August 7, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for 8/7/2015- SPX and the Working Class Cartoonist



** In a slightly puzzling move this week, Nickelodeon announced that they'll be at next month's SPX taking pitches, looking to produce one short based off of those pitches.  The Beat has Nickelodeon's full press release up but here's the salient facts.

Hello from Nickelodeon Animation Development!!!  
Nickelodeon is always looking for talented artists, writers, and creators from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. We love and appreciate the great wealth of talent that SPX features and wanted to reach out in a big way to the SPX creator community!  
That is why we’re so excited to announce that we will be taking pitches in-person at SPX 2015 for 2-3 minute shorts and will select one to produce. We’ll work directly with the creator/s to realize their characters, story, and world. This is the fourth year of our shorts program and it’s been a great way for us to try out new ideas and work with creators from all over the world.
And...
Your short will be posted on nick.com, as well as on our free nick app – many are viewable right now. Shorts are also considered for potential development for series. In fact, several have gone into development and we have two series in production that were born from shorts.
Taking it one step further, let's see who can submit to Nickelodeon at SPX.  That's not found in the press release as far as I can see but it is on the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts page that you have to go to in order to sign up for a review.
This call for submissions is only open to SPX exhibitors – past, present, and lottery entrants (whether you won or not).

And at the Beat, Heidi MacDonald offers a bit of historical commentary:
This is a great opportunity obviously, but it’s no surprise as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network scouts have been attending the show for years and finding talent there. It’s one of the worst kept secrets that working in today’s indie comics inspired animation industry is what pays the bills for dozens of indie cartoonists—among them Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, Nick Sumida, Hellen Jo, and many many more—and the wagon trail to Los Angeles for indie cartoonists is deeply worn.

And before we go down this rabbit hole, let's look at something that Brian Churilla wrote a month ago (and I found again today via Johanna Drapper's Comics Worth Reading:)
I wanted to take this opportunity to give people a look at what it really means to be a professional comic artist; good and bad. 
This was a strictly work-for-hire job on a licensed book. That usually means no royalties. The page rate on this project was $125. This is considered an okay page rate by today’s standards. Advances on creator-owned projects are a different matter and subject to different criteria, so are jobs at Marvel and DC. That being said, this is a middle-of-the-road page rate. Not great, not terrible. 
Gross pay over the year in addition to those four covers was $33,625. After taxes? $24, 210. That’s $2,017.50 a month (again, I do a lot of work on the side to make ends meet).
And this is from the guy who did Boom Studios' Big Trouble in Little China comic book with Eric Powell.

Brian Churilla's Big Trouble in Little China

So let's unpack some of what Nickelodeon hitting up SPX means.

The SPX's (Small Press Expo) mission is "To provide a forum to showcase new and emerging talent in the fields of comics, graphic novels and political cartooning" and "Enable participants in the comics field to learn from more experienced people in the various aspects of the creation, publishing, marketing and distribution of comics related content."  There's two other points to their mission but these two are the pertinent ones here.

Unlike other conventions and shows who have more of a "built it and they will come"mentality to how they treat their talent, SPX has a purpose specifically about helping new and emerging talent.  That's a very laudable mission. The guiding and developing of this talent is something that we all should be hoping for.

But do we trust Nickelodeon to be doing that as well?  Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom, a company that as of the end of the business day on 8/5/2015 had a market cap of $20.430,000,000.  The company had record profits last year of $4.14 Billion off of revenue of $13.78 Billion. For comparison to the comics industry, Disney's 2014 profits was $7.5 Billion and Time Warners' was $5.8 Billion.

Going by those numbers, Nickelodeon is as small press as Marvel or DC are.

That's the argument against SPX allowing Nickelodeon into their show.  There's nothing Small or Press about Nickelodeon.  This is a big company coming into to pick up talent who aren't in the animation world.  And for what?  According to Nickelodeon's sign up page, "If your pitch is selected to be produced as a short, as a condition of such production, you and Nickelodeon will enter into Nickelodeon’s customary agreement for the creation of such shorts."  I don't know what Nick's customary agreement is but here's the Animation Guild document about their agreement with Nickelodeon for CG animation.  Weekly pay for various animation jobs according to this are $942 a week for a trainee up to over $1,900 per week for a CG Animation Director or  a Compositing Editor.

So a CG Director makes just under $2,000 a week (presumably before taxes.)  According to Churilla's post, he made approximately $647 a week as a cartoonist.

It's not hard to see why this would be appealing to a young or even an established cartoonist.

Ideally for who ever wins, this would just be a day job gig, a way to make a living while at night or on the weekends they could make their comics.  And looking at the requirements for the submitters, that they have to be past or present exhibitors or lottery applicants, hopefully that means that comics are what they want to do.  That it's a somewhat closed pool of submitters makes this fit loosely into SPX's mission statement.

But it just seems so wrong, doesn't it?  A show that has been about comics and cartoonists is providing a platform for an animation company that's controlled by one of the largest media conglomerations around.

And then there's the bad feelings around the lottery system for exhibitors this year, where the show has been challenged about why some cartoonists were left out.  There are people who have exhibited before and been recent Ignatz Award judges were left out of the show this year because of the lottery/invitation system in place.  Hopefully the space taken up by Nickelodeon isn't reducing the overall exhibition space of the show.

We wish everyone well who submits to the Nick Animation Shorts contest and we hope that an arm of a multi-billion dollar company treats you well.  We really do.  But remember, we'll always be here to enjoy your comics when you ready to show them to us.

We'll keep the light on for you.