Saturday, October 23, 2010

Work-related troubles, some c64 art and other talk

Hi. Remember when I used to post regularly on my blog? Ah, those simple times.

The reason I've been sparse lately is because I'm trying to get stable work in the Greek magazine arena. It's proving difficult. The job I thought I had at Plus magazine is out, apparently. It's an interesting little cautionary tale so I'll recount it briefly for those of you who are also looking for work in the same field. Good to know what's going on out there, right?

I approached Plus to publish comics and do illustration work for them. They said yes, they want an illustrator (as a stable member, who'd work on a few pieces a week) and after a few months when Plus can support it, we could talk about putting some comics in there too.

We explicitly discussed payment, and the plan was this: I wouldn't be paid much of anything until the magazine was stable and drawing advertisement funds. Then I'd be paid as would befit a professional. It was a gentlemanly agreement, and one that is somewhat common with starting up magazines. I don't like these arrangements, but the financial climate in Greece is very difficult now so I hoped to get in on the ground level and work my way up to a humane wage by doing good work. Does that sound simple-minded? I worry about my world-view sometimes.

I supplied art for two of the issues, which I've reposted on this blog for your assessment. I didn't get any calls back for the third issue, and I e-mailed the guy in charge with something like "hey, I guess there wasn't anything to illustrate on the third issue?". No reply. A day later, I call him up and he says "...there wasn't anything to illustrate on that issue, but there'll be more work for you soon, for sure." The fourth issue ran a reprint of a story from a different magazine, and when I was asked to illustrate it, at the very last minute I was canceled because as they found out, when you reprint a story from a different mag, you have to carry the photographic material from it as-is. Those are the breaks, no worries, right?

Well, the last words I heard from the person in charge there, were "There's going to be more work for sure, I'll call you in a couple of days". Here we are a couple of weeks later and there's been no follow up. I take it as a given that this job has therefore fallen through. Any imaginary wages for past work are forfeit, obviously. I've began looking for work elsewhere (though I'm hesitant to post about that yet because I fear the same stop-starts don't make for fascinating reading. If something becomes stable, I'll let you know.) I fear it'll be a repeat performance of this, however.

Here's what's there to take from the Plus situation.

1) Obviously, my work isn't good enough for me to be a sought after artist. Or perhaps more importantly, my name doesn't carry enough weight to be treated with respect by publishers and editors. I will find something positive to take from this realization. I'll become better -- as good as I can get until publishers are proud to have me and pay me for my work. And I'll publish my ZX comic and promote it as much as I can withstand before I go to anyone and ask them to give me work.

2) That said, I should expect and familiarize myself with the reality of employment: professionals acting unprofessionally, not returning calls or giving feedback, canceling me at the very last minute, demanding art at unreasonable time frames, of course not paying me if they can get away with it and finally dropping me without as much as a phone-call. I am not an idiot, I realize employers are not my friends, but you'd expect fields like the arts (which are about specialist skills, it's not about flipping burgers which anyone can do) to have at least a standard of courtesy and communication about the common goal.

3) I get a very strong sense that what was expected for me in that situation was to constantly pester the editor in chief for more work; Call every day, beg and plead for him to throw me a bone, and be glad when I got it. For work that I wouldn't be paid for. I find the ramifications of this employer-worker dynamic very bothersome and do not wish to stoop at this level. I am not in danger of poverty at the time being because my father supports me. I can afford to treat myself with a degree of self-respect... but for how long?

I'm not going to lie, this sort of thing has its psychological toll. Last time it happened to me (the Paraskevi 13s fiasco) I dropped out of the comics world for a full year. It took this blog, and the readers of it letting me know my stuff's worth a damn over and over to get any sense of artistic self-esteem back. Now I have to suffer diminished repeats of the same performance a few times in a row... it won't be as bad because wisdom comes from understanding pain but it doesn't stop it from being very disorienting.

The worst aspect of it is might be that it's not really promoting my work as a comic artist. Getting 'your name in print' is not worthless, of course, but getting it connected in people's minds with what you consider your signature work is the most important goal. Illustrating a piece of text, no matter how smartly or beautifully you do it will not help with publishing comics. It might pay some bills but... the jury's still out on that one. I fear that in my journeys as illustrator-for-hire I will not be achieving much. I am pondering on my further choices in this light.

So, take this as a word of warning: unless you're an amazingly super-talented blindingly awesome artist that is great at self-promotion, has a following and know how to sell yourself and pressure employers... be prepared to be swindled and disappointed by the Greek press over and over. I sincerely hope you don't, but I have to be honest with my own experience if it's to be worth anything to the reader.

On other news, I've started inking and coloring my 24hr comic and I'd have posted a page or two here already here it not for job distractions. On some level I'm just waiting for my current employment plans to fall through too so I can focus on my comics again. Comics, that's what I wanted to do when I started all of this, right? Must realign vector. Anyway, expect a page soon-ish.

I also made some new c64 artwork, it's a pleasant variation on days on which you're not receiving the calls you should be receiving. Here it is, just four colors out of the 16 color commodore 64 palette this time:

(click for pixel-appreciation-time)

If the motive piques your interest, you could do worse than read this very much related piece of writing on my other blog. You see, it's all connected, but so what.


Erenan said...

I like that image a lot! I keep looking at it because I feel as though there are hidden images that I haven't seen yet.

Good luck with your work situation!

Joe said...

It's inspiring, how you just look forward. I hope you never lose that.

Benji said...

Hey, I wouldn't blame this on the quality of your work. If it's a new magazine odds are that they are busy busy busy with contacts to speak to on all sides of the business. They probably prioritize who they communicate with, and to a business man, art is bottom priority. Stay in contact with them!

Helm said...

I've gotten steady work at a different magazine, I'll post about it as soon as I get my first paycheck (in order to not jinx it!)

Plus magazine fell off the grid completely. I wasn't the only one ripped off.

Argyle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Argyle said...

Just to provide you with some solace after the sour experience with Plus I wanted to let you know that every publisher is different. I speak from experience of being an in-house graphic designer and layout coordinator for a publishing company that disenchanted my self-worth as an artist and a professional within the first month of working there.

Glancing at the news racks of the different city newspapers and tabloids, you might not be able to tell the difference between what we put out and the stuff the big cross-country syndicated papers create -- it's full of stories, well-made ads, nice pictures, yada yada... But when it comes down to it there are tons of things that go into making that newspaper from week-to-week that would have had me thinking far less of this company and its work had I known beforehand.

Half the time, our editor is just as clueless as to what the few writers we do pay tablescraps for stories are going to come through with, if they come through with anything at all, by last-second deadline on the day we have to go to print. Easily 75% or more of the content we are handed to work with are press releases that are little more than glorified ads they want us to print for free, or is stuff we get from press release gateways that every other newspaper and blog out there pull from for their ad-peddling filler.

Started working there for less than I made in fast food while I was in high school but stuck with it hoping it would get better. 2 years later and 5 promotions later I make not even a dollar more than what I started at. The reason I've stayed is because my wife finishes nursing school in less than a month from now and changing positions would be too risky for our schedule balance between her schooling and the babysitter. I know there are greener pastures out there even though people are so critical of the print industry in this digital age because of the number of wonderful and talented people I have had the pleasure of working with for a couple months here and there. They would come working with us from other newspapers or magazines after moving or what have you and would be mortified with how things were run and how little we made - then they'd be gone because there is better work out there.

From the outside though, nobody ever sees it coming until they're working for the team themselves because the editors, the publisher faces you see and talk to while trying to get interviews, or talking to them about prospective work or coverage opportunities, are suits wearing grins. They won't tell how closely they are to not even paying the employees they already do have, or how little they plan to pay you after you think you have won them over for the job. And why would they? Nobody wants to work for a crappy publishing company, and no crappy publishing companies will ever admit that they're crappy publishing companies because they likely are in too much denial or inflated in the head to admit it.

But it is not like that everywhere. Just need to expect that some of the newspaper and magazine companies you will come across will not be what you were perhaps expecting to find.

Sorry for the long-windedness of this, but wanted to share some insight. Not every place is like this. Not all magazines will be Plus. But a lot of them will sound alike, you just might need some time weeding out which companies actually will respect you for your work, and which ones will gladly take it with promises of grandeur that may never produce any edible fruit. Good luck!

Helm said...

Argyle, I appreciate your comment very much.

Everything you say checks out, especially the psychology of 'winning them over for a job that you don't know is shit/will be ripped off over'. That's the real blow for me, going out of my safe space to talk to someone about how they might need my services (something I generally don't like) and then starting to make space inside me that now this new thing will be happening in my life, and then.... not.

Anyway, not every place is like Plus, yes. I've been working at a different magazine for the last month and a half, and today I'm going to go get paid. I swore to not post here about that until I got paid because who wants to read the continued frustrating adventures of Greek comic artist/illustrator?

There will be a post and an art dump of that stuff when I get back from work today.

To those that are sticking with this blog through its dry spell, I appreciate it.