parents were among my first clients, paying for my services because they understood that this was going to be my profession, not a past time.
But, as a professional, I’ve been making money off of my talent since I received my bachelor’s degree lo those many moons ago.
I’m not saying this to brag. This is just a simple fact. Indeed, my fellow creatives will tell you that making a living in this business is hard work… Extremely hard work. A lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and time went into getting to this point in my career. The fact that I can live a lower-middle class lifestyle off of this art game is a success in itself.
With that being said, if you want to guarantee that I will never work with you on a project, say these two words:
If I had a dollar for every time someone uttered those words to me for a possible collaboration, I would be a rich man.
Let’s build comes from a cat that had an idea for a comic book after smoking the finest while watching Meteor Man or Steel and said to himself, “I could make some coin off of comics, son (swupp, swupp). I’ma make a comic book the first comic book with a real Black superhero and get paid, yo.”
Let’s build comes from that dude who I meet at parties, finds out what I do, and says “Yo, I got a dope idea for a comic book. I don’t wanna tell you my idea, ‘cuz I’m worried someone will steal it like ‘ol girl who wrote The Matrix. But, you could help me make it, yo, and then we’ll both come up.”
Let’s build comes from my man who one of my boys told him about me, showed them my work and says that they should get in touch with me to get advice on how to get into the business and they approach me like we shared Pampers back in the day.
Yeah… Good luck with that, fam…
Let’s build is probably the most unprofessional phrase in this business. It’s downright insulting. It’s the assumption that I am just a dupe waiting for someone of “brilliance” to come and bless me by exploiting my talent to make his half-assed, half-baked dreams come true.
I learned to avoid the hook up because 9.5 times out of 10, those cats were not as serious as I was about the game.
Notice how I kept my examples male-specific, because no woman has ever come to me with this phrase. They understand the need to get paid.
I’ma let my comrade Damon Alums throw some dimes into the conversation.
“The folks that didn’t give you the time of day made the shift to the professional lane, and it paid off for them. Going back to the ‘lemme see if I can get the hook-up’ lane would be a step backward, and that’s not what life is about. Not that they forgot where they came from, not that they’re crabs in the bucket, trying to stop your shine, it’s just they’re at that higher level, and looking to work with folks who are at that same level. A reflection of being at that level is having cash up front. That’s just business talking. Not personal. Whether that money comes from street corner hustling, a bank loan, or quarters saved from movie theater floors is immaterial. That much I also know.”
Thank you, Brother Alums. We now return to our regularly scheduled program…
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve never collaborated with another creative or creatives. Indeed, some of the best work I’ve ever done has been in collaboration with others. Shoot, my advertising days were nothing but collaborations. Griot Enterprises started as a collective of artists and writers trying to put themselves on in the comic book industry. The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven is in collaboration with my comrade Jude W. Mire. I’m currently involved in collaborating on an anthology, Artists Against Police Brutality, created in part by my brother-in-arms John Jennings.
The fact is this: I don’t need to collaborate with them. They don’t need to collaborate with me. Neither one of us is dependent upon the other to build our repertoire. We have all had some success, built some notoriety because of our own merits. All of us have developed our craft on our own and we recognize the talent, drive and dedication in each other. We’re like-minded in focus. Because of this, we want to work with each other, thereby building collectively on the foundations that we individually established.
It also doesn’t hurt that we consider each other not just friends, but professionals.
True collaboration comes when all parties equally bring something to the table. I can’t ask someone to do something that I can’t do myself.
It’s not predatory when an artist or a writer asks for compensation for their time and their talent. It’s actually more predatory to talk collaboration than to hire an artist. Illustration is incredibly time-consuming and creating work on faith with no compensation just doesn’t make fiscal sense especially when drawing is how you put food on the table.
As a businessman, which professional artists are, you’ve got to make sure that you’re gonna eat and that the people you work with are on the same page, the same level as it were.
You know how many times those artists got burned in their career? You know how many empty promises cats have had to swallow like horse pills with no water to wash it down? Trust, if you had to deal with that level of janky hustlin’, you would be mad cagey as well.
It’s not about being greedy; it’s about protecting your talent and making sure that you keep a roof over your head.
Peep game: I’m in the process of finding funding for a Horsemen project, Lumumba Funk, that will include the talents of Arvell Jones, Larry Stroman and a few of my fellow Blaxis agents like Hannibal Tabu, Damion Gonzales, Quinn McGowan, Jason Reeves, Ashley Woods and many more.
Now, though they made the verbal agreement to be down for the cause (and, I truly appreciate the love), I’m not gonna ask them to draw, or write, page one until I have that funding in hand to pay my brothers and sisters.
Trust, they’re as impatient to get started, as I am to get them paid. But I know when I’m ready, they’re ready. And, they know that I’ll keep my word as a professional to get them squared away…
That’s beyond hustle… That’s gangster… And with gangster shit, we all eat.
That’s how you build. Keep grindin’ my friends.