A cartoonist’s income

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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?

Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act

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My little brother Tristian handed this in as his Yr 11 Legal Studies report! Mr. Lewis has some valid points, but I think the kid deserves a couple extra marks for his renditions of Andrew Bolt. Unfortunately, I think Tristian is starting to “get” him.

Go to the Attorney-General’s site if you’d like to submit an opinion on the proposed amendments.

Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 1 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 2 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 3 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 4 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 5 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 6 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 7 Tristian and the Racial Discrimination Act, pg 8

Tristian’s politics report: Lobbying!

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I’m not sure it’s to the same high level as his Bolt Report, but my little brother Tristian had to write about the ongoing Fiona Nash/Alastair Furnival affair for Political Studies.

Here is what he had to say about that big murky pool called Lobbying. If you have a 15-year-old, perhaps this will help them understand power and influence in Australia!

I’m not sure why he felt the need to colour with highlighters.

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 1

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 2

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 3

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 4

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 5

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 6

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 7

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 8

Tristian's report on lobbying, pg 9

Tristian wants to acknowledge the reporting of Amy Corderoy and Calliste Weitenberg.

He would also like to thank The Studio at QVMAG in Inveresk and LiNC Tasmania in Launceston for letting him work on his report there. The LiNC library staff even scanned the pages for him. It’s good that libraries exist, isn’t it?

 

The Bolt Response

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Remember my little brother Tristian? He wrote a great report for his Media class about how conservative columnist Andrew Bolt’s TV show works.

What happened next was that I entered Tristian’s report in the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards, and it won in the Graphic Short Story category!

Mr. Bolt then found out about this, and used it to beat up on the Lord Mayor a bit. His loyal commenters weren’t very nice, either, and kind of missed the point.

I asked Tristian if he had a response to all this, and this is what he gave me:

Dear Andrew Bolt... bolt2_pg02The Bolt Quiz

Buy my new book, “Scare Campaign”.

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Scare Campaign, by David Blumenstein

The front and back covers of a comic book you can own.

This is my new comic book, a collection of my better work from the last few years (other than Bret Braddock comics). It’s pretty small! It is pretty good, though. Most of it has appeared on this blog, but never been published.

It contains personal stories of people who shit me off — many of them politicians. One of the stories is a thing about Andrew Bolt which won a Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing prize the other day (EDIT: and which Bolt and his cronies had a very entertaining crack at).

The book is in colour, is A6, floppy and shiny. It costs six bucks. Get SCARE CAMPAIGN now from Milk Shadow Books.

Stanleys 2013: The Australian Cartoonists Association conference (part 2)

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Hi! This is part 2 of my report on the Stanleys conference. Part 1 of this recap is here.

I had some interesting conversations with people after I spoke; I’m sure Tim did too. They were intrigued by what we’re doing at Squishface, and often this led into conversations about the ACA, and what and who it’s for.

There’s a number of interesting organisations which shine a light Australian drawing to various degrees, some of which would be Illustrators Australia, Just Another, the Jacky Winter Group, etc, which are more illustration-oriented than the ACA is; the ACA is more specifically about cartooning.

There’s a lot more places for a prospective cartoonist or illustrator to learn and showcase themselves nowadays than there were even when I left high school in 1997, so the very hard-working guys who run the ACA put a fair bit of that work into keeping it relevant.

This bush turkey appeared on the hotel-resort grounds but failed to register for the conference proper.

Jason Chatfield’s talk, The Importance of Being Online, could have been called “Look, Idiot, Your Website Doesn’t Work On Phones”. It was a good talk. “Plugged in” as I am to web and social media compared to some in the room, I still don’t have a site that works great on a mobile device, because I’m a dope.

I'm not a caricaturist, but I had a crack

I was EXTREMELY surprised to win the “best caricature of the day” award for the attempt at Paul Giamatti above, but I’ve got the portable hard drive I won right here, so it must have happened.

I’d taken every opportunity to ask the attendees to draw on coasters for Squishface’s Coaster Show (opening Sunday November 3 at Squishface, 309 Victoria St, Brunswick!), and we got a nice pile before the day finished up with Russ Radcliffe, editor of Best Australian Political Cartoons, who presented some of his favourites from the ten-year collection.

I’d met Jos Valdman before but I hadn’t connected him to the recent scuffle between a South Australian minister and a cartoon flamingo, so I was very pleased to congratulate him on his good work in attracting legal threats, something I’m slightly familiar with.

Once the day’s talks were over, I grabbed up my hard drive and pile of coasters, then wandered over to a convenient duck pond, where I chilled out for a bit and changed my shirt in preparation for the awards night.

Chris Downes and myself and our awarded drawin's.

The awards night was hosted by Peter Berner. He did a fine job and shares, with ACA President Jules Faber, a dry persona that says, “Here is a gag, there it went, I’m not underlining it for you, dummy”.

Anton Emdin gets an award. Tom Richmond wears a smock. Jules Faber looks on. Photo by Tim McEwen.

You can look up all the nominees and winners if you’d like — as far as I’m concerned the right people won, even and especially in the Comic Book Artist category, in which I was nominated. I was honoured to have been in the mix.

Chris Downes and Glen Le Lievre present an award to David Rowe. Photo by Tim McEwen.

I’ve been to these awards three times now and my favourite part is watching the talented and modest Anton Emdin crumple a bit when he wins something. He won three statuettes this night and I swear he looked sadder each time. He deserves every bit of his acclaim, and I bet one day he’ll even believe that.

I had the fish. It was OK. I bet the chicken was nicer, though.

All the Daves we could find: DJ Williams, me, David Rowe, David Pope. More next year, hopefully. Photo by Jos Valdman.

After the awards? I saw liquor and cigars, and Rob Feldman told a story about hiding from gangsters that sounded like it could have been written by Barry Levinson.

I didn’t get much sleep, but I can’t be kept away from a barbeque, so I was up early Sunday morning and got down to the hotel again for a couple goodbyes and a big fat sausage from Jules.

Jules wrapped his sausage in bacon and fed it to me.

I ate Jules’ saus

Anyway, I also met Christophe Granet, who organised an ACA exhibition at Top Ryde City earlier this year. He alerted me to the fact that there’s a new Asterix book out, written and drawn by a brand new guy.

Then I rushed off to the airport! I got a plane back to Sydney with Ian McCall, Grant Brown, Judy Horacek and David Pope. Ian marveled at the fact that Mr Pope can fit himself into an economy seat. I thought they should suspend food and toilet service so he could lie down in the aisle.

Tim & Anne-Maree McEwen pose with Tim's nomination slide!

Anyway, what a nice time I had. I go to these, and am a member of the ACA, mostly so I can hang around and talk shit with cartoonists, as if I don’t get enough of that in my regular daily life. The membership are a fine bunch of guys, and I make more friends each time I attend the Stanleys.

My great thanks to the ACA executive, all the organisers of the shindig and the other guests. I was very, very pleased to have the chance to speak to them all.

Stanleys 2013: The Australian Cartoonists Association conference (part 1)

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I went to the Stanleys again this year. The Stanleys are the conference/awards night of the Australian Cartoonists Association. I blogged about it the first time I went, in 2011.

The ACA is a funny little club, and I’ve been asked why I’m involved with it. I’ve now been a member for three years and I still can’t answer the question properly! I’ll try again at the end of this recap.

Coffs coast.

I arrived in Coffs Harbour late Friday afternoon and was picked up at the little airport by Pat Grant‘s mum, who had offered me a room to stay in during a drunken night a few weeks earlier at the Graphic after party. Paranoid that she’d regret her generosity, I made myself invaluable by loading up on Haigh’s nougat and chocolate frogs before leaving Melbourne.

I had myself a quiet, early night in preparation for the conference on Saturday, so I missed the Rotary Cartoon Awards, which took place Friday evening at the Bunker (a cartoon museum located in… a bunker). Apparently it was a nice night, and I gathered from the talk the following day that one notable part involved an older gentleman doing something quite slowly.

Jason Chatfield. Photo by Tim McEwen

The conference day began with the yearly AGM. This is a brief affair punctuated by amusing quips from off-camera. There were a few items of business, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what they were.

Brian Cook is an agent for authors and illustrators, and his presentation on how a typical book deal works made me wonder why anyone bothers to try to get a book deal at all.

My understanding was that an illustrator on a kids book that does fairly well can expect to make about $3000 in royalties on the first edition. After hearing that, spending $300 to self-publish 150 copies of a comic book and making $700 back doesn’t seem quite as pointless.

Tom Richmond makes us all draw Jon Hamm. Photo by Tim McEwen.

The weekend’s international guest was MAD Magazine’s Tom Richmond, who is the chief TV/movie satire guy there.

He did an excellent caricature masterclass. One bit that resonated for me was when he spoke about the elements of the face, and remembering to observe the space between them. Not enough to draw all the bits rights, you gotta space them correctly too.

Caricature of me by Paul "Harv" Harvey.

A couple of fellows representing The Bunker spoke briefly about how they need to start making some money out of their enormous original cartoon collection, as the Coffs city council wants to withdraw their funding.

Their idea of the way to do this, possibly thought up by their lawyers, was to request that all artists with work in the gallery sign over their copyright in the works. Several members pointed out politely that this idea robs artists of their rights and suggested an simply written licensing agreement allowing the Bunker to sell prints of the works instead.

Caricature of me by Rob Feldman.

After lunch, we learned a fair bit about how a MAD satire gets made in a panel called Defining MADness. It featured Tom Richmond, Anton Emdin and DJ Williams, the editor of Australian MAD.

Anton talks about his Glee parody. Photo by Tim McEwen.

Was interested to learn that for Anton’s Glee satire (shown below), DJ chucked Anton the pages with finished speech balloons and photos of the characters dropped in where he wanted them drawn.

Tim talks about Australian comics. Photo from Tim McEwen.

Tim McEwen and I were asked to speak about the Australian comics scene. Tim ran through a massive (and yet incomplete!) list of Australian comics projects and events from just the past year. Among other things, he mentioned Aboriginal community art project NEOMAD, the anthology Blood & Thunder and the Silent Army Storeroom.

I wasn’t sure how to pitch my talk, as the amount of knowledge of local comics (as opposed to the more mainstream local “cartoons” and “comic strips”) in the room varied, so I kept my talk personal and narrative.

I spoke about the comics I read when I was young.

I spoke about the Melbourne comics scene.

I spoke about Hutcho and the other guys who founded Squishface Studio.

I spoke about what we hoped to achieve with the studio when we started.

I spoke about “our financials”.

And I spoke about why we love the studio and how it might grow and change in the future.

Apparently people found my talk interesting. I hope so.

This recap is already huge so I’ll get to the rest of the day and the awards night in Part 2.

“How cheap can you make it?” – why I’m making a TV series, but not for TV

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For years I asked myself why Australia hasn’t had its own animated series for adults.

Now I know that it’s my own fault!

 

 

Sad Animator expects money. Laugh at him.

 

 

“Pretty cheap!”

Last year I went to a launch event put on by our state film funding body and SBS, Australia’s multicultural government TV network.

At the drinks part afterwards I asked a lady from SBS if they were interested in commissioning adult animation. She replied, laughingly, “How cheap can you make it?”

“Pretty cheap!” I replied. I can make funny cartoons fairly quickly if I want to.

So, since I don’t need their money to make the cartoons, I figured I should just make them myself.

I’m currently making them — in the form of an animated series called BE A MAN — using money I earn elsewhere.

People have asked me, “How will you make money doing this?” The answer is, “I won’t”.

I suppose the goals are to make something good and to make a reputation for doing so, each of which is valuable.

Waiting around for TV executives to pass judgement on my ideas isn’t furthering those goals. Better I just make the things, enjoy the making and stop to earn money when it’s possible.

 

 

A script. You could write one!

 

 

Devolving

I went to the SPAA Fringe conference last year. It’s reasonably priced and a good way to get access to some interesting people and hear things first-hand.

I attended a roundtable discussion with a ABC-TV development fellow who asserted that the best way to approach the ABC with your comedy idea is to NOT approach the ABC with it.

Instead, it should be taken to one of their “preapproved” production companies, ones they repeatedly work with (Andrew Denton’s, for example) so that they can decide if it’s ABC-worthy.

We at the table were a bunch of mostly neophyte dopes with TV show ideas. The impression I got was that he was sincerely trying to give us the good oil.

I’m not sure every ABC executive would give the same advice. The most interesting thing I learned from speaking to several of them was that none of them seem to agree on anything.

 

 

Storyboards. You could draw these.

 

 

“At least it’s not sitting gathering dust on the shelf, right?”

I listened to this podcast of a talk from the SPAA Conference (not the one I attended, the “big boys” one) which asks the question, “Will one of the people on this panel, who represent alternatives to network television, actually put their money where their mouths have been for quite some time now and commission some bloody content?

The moderator did an excellent job trying to squeeze an answer out of them. Their answer was muffled but sounded a lot like, “noooooo, probably not right now”. They’re currently doing fine paying pennies (or nothing) for your video once it’s been made.

“At least it’s not sitting gathering dust on the shelf, right?” said the nice lady whose salary is paid by people giving YouTube their work for free.

 

A character. You could build this.

 

 

“The right people”

Sometimes we complain that we aren’t successful because we aren’t friends with “the right people”, the implication being that “the right people” are TV executives or celebrities whose access to money or power could smooth the way for us.

What’s great is that if you’re more concerned with making a good show than with having a show on television, you almost certainly know “the right people” already. Your smartest, funniest and most eagle-eyed friends are capable of helping you make your show, or of making your show better. You only have to ask them for help.

Once you have “the right people” involved, it’s just a matter of renting a camera and some lights. Or sitting in a little room and  drawing lots of things.

 

 

Backgrounds and props. You could draw these.

 

 

Making stuff will save you

Working in animation, I sometimes find myself part of a large crew working to make a children’s show worth millions of dollars, and in the middle of that I sometimes forget it’s possible to make something better on no budget at all.

But you can! People do.

I’d say the following is as true for you as it is for me. It’s important, so I’m writing it in pink:

You have ideas and energy that the people in charge don’t want and wouldn’t know what to do with. Use them yourself.

 

 

Cartoons: you have to make them. They'll get you if you don't.

 

 

The reason Australia hasn’t had its own adult cartoon series

It’s because nobody in the TV industry wants one as much as I do, and I haven’t worked hard enough at it!

I apologise, and I’m fixing that now. Slowly.

 

David Blumenstein writes and draws, often simultaneously. He makes pictures and animation for money. He’s not saying anything you didn’t already know. You can learn more about his animated series via his Twitter feed and his Facebook page. Or go watch him making it at Squishface Studio.

Chris Kenny’s letter to the tax office*

The guys from The Chaser put up a photoshop of some guy called Chris Kenny fucking a dog and he sued them and settled for $35,000.

Chris Kenny's not Chris Kenny's not letter to the tax not office.   * It’s not really Chris Kenny’s letter to the tax office.** ** I’m not telling you this, I’m telling the judge in my future defamation trial, Kenny v. Blumenstein (2014).*** *** Satire works best when you ruin it with disclaimers.