Doug TenNapel: makes books, which can be as profitable as the cafeteria
May 3, 2012
I had lunch at Dreamworks yesterday and enthusiastically thanked the cafeteria worker for presenting me with a fine plate of food. I thought to myself, “Today, on this particular day, this worker is making more money than me.” It reminded me of how my friend Ethan Nicolle was thought to be rich by all of his fans for the blockbuster smash webcomic Axe Cop. Ethan figured out what he actually made on his comic and he would make more as barista at a local Starbucks coffee shop. My mind goes to the year of 2007 where I made $20,000 in a year… with a wife and four kids… and a house that drained every inch of our savings… we qualified for foodstamps (I didn’t take them).
It was 1987 and my comic strip had captured the attention of L.A. Times Syndicate’s editor David Seidman, so he came down to San Diego for a visit. We talked comics, and I was so impoverished my first question was, “When can I quit being a dish washer and make comics full time?” His answer, “Don’t quit your day job just yet.”
One of the more popular emails I get from up and comers is about when they can finally ditch their menial, good-for-nothing job and do like me… be rich making indie comics. If you’re not very good you shouldn’t quit your day job, but even if you’re great you shouldn’t quit your day job. I find artists ten times better than me all the time and they aren’t making money off of their artwork yet. Go to a California plein air art gallery in Laguna Beach and look at some of the greatest paintings of our times being sold for $400 bucks a pop. Half of that goes to the gallery. Good luck on that get rich thing.
My sister-in-law Debbie is a world class concert violinist but there is no big city symphony where she lives. She ended up joining a group that appeals to the masses by playing orchestrated versions of Doobie Brothers and Journey music. If you think all of those concert musicians studied Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven to play the chord structures of Doobie Brothers I’ve got news for you. Most of the great musicians who can play piano, violin etc. aren’t making a living playing Mozart. They must be in it for some other reason than the money.
In the end the artist, the book author, the musician has to decide why they’re doing what they’re doing. If it’s for the money, then I hope you make a lot of money. But most of us got into our art form for the love of it, and the money came second as a reward for years of hard work and a lucky break or two. By far, most every artist in the world, no matter how good, will not likely make a living off of their work.
My art pointed me to God, saved me, rescued me from boredom, gave me soaring thoughts, impressed my wife, developed my work ethic, brought me joy, stimulated my mind long before it ever made me a dime. My brother is a world class journalist who is a coal miner. I may one day join that cafeteria crew yet, but I still know one thing… I’ll be making books, artwork and having fun in my spare time for the rest of my life. You?