The financial realities of going viral

One of Lucy Bellwood’s cartoons went viral a while ago, being shared by Boing Boing, Chris Hadfield, the Atlas Obscuria, George Takei and others. So what does this exposure mean in terms of cold, hard cash?

SO: To date, including the money I was paid to produce the artwork, I have made $1,761.50 from this image. Not bad! Notably: $814 of that came after Boing Boing decided to feature the art with a proper link pointing people to my shop. There are a bunch of factors to consider here.


But I also think it’s important to share these numbers as a reminder that just because you’ve seen someone’s work shared on a popular platform (or by a popular person), doesn’t mean they’re automatically set for life. It does, however, mean they might be making a couple hundred bucks more than they usually do in a given month, and when you’re trying to make it as a freelancer that makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve shared one of her sailing cartoons before, on Metafilter, but I’m not sure I’d buy a print myself, if only because it’s usually such a hassle to get that sort of stuff shipped from the US. Bellwood’s essay is a good reminder of the financial realities of “going viral” and what that means for an artist or cartoonist and why proper attribution is so important. Something I’m not always practising myself, I’ve realised. Not often we get such a honest, open look into what large scale exposure means for an independent artist like Bellwood.

Credit where credit is due

I really like J. Caleb Mozzocco’s handy little guide to the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy and their creators:

And, if a lot of people make a lot of money and there are a lot of accolades being thrown about, then a lot of credit is going to go to a lot of people, from whoever cut those winning trailers to the designers and animators who got Rocket’s fur to look just so to Gunn himself. If comic book people get any credit, chances are it’s going to be as a collective (i.e. “Marvel”) or under a “Special Thanks” near the end of the end-credit scrawl (IMDb has comics writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lannning receiving writing credit; if that’s on the screen near the “written by” credit, then that’s awesome).

I especially like his idea of making a donation to The Hero Initiative equal to the cost of the movie ticket, to help that charity help out comics creators screwed over by the comics companies. Of course it would be better if the comics industry as a whole, and especially the Big Two, should treat their employees better and let the people who actually created the characters that are now making millions in movies for them have a little bit of the slice as well. Still, it was nice that Marvel arranged for a private screening of the movie for Bill Mantlo.

Remember Bill Mantlo? Marvel’s most prolific writer in the eighties, about the only one who could make something as uninspiring a toy as ROM into an actually readable, perhaps even good comic. When Shooter was ousted, Mantlo got less and less work, dropped out of comics to try and become a lawyer, then had a car accident that left him paralysed and penniless. Thanks to the Guardians movie, no less a newspaper than the New York Times wrote about Mantlo:

Like millions of moviegoers over the weekend, Bill Mantlo watched “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Marvel Studios space adventure that sold more than $172 million in tickets worldwide in its first four days of release.

The film’s success is particularly meaningful to Mr. Mantlo, 62, a comic-book writer who helped create one of the movie’s main characters: the foul-tempered, gun-wielding anthropomorphic Rocket Raccoon.

Mr. Mantlo did not see “Guardians of the Galaxy” in a theater, but in his bed at the nursing home where he is being cared for after a 1992 accident in which he was hit by a car and left with brain damage.

Michael Mantlo, his brother, said Bill owed his health partly to Medicaid and partly to the grass-roots efforts of comics fans, who not only made donations on his behalf but also brought attention to his involvement in creating a character whose value to Marvel had suddenly mushroomed.

As Michael explained in a telephone interview, the focus on his brother has encouraged the studio to reconsider its obligations to him. “The more often Bill’s name gets mentioned, and the more often he is given public credit for something that he did, the easier it is for me to go to Marvel and say, ‘You might want to consider raising your offer.’ ”

It was only the negative publicity around the first Superman movie that finally got Siegel and Shuster a small part of the millions DC/Warner had made of their characters, it’s good to see Michael Mantlo taking advantage of that for his brother here. Bill Mantlo deserves it.

Now Apple censors French comics

So yeah, remember what I said yesterday? Well, today Apple proved me right:

Izneo, the France digital comics publisher/distributor that represents comic book work from the ten largest comic book publisher in France has found itself forced to pull 1500 of the 4000 titles it currently distributes, after demands from Apple.

So the publisher removed all comics “revealing a breast, causing cleavage, curve, or evoking a suggestive gesture”; as Wim Lockefeer commented, “it’s one more example of an American company imposing its own mores on the rest of the world”. These are not decisions Apple should make in the first place, but the shoddy way in which they are made and enforced is what really grates.

The sad faith of the Big Two’s happy little cogs

Jerry Ordway original art for an All Star Squadron splash page with the debut of Infinity Inc.

It’s hard to believe, but eighties and nineties DC Comics mainstay Jerry Ordway explains isn’t getting any work from them anymore and can’t live on the royalties for his older stuff:

On a recent Absolute Infinite Crisis hardcover, I had 30-odd pages reprinted in there, a book that retailed for over a hundred dollars– a book that DC never even gave me a copy of, and the royalty amounted to a few dollars, I couldn’t buy a pizza on that windfall. I want to work, I don’t want to be a nostalgia act, remembered only for what I did 20, 30 years ago.

In a way, Ordway is lucky. He at least still gets some royalties. Had he worked on Disney comics like Don Rosa, the most popular Donald Duck cartoonist after Carl Barks, he wouldn’t have received any royalty at all, as Rosa made clear in his explanation as to why he stopped drawing:

Disney comics have never been produced by the Disney company, but have always been created by freelance writers and artists working for licensed independent publishers, like Carl Barks working for Dell Comics, me working for Egmont, and hundreds of others working for numerous other Disney licensees. We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work. That’s the system Carl Barks worked in and it’s the same system operating today.

For a time back in the eighties and early nineties it looked like (American) comics as a field would evolve beyond it’s low rent, exploitative roots and start treating its talent better. But that needed a growning, not a stagnating field and while comics have always been dying, never more so than in the past two decades. Working for the mainstream, commercial comics publishers in the US was always a good working class sort of career, where you could make decent money if you worked hard and were reliable, but were never going to get rich from. Nor would you get a pension from your work or anything other than a flat rate, but at least you’d still might be able to support yourself even after retirement with freelance work.

But when the slow collapse of the comics industry was accelerated with the mid-nineties crash, when the speculators and collectors left the field and superhero comics became what it was always destined to be, a niche market, it meant there were far too many cartoonists for the field to sustain and all the old pros, some having worked decades for the same company, would gradually disappear, retire, retrain, the lucky ones doing reproductions or sketches at comics cons to get some money, but many of them, like Jerry Ordway, finding it harder to make a living from what once seemed a safe job.

In some ways then what’s has happened to the commercial comics industry is a belated echo of what happened to so many American industries no longer needed or done cheaper elsewhere. These days there is still a comics industry, but outside the rotting corpses of the socalled Big Two it’s a much more boutique approach, one aimed at a smaller audience willing to pay more for a particular cartoonist’s vision or for excellently curated collections of the best of American comics history, with little room for those professionals for which comics was always more of a vocation than a personal calling. There’s no call for assembly line workers when you’re building cars by hand.

How capitalism makes shitty beer worse

How capitalism can make even already shitty beer much, much worse:

One Friday night in January, Rinfret, who is now 52, stopped on the way home from work at his local liquor store in Monroe, N.J., and purchased a 12-pack of Beck’s. When he got home, he opened a bottle. “I was like, what the hell?” he recalls. “It tasted light. It tasted weak. Just, you know, night and day. Bubbly, real fizzy. To me, it wasn’t German beer. It tasted like a Budweiser with flavoring.”

He examined the label. It said the beer was no longer brewed in Bremen. He looked more closely at the fine print: “Product of the USA.” This was profoundly unsettling for a guy who had been a Beck’s drinker for more than half his life. He was also miffed to have paid the full import price for the 12-pack.


There was another reason for Brito to be reticent. He’s been running AB InBev’s business in the U.S. like a private equity investor. He has increased revenue and profit, but he has done so almost entirely by raising prices and cutting the cost of making the product. This has done wonders for AB InBev’s balance sheet. “If you look at what AB InBev has done since it took over Anheuser-Busch, it has made it enormously more profitable,” says Trevor Stirling, a beer industry analyst at Bernstein Research (AB), who detects more than a little xenophobia in the criticism of the company. “Is that un-American? Is it unconstitutional to increase the profitability of a business?”


What will Brito buy after this? There’s not much left. There is Pepsi, of course. Analysts speculate that it will acquire SABMiller (SAB), the world’s second-largest brewer. (AB InBev isn’t saying.) That would be something, adding beers like Coors Light and Foster’s to AB InBev’s lineup. It might be bittersweet for him. After one last carnival of cost-cutting, he’d have no more easy ways to juice his company’s stock. There would be nothing left for Brito to do but sell beer.

This is what real late stage, financier and stock market driven capitalism looks like. A company like AB InBev doesn’t exist to sell beer, not even to sell shitty beer, it exists as a tool for financial speculation. The real money lies in buying other companies, orchestrating mergers, conquering new markets through joint ventures and wholesale takeovers of local companies, splitting off unwanted parts and selling them to other companies doing the same, squeezing costs and increasing margins all to provide the seed sum for the next round of speculation.

It doesn’t really matter whether or not sales in the long term, or even the medium to short term sales of beer collapse for AB InBev as long as the margins are higher now, because the real money isn’t made there anyway. All the real money is on the financial speculative side, rather than the physical beer selling side. Get your money, let some other sucker worry about the future.

That’s also why the “let them drink craft beer” response to this sort of article (some examples seen here) misses the point entirely. This isn’t about shitty beer getting worse, it’s how high capitalism destroys everything in its quest for high profits now.