Drawing work: opportunities for cartoonists, illustrators & comics-makers / avoiding poverty? / standing up for yourself and others
This was a live online chat I ran in place of the aborted Australian Cartoonists Association conference. We talked about the Australia Council report Graphic Storytellers At Work with Gabriel Clark, learned more about the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s new Freelance Charter from Cassie Derrick and discussed things freelance artists should know with Dean Rankine. Really good chat.
On the afternoon of February 26, shortly before Cathy Wilcox handed out the 2021 Stanley Awards, we ran a livestreamed chat with the themes of opportunities for cartoonists, illustrators & comics-makers, avoiding poverty and standing up for yourself and others. It was a great discussion.
Aside from David Blumenstein as moderator, the panelists were Dean Rankine, freelance cartoonist (Simpsons Comics, Magda Szubanski’s hit kids book series, Timmy the Ticked Off Pony), Gabe Clark, researcher and event producer (including the Graphic festival at the Sydney Opera House and live comics event series Read to Me) and Cassie Derrick, Deputy Director of the Media Section for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), and the lead of their campaign for freelance rights.
Topics of chat were the Australia Council report Graphic Storytellers At Work, MEAA’s new Freelance Charter and general tips on freelance life.
Gabe presented on Graphic Storytellers At Work, which was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and released in 2021. Gabe described it as “a report on the working lives of graphic storytellers in Australia. Written and drawn primarily by Gabe and comics artist Pat Grant, it makes use of 260-odd survey responses to illustrate how the technical, interpretive and interpersonal skills we naturally build up through practice as cartoonists are having impact in other fields, such as medicine, law, education and design:
It’s a really interesting report, an easy read, and points the way toward how many of us could be, and are, making a living outside of the media.
We found that the results of recent surveys undertaken by MEAA matched up with Gabe’s, and with the 2019 ACA survey, all of which show that most freelancers are pursuing their creative work with a day job or a “side hustle” keeping them financially afloat; those artists with steady work are in the minority.
Data from Graphic Storytellers At Work shows half the “graphic storytellers” in Australia are living below the country’s median wage, a third are living in poverty and an eighth are making over $100k/year.
The media sector’s redundancies over the last 20 years have hollowed out the industry, but also left the Australian media swarming with freelance journalists. Cassie described their freelance members’ feeling on this:
This led to the formation of MEAA’s Freelance Committee, and their new Freelance Charter of Rights, which MEAA are now approaching major media employers with in an attempt to have the entire Australian media industry sign on to an agreement bringing local freelancers’ rights and pay up closer to the level of their “employed” colleagues.
Dean came armed with a list:
The list included “having a partner who works”, “having a part time job you don’t hate”, “teaching cartooning, “live caricature”, “book and magazine illustration”, “getting a manager and doing commercial art” and “putting cartoons on the web and selling merch — the most angst-ridden the better”.
Although the tone was serious, we were able to have a good time talking about how we make a living and bantering with the many people making pertinent comments on the ACA’s public Facebook page.
You can watch the recording of the chat by dropping past the ACA’s public Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/australiancartoonists or at Squishface Studio’s Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/squishfacestudio
Cassie Derrick is the Deputy Director of the Media Section for our union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and the lead of the union’s campaign for freelance rights. Twitter: @cassderrick
Gabriel Clark is a lecturer at the School of Design at the University of Technology Sydney. His most recent research projects include Graphic Storytellers at Work for the Australia Council for the Arts and the ARC Linkage project Folio – Stories of Contemporary Australian Comics. He’s also producer of the live graphic storytelling event Read To Me and a co-founder of the Sydney Opera House’s Graphic festival. Insta: @gabrielclark
Dean Rankine is a Ledger and Stanley Award winning comic book artist and illustrator best known for his work on Simpsons Comics, Rick and Morty, The Riverdale Diaries: Starring Veronica and Magda Szubanski’s hit kids book series, Timmy the Ticked Off Pony. Insta: @deanrankine
David Blumenstein is a service designer, animator and comics artist who’s written for The Nib, The Guardian and Australian MAD. His big long comics include #takedown, The Internet’s Most Trolled Cartoonist, Free Money, Please and Why Los Angeles is Scientology’s perfect city. He’s a co-founder of Squishface Studio in Melbourne. Twit/Insta: @nakedfella