A cartoonist’s income

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?

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

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!




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.

Be A Man: animatic action

These images are from the storyboards I’ve been doing for my animated series, BE A MAN.

Actually, they’re an awkward cross between storyboards and animatic frames.

Storyboards should be clear and easy to read when printed on paper. These would be quite difficult to read because of the way I do my boards — I draw the frames in Flash, and, anticipating turning them into an animatic, I draw WAY too many frames! I put in all the little glances and moves the characters will do.

This is great for when I do the animatic and can easily watch how all the actions time out, but now that I want to show actors this stuff, I find it’d be time-consuming to put together a version that’d work on paper or as a PDF — I’d have to drop out all the extra frames.

Maybe I just need to physically flick through the boards for them — like having them watch the cartoon in flip-book form. I’ve been showing people my progress this way and it seems to work.

The Precinct: here’s what an animated cop show pitch looks like.

In 2011, the Precinct team put this proposal to SBS — a proposal for a half hour animated cop show for adults.

We were told it would be good to have an idea of how three seasons’ worth of the show would work, hence the enormous cast and loads of plotting and ideas. We left out a lot of stuff, too.

In the end, it was more than the programmers at SBS really wanted to see, but making it helped us enormously in figuring out what we like about the show and what we would like it to be (and the divide between Adam, my co-writer and I, on that issue!).

I thought it might be interesting for people to see just how much work we put in. And obviously we’re still working on Precinct, but going in more of a “ACTUALLY MAKE CARTOONS” direction than a “PITCH IT AGAIN AND AGAIN” direction.

I should point out also that, although she didn’t go for it, Caterina (our contact and yours at SBS when it comes to comedy and drama shows) has been extraordinarily giving of her time and experience over the last year or so.

So, here’s our proposal! Is it a good proposal? Not sure, but this is what we put to them, warts and all, and I’d still love to see an animated Aussie adult cartoon on SBS more than just about anything. Obviously I’d prefer it be ours, but there’s enough talented bastards around that we’re gonna see one, finally, one day, and I’ll be bloody happy whoever it comes from.

Feel free to comment here or anywhere else (FB? Twitter?) as to what you reckon about it.