Lessons from Neal Adams

Post topics about the business side of magic.

Postby Bill Mullins » 05/19/05 08:39 AM

When I was in school, I collected comic books. And many of the ones I really liked were drawn by Neal Adams, a very influential artist from the late 1960's onward. You may also know him from his work on the Ben Casey newspaper strip of the early 1960's.

His influence was not only artistic (although he was a big a shock to the field as Jim Steranko). He also revolutionized the business of comic art, fighting for creator's rights, revolutionizing the pay structure, etc.

His main business today is commercial art, through his Continuity Studios.

In a recent interview, he spoke about the business of being a comic artist.
Here. Most are free-lance, and what he described seemed to be relevant to a magician negotiating fees. Every place it says "artist", think "magician".

What kind of advice would you give to young artists to protect themselves?

First of all, I would not advise anybody in any school anywhere to not take a business course. If you want to be an artist, you will make more money taking a business course than you will studying art. If you can take a really good business course while you do all the good artwork that you want to do, then youre more likely to make a better living than you are if you take all the art you ever want to do and no business course.

Most artists are very bad businessmen. Ive held myself back from bashing the brains of young artists who dont have the common sense to stand up for themselves. They dont represent themselves well. The typical picture of a comic book artist, certainly in the 50s and the 60s things have changed a little bit today because there are people like me around nudging them the typical picture of a comic book artist is a guy in a closet with a drawing table and a light and a radio and a telephone and paper and ink. And the closet door is locked. And they have paper and they fill the paper with drawings and then they slide the paper out from under the closet so that people will give them more paper. Not to make money, just to get more paper to draw on.

Theres a part of the artist that has to step aside at times and you can do it in a very pleasant way, you dont have to be nasty or mean-tempered, in fact, you dont do good business if youre nasty or mean-tempered. But in a very pleasant way, say the right thing at the right time. And if you do that, you can make a living. Ill give you an example: Put this in bold type. Lets say youre going for a job and they have a sliding scale of money that theyre willing to pay for this kind of a job for this book cover. Lets say the sliding scale is between $600 and $1,200 for a book cover. Lets say you come in, you show your work, they really like it. Now they can say to you, For starting artists, we pay $600 a cover. Is that OK with you?

Well, youve just made the first mistake. You havent really done anything, but youve made a mistake. Youve let them dictate the terms of the agreement. What you sorta have to hope for is that theyre going to ask you how much you charge. And one of the ways you can do that is that you can lay eggs throughout the conversation as youre talking. You can say, Yeah, Ive done a few jobs like this, which will raise their eyebrows. And then theyll want to know who for, and if you havent got a good lie at the tip of your tongue, youre in trouble.


So you try and convince them you have some experience not a lot of experience, nothing that will bother them so that they will then say to you, How much would you like to get for this, because we do want you to do it. Once that happens, theyre the fool, youre in charge. What you do is, you say in your mind: What would I like to be paid for this? You dont know what their rate is. Youve heard that its around $600 or $800 or $1,000 or something like that. But you say to yourself, What would I like to get? Id like to get $1,000. So what you say is, Well, the last time I did a job like this, I charged $2,000, but I want to work with you, so Im willing to work for less.

Now, that does a number of things. First, it puts them in a defensive posture, because they dont pay any more than $1,200. So youve pretty much dropped the $600. Thats one. Their highest rate is $1,200. Are they going to pay you $1,200? Well, how are they going to pay you $1,200 if you told them your normal rate is $2,000? But you have said youll bring your rate down for them. Will you bring it all the way down to $1,200? Maybe just maybe, theyll extend themselves and say, Well, the best we can do is $1,500. Or maybe theyll say, The best we can do is $1,200. Whatever they say, you then say, Well, I want to work with you guys, and I think its a great project so Ill go for it.

Now what have you done? First of all, youve done them a favor. Youve taken your price down. That guy will go into the next office after you leave and say, You know what, I got this guy to bring his price down. Hell be very proud of himself. Youve done him a favor even a personal favor: helped him do his job.

Another thing youve done is youve doubled the price you were going to get. You didnt get $600 you got $1200 and maybe if you were lucky you got more. But lets just say you got $1,200. The fact of the matter is that you can go home and you can work on that job and maybe you can work two days on it, maybe three days on it, maybe you work four days on it, but however much time you put into that job, it was worth $600. The half a minute it took you to say what I told you to say, you earned $600. Half a minute. $600 for four days, $600 for half a minute.

These are the kinds of things you have to learn if you go into business. And this is just not for a freelance artist. If you go into other kinds of business you have to know those things like sales tax. You cant just leap into things. You, for example, you got a Web site. You start to sell things, you need to know what taxes you have to pay, how to put your money away. You have to pay attention to these things. Not very easy.

Bill Mullins
 
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Postby Guest » 05/21/05 12:27 AM

Very helpful post.

I think I just did the right thing. I just quoted a high price for 4 hours of walkaround on June 25, with owners of a hotel who weren't even thinking about hiring a magician until they saw me at my restaurant (Palermo Ristorante Italiano in Hollywood). Then they got excited, because they have a grand reopening coming up, and Houdini had stayed in their hotel years ago, and walkaround magic, they began to reason, might lend credibility to a very picturesque inn.

Then I quoted my high price. Afterward, I didn't say anything, I just stayed silent. Just like the books tell me to. They gave me their contact information, and didn't tip whether my price was too high, but now, I suspect it was too high for them.

This interview made me realize: My initial quote was a good opening bid; now I have to find ways to back down from my initial bid to get the job.

They didn't return my first call back to them, but when I get ahold of them, I'm going to ask them straight out if they're hesitant because of the money. And if it is the money, then I can take some of my payment in trade. After all, they are a hotel/inn in a picturesque part of California, and it would be great to take my girlfriend on a vacation for several days.

Finding graceful ways to back down for a high price is a real art, one that I continually have to work at.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/21/05 07:55 AM

Ah Neal Adams.

One of the very best "Batman" artists. I still fondly remember his work.
Chris Aguilar
 
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Postby Guest » 05/26/05 06:11 PM

He also helped Frank Miller early on in Miller's career.

Dan
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