A cartoonist’s income

Cartoonist Income Charted On A Split Orange 2014

On Wednesday I started doing my taxes by tallying up my income for 2013/14. Because this is so exciting, I live-tweeted it.


Taxes are a bit different for me as an artist because I usually don’t have only one source of income in a given year. I do various sorts of jobs for different kinds of clients, big and small. Sometimes I work directly for the client and sometimes there’s a middle man. Sometimes I quote for a job and sometimes I’m offered a sum I can take or leave. Some of my income (not much) is from selling my own books.


In the past, most of my income came from extended contracts working on things like kids shows (Dogstar, for example) as an animator. It functions like a full-time job but has a set length (up to a year, in my experience). More recently, I decided to “go freelance”, and to try to find more work I want to do rather than accepting animation jobs because they were available.

In the last year, I have been paid to produce editorial cartoons/comics, which is a new and welcome development, and which might not have happened had I continued animating for kids shows full time — writing comics uses a lot of brain/thinking time which is hard to come by — see that video where John Cleese talks about creativity for a good idea of why.


I have a very nice accountant, but I usually have to take some time to explain to him what exactly I do to make a living so that I he can understand why I want to make a claim for a deduction. He’s used to doing tax returns for people with one job. I’m confusing — not only did I have a couple dozen jobs this year, there are about a dozen distinct types of job!

When I did my taxes for last year, he asked me what my income would look like in the following year. Silly rabbit! I told him I had NO IDEA. That’s why it’s so very exciting to tally it up once it’s over. Here’s the result:

Cartoonist Income Charted On A Split Orange


The majority of my income came from producing animation (creating whole animated pieces from scratch, often involving helping with script, storyboarding, design of characters and background elements, then animation, editing and sound). These are usually, but not always, ads or corporate “explainer” videos.

I also did a lot of storyboarding this year. I like taking on storyboarding jobs because I get to draw and because I’m more interested in storytelling than in making beautiful animation (which can get quite “bitty”, mathematical and obsessive). I’m becoming known more as a board artist, which is good because once you’ve spent years as an animator, it can become hard for people to see you as something else.

I’m still doing animation for hire, where I am given a storyboard and I animate to it using pre-built characters. This makes a nice change from other kinds of work, but I prefer not to be doing it all the time.

Before last year, I’d never really done any editorial/political comics, but this year I did, for The Guardian, for Crikey and for The Lifted Brow. I hope I can continue to do this sort of thing, because the period I spent doing it regularly for Crikey was excellent fun.

Another new thing is live drawing, which comes in the form of graphic recording for conferences or mural-making (and isn’t always “live” — sometimes you take a bunch of info and draw it up in a closed session). I love this work. You draw, tell a story and it’s over.

Miscellaneous income is what it sounds like. Examples this year would include arts festival guest fees, sales of original art and an art prize I got.

Illustration is anything I’m paid to draw that’s not for an animated project or a comic. I don’t have much illustration work because I’m less confident in my drawing ability than my storytelling ability — so I don’t pursue this work as much as I should.

Writing is also really new. I’m writing for an animated series at the moment and it will hopefully continue.


Final notes:

  • My average weekly earn for 2013/14 is well below that of the average Australian working either full- or part-time. It must be taken into account, however, that I did not pursue all possible jobs because I wanted to allow as much time as possible for working on my own projects.
  • This sort of freelancing life is not sustainable if I want to do something like, say, owning my own home. But since that’s become almost impossible in Melbourne anyway, I would need to think about moving to a regional area (from which I could still do the majority of this work).
  • I really enjoy all the work I’m doing, but I would like to increase the amounts of comics, live drawing and writing particularly. The question of how to do that is something I’ll deal with another day.
  • Something I want to write more about later is the question of clients who expect enormous amounts of work produced for nothing, for nothing-up-front or for “exposure”. Maybe this post (and the one I haven’t written yet) will help a potential client understand why these requests are, at best, an acceptably small time-waster, and at worst, bankruptcy-making for an artist. Go follow @paythewriters and @forexposure_txt for more on this.
  • For a really good look at how artists work and survive in Australia, check out Justin Heazlewood’s new book, Funemployed. It is possible and it’s often fun, but you need to accept some limitations on your lifestyle!

EDIT: Here’s similar breakdowns by Ryan Estrada and Dorothy Gambrell! They gave real numbers, which I was too shy to do. Know of more?

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