Hiring a comic book artist FAQ

Getting a comic book from script to print can be a complicated undertaking, with many moving parts to consider. Wo we’ve compiled this article to help simplify the process and hopefully explain how the relationships between the illustrator, writer and publisher work in general without going into too much detail, but while still covering all the main talking points. Although this article is written with comic book writers being the primary audience, we do encourage comic book artists and others in the creative field to read it too.


These questions were devised and answered by Jason Piperberg (professional comic book artist), and edited and updated with additional content added by Darren Di Lieto and Jane Di Lieto. Feedback was also given by comic book artists Matt Timson, Brendan Purchase and Christine Larsen.

So, should I hire a comic book artist?

If you are working independently to publish your comic or graphic novel and you want to get your book into the hands of an adoring public, absolutely, yes, you should hire an illustrator – or more specifically a comic book artist. Independent and self-published comics are a vital part of the publishing industry. A lot of new writers and artists make their mark in the independent (indy) market, which can be a natural stepping stone into the mainstream market if that’s what they want. New ideas and creative stories keep the market vitalised and interesting, plus, everyone needs to start somewhere, so stop dithering!

For those who are more inclined to work with a publisher that will hire and handle the illustrator, you may want to submit your script directly to a publishing house for consideration. If a publisher decides your story is right for their brand, it’s very likely that they will hire the illustrator directly without the author’s input, although some do require an artist to be attached to a book before it’s pitched to them. Either way, you’re only going to know what each publisher’s requirements are by finding and following their submission guidelines, and in most cases, these will be available on their websites.


First things first…

It’s important that your script is formatted in a suitable fashion, especially if you decide to go down the independent, self-publishing route and hire a comic book artist to illustrate your story. A screenplay or a novel is great, but leaving it to the artist to adapt it into a comic script can create a lot of extra and sometimes unexpected work, even for an experienced artist. A comic script is structured differently from other forms of writing. For example, comic scripts will have page breakdowns, whereas a screenplay is usually broken down by scene. A comic script page will often contain multiple panels and pages, like the following example.

There are plenty of books and online resources on how to write in a comic script format. Research and attention to detail are essential for a productive and smooth flowing project or commission. If you don’t understand something, look it up and don’t be afraid to ask. In the same way that different publishers have different guidelines, different freelance illustrators manage projects in different ways. Most people learn on the job in this industry, and what is common practice for one person may be alien to another. Communication is key.

How do I find a publisher?

You may have decided that you will be pitching your book to an established publisher, rather than self-publishing or seeking out an alternative partnership. There are some publishers like First Second who will accept a manuscript or a pitch without artwork and will help find or recommend an artist for your script if they’re interested in working with you. On the flip side, there are other publishers like Image Comics who will (at the time of writing) only accept pitches from a writer with an artist already attached. Having an artist in place before pitching is the most common practice as far as we are aware. Be aware that submission guidelines are always subject to change, so it’s important to check current requirements – including whether or not the publisher actually accepts unsolicited submissions. It is also very important to consider whether your proposal is a good fit for the publisher you are sending it to.

When a publisher requires that you have an artist attached, they won’t usually expect you to pitch a finished or complete comic. They normally only want to see 5 or 6 pages, along with a full story synopsis. Not having to commission an illustrator for the full novel will keep your initial costs down, but do make sure you get a quote for the sample pages and a separate quote to complete the book. Then, if a publisher rejects your comic, having both quotes will give you options, as you may decide to self-publish instead. Not all rejections are based on quality or marketability; most publishers will have a set quota to fulfil, so the timing of your pitch can also be a factor. Again, always check the submission guidelines for each publisher you’re considering, as you’re wasting your time if you don’t follow them. As previously mentioned, the guidelines are normally found on publishers’ websites, so always make sure you go to the original source rather than a blog or forum post, as publishers guidelines can change frequently and you may find you are referring to an outdated version if they are on a third party website.

One thing to note with some publishers is that if you do get picked up, you may end up retaining all of the rights to your work, but the downside with this arrangement is that they tend not to pay a page rate. This means that your earnings will be based on sales minus the flat fee the publisher takes for themselves. In this situation, you’ll need to make sure you have funds in reserve to cover your expenses (and those of the artist if you have hired one yourself) until royalties start providing you with an income.

A final point about approaching publishers… unless invited to do so, don’t ambush a publisher or their team with your pitch at any of the various comic conventions or other events that they frequently attend. If they’re doing portfolio reviews, that’s slightly different and if you can strike up a conversation, they may invite you to pitch your comic or graphic novel, especially if it’s a smaller con and not something like San Diego Comic-Con. In general, unsolicited pitches will be over before they’ve started. Publishers have guidelines and procedures for pitches and submissions, and they’re normally at conventions to promote their products, sell merchandise, and recoup their costs, just like everyone else who has a ridiculously priced table at one of these events.


How do I self-publish a comic book or graphic novel?

Self-publishing your story is always a viable option, especially in this day and age of on-demand printing. There are many artists and writer/artist teams, along with traditional authors, who successfully self-publish thanks to having a decent following and reach through social media or a dedicated fan base, and all without the backing of a publisher’s marketing department and resources. With e-comic services and on-demand printing, self-publishers no longer need to produce thousands of copies of their comic or book to get their product out there and turn a profit. That also means that they don’t need to find somewhere to store a few thousand copies of their book, only to have them sitting around for several years because they didn’t anticipate a lack of customer demand when they put in their print order. With e-books and print-on-demand, the risk is reduced; you can start small and expand quickly with increasing demand.

Companies like Ka-Blam are great for small, cheap, quality print runs. They also have an online store to which you can upload your book for direct on-demand printing sales for no additional cost. You get to set your prices, keep the profits (less their production costs) and in addition they also handle the packing and shipping your comic directly to your customers. It’s a good arrangement if you’re not very good at, or you just don’t want to manage, the production and retail side of self-publishing.

Keep in mind, though, when self-publishing your works (depending on the service you use) that you are responsible for all the financial and marketing aspects of publishing a book: distribution, scheduling, convention appearances, plus everything else required to get your book into the hands of your fans and followers. In addition, you need to consider funding for future books. It can be very rewarding to self-publish a comic book, graphic novel or book, but it’s not an easy task to do well. Some people have tremendous success with their first attempt and publication; others will take years and multiple attempts to get off the ground. But rather than luck, you’ll find that hard work, planning and a good product are the main deciding factors for success.



If the artist’s fee isn’t being organised by a publisher, you will need to budget to pay the artist. This might be in the form of a page rate including a buy-out fee, or an advance with royalties being paid additionally later on. You might be passionate about your creation, but you can’t expect an artist to feel the same way and put in the work for free. Professional comic book illustrators will expect to be paid with more than empty assurances for their craft and contributions. It takes time and a lot of skill to produce the artwork for a comic or graphic novel, and however much they enjoy what they do, comic book artists need to be financially rewarded for their unique creations so they can earn a living and pay the bills. No matter how tempting it might be, asking an illustrator to work on spec is a big no-no! Speculative work, contests and free sample work are the bane of the creative industry, and the comic book sector is no exception.

The same goes for Kickstarter or other crowd-funded projects. If you want an illustrator to bring your ideas to life for your fund-raising campaign, you’ll need to pay them. Just offering them a share of the money that may (or may not) be raised won’t cut it when they could work with someone else who appreciates their expertise and pays upfront and on time. If you’re not confident enough in your own script to put your money where your mouth is, why would the artist you’re pitching to be willing to shoulder the financial risk of low or zero returns themselves? You’ll need to pay a sensible page rate if you want a top-notch comic book artist to bring your comic to life and give it the edge it needs to break through all the white noise so consumers notice it.

Understandably, not everyone has a big budget to hire an illustrator to produce a comic or graphic novel. A lack of funding shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the end of the road for your script, though. Some comic book artists are willing to let their clients pay by instalments, and this is something to keep in mind if you get the feeling or impression that an artist is out of your immediate price range. Work out the budget you have, act professionally, be polite, and don’t be afraid to ask an artist if they offer an instalment plan. If an illustrator is kind enough to offer you a payment plan, just make sure you pay on time, as late payments can do serious damage to an artist’s business. Unlike other businesses, illustrators tend not to be able to get bridging loans when invoices aren’t paid on time. So, don’t be that client that illustrator’s love working with, but hate chasing to settle an invoice.


How much does it cost to hire a comic book artist?

Simply put, comic pages take a lot of work to create. Some artists are faster or more experienced than others, and there are a wide variety of styles to consider. Therefore, each artist will set his or her own rates and it’s very difficult to make a direct comparison. Most comic book illustrators will have a page rate rather than a flat fee for a project, meaning the fee will vary depending on the number of pages you require. Another factor that will affect the overall costs will be whether you’re putting together a traditional comic book team or not. Traditionally, you’d have the writer (yourself), a penciler, inker, colourist and a letterer all working on the project. A comic book artist can often assume these different roles, but this will increase their individual fee, as there is obviously more work involved. Other things to consider which will affect your costs will be whether the comic is black and white or colour, and the complexity of the artwork in relation to the story. Also, if you’re working with an illustrator and they end up having to edit your script, correct continuity or change other aspects that are factually incorrect, it is only reasonable to expect to pay the artist for the time it takes to do this (and you should probably have hired an editor or researcher before the illustrator if they’ve ended up assuming this role too!). When you work with an artist, it’s a team effort and a competent illustrator will speak up when something isn’t working or right, in order to make the comic the best it can be, so there’s no need to take offence if this happens. Instead, it’s worth appreciating and reaping the benefits of working with someone who has this sort of dedication and experience in the comic field.


OK, so how much will it cost?

Black and white pages will generally cost less than full-colour pages, while lettering will add to the costs. Most artists’ rates (per page) will be in the hundreds, especially if they’re not only doing the pencilling but also taking it to a complete inked, coloured and lettered page. If, for example, your graphic novel has a hundred pages and you have three thousand dollars, that’s not a large enough budget, as it would work out to be only thirty dollars per page. This is not a realistic page rate for a professional comic book artist earning a living from their work. In addition, it doesn’t really make any difference to the price whether an artist works traditionally or digitally as most of the time you won’t be able to see the difference between the two mediums.

Really, how much does it cost?

That all depends on which artist you want to work with and their individual page rates. Generally, you’re looking at spending from one to two hundred per page at the lower end of the market, with it going up exponentially from there. Your best course of action is to contact the illustrators you’re interested in working with and ask them what their rates and conditions are. If you can’t afford full colour, black and white might be within your budget, and if offered by the artist, a payment plan could be your way forward.

When an artist is being paid a proper page rate it’s usual for the contract to be a Work-For-Hire (WFH) agreement. This is fairly standard practice when working with an established publisher, with some exceptions such as Image Comics. WFH means that ownership of the copyright for the artwork will belong to the client rather than it being licensed from the artist for production. However, don’t expect an artist to agree to a WFH contract if the pay isn’t reasonable and fair for such a one-sided agreement. With self-publishing, WFH can be less common, although it’s still preferred by many writers. Instead, in order to keep costs down, a licensing agreement can be used. In this case, the artist will retain the rights to the artwork and the client pays for a license to use it for a specific purpose, length of time and/or print run. Other aspects such as distribution, usage for advertising and so on are also taken into account, and an extension or re-licensing at a later date will usually be an option. Basically, WFH contracts are the norm within the comic industry but expect to pay a premium for the privilege. Original artwork, if not produced digitally, can often be purchased from the artist with a separate agreement and at additional cost. It’s also not unknown for an illustrator to be commissioned for a comic book, but retain the rights to the artwork for other merchandising opportunities such as prints, coasters and t-shirts.

Page rates for mid-range comic book artists (US dollars, 2017/18)…

Pencils & Inks$300-400
Pencils, Inks & Grey Tones$350-475
Pencils, Inks & Colours$400-550
Pencils, Inks & Letters$350-450
Pencils, Inks, Colours & Letters$450-600
Cover Work$775-900


How long does it take?

A contract needs to be negotiated and issued by the illustrator, author or publisher. The contract should include payment dates, artwork delivery dates, and copyright restrictions or the licensing agreement for both the author and the illustrator, and on some occasions will also include a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). It will normally take from 3-6 months for an average length comic book to be completed, give or take a month depending on the illustrator, their technique and the number of pages required for the comic or graphic novel. Payments will normally be made at different stages throughout the project as work is completed and approved, as dictated by the contract. There will normally be an upfront payment to make before work commences, which will be a percentage of the full cost. This will ensure that the work is booked in to the artist’s schedule and also shows commitment from the client towards the project and artist. In addition, the upfront fee will normally be non-refundable, unless otherwise stated in the contract, and will act as the kill fee in case the client decides to scrap the project or work with an alternative illustrator after work has begun. Projects can fall apart quickly if there isn’t a contract – or if a contract isn’t properly reviewed by one of the participants before signing it. It’s important not to make assumptions about the terms of the contract. Contracts do not need to be complicated or full of unnecessary legalese; lots of people use boilerplate contracts, and if a segment isn’t relevant to the relationship between the service provider and client, don’t be afraid to ask for it to be changed or removed. The negotiation of fees and contracts is a normal occurrence and nothing to worry about.


What about revisions and changes to the artwork?

Most artists will include a set number of revisions as stipulated by the contract as part of the creative process. For example, several revisions might be allowed during the pencilling stage, but then only 2-3 after the pencil artwork is complete. Any artwork that has been finished and approved at any stage by the client will be considered final. However, people do change their minds and mistakes may be made or spotted after the fact, and illustrators will normally be willing to make additional revisions at an hourly rate if needed. Do be aware that revisions after approval and completion of the project will be subject to the artist’s availability. It’s also not uncommon to ask an artist to rework a piece several months later or for a re-release of a publication. Most will be happy to oblige and will relish the opportunity to have more time with the artwork and publication.

A few final words…

Just because there’s a lot of work involved in getting your comic or graphic novel to print, there’s no reason not to follow your dream! Take time to carefully plan, budget and do the research to work out whether self-publishing or a traditional publisher is right for you and your script. If you’ll be hiring a comic book artist for your project, think about the style of artwork you’d like before you start to look for someone to work with. When you’ve found an illustrator who you feel is right for your script, get in touch and provide them with as much information as possible about what you’re after: number of pages, colour or black and white, a summary of the story, your budget and whether you’re self-publishing/crowd-funding/pitching to a publisher. It’s also helpful to let the artist know what drew you to their work in the first place. Always remember that communication is important to a successful outcome throughout the creation process; if you’re not sure about something, ask.

Image Credits…
1. The Dark Judges by Matt Timson
2. Spider-Man by John Royle with inks by Philip Moy and colours by Rom
3. Hellboy by Jason Piperberg
4. Spread for Image Comics by Brendan Purchase
5. Harley Quinn by John Royle
6. Self Storage #2 Cover by Matt Timson
7. Paybacks’ Miss Adventure for Darkhorse by Brendan Purchase
8. Raising Dion #1 written by Dennis Liu and illustrated by Jason Piperberg

Comic book artists on Hire an Illustrator
Image Comics – Submissions
Ka-Blam Digital Printing
Editor tells all! Inside the Submissions Process at First Second, Part I
Inside the Submissions Process at First Second, Part II
First Second: On Submitting Books to Us at Conventions


    1. There’s about everything there is to know in that article. And I say that as a published freelance comic artist always looking for new projects.

  1. I’m planning on self-publishing my comics, and looking for an artist, so this was rather informative.

  2. I am self publishing my comics and have written a script. Where can I find NDA and copyright agreement templates for hiring comic book artists please? This was very helpful article, thank you!

    1. Hi Bob, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a free boilerplate NDA agreement on the web with a quick Google search 🙂 and most illustrators will have a licensing or copyright agreement they can share with you when terms have been agreed. If they don’t have one, we always have boilerplate agreement available to our members. Thanks for reading our article on comic book artists.

    2. I’m interested in self publishing a comic book….what is (if there is) the standard number of pages I should be looking at?

  3. I really appreciate the article Darren. I have been pondering the idea of creating a script for the Mortal Kombat series for a while now, and was wondering what your thoughts might be on trying to develop a graphic novel on pre-existing content? I am enchanted with the iconic characters Mortal Kombat has produced, but I’m left to dwindle in my imagination for an in-depth story line and character development. What is your take on pursuing a creative venture like this and how might one make such dreams come to fruition? Most of my concerns arise when considering the legality aspect of things. My first thought after creating a script and developing a graphic novel on the subject is to pitch the idea to the current owners of Mortal Kombat (Warner Bros). This is a lofty ambition, but if I can find even a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, I would be more then happy to jump into this personal project. I’m thinking I won’t even get a chance to publish something like this due to its “unoriginal nature. Even still, it would bring me tremendous joy to bring my ideas to life with a script and artwork. Thank you.

    1. You’re in the realms of fan fiction there and all you can do is give it away for free. Pitching fan fiction isn’t normally an option unless you have some serious connections, all you can hope for is that you get a good fan following from it and someone in the right place notices your work and talent, it’s not unheard of, but. Also make sure you don’t portray or put any of the unlicensed characters in situations the license holders wouldn’t be happy about. There are many articles online about what you’re proposing, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to have a Google around and find your footing.

  4. uuuuuhhhh, no and no. Comic artists definitely don’t get paid these amounts. Freelancers that are worth these prices can do front to back in few days. DC and Marvel revealed not that long ago just how much they actually make compared to the workload they are under. You guys are waayyy wayyy off. For these prices you are listing the artist needs to be Top Level. Otherwise, half of everything listed is the actual pay.

    1. Hi Roger, I’m sorry for taking so long to approve your comment. I’m afraid the rates are based on what the comic book artists we asked, were actually being paid. They were constantly getting lowball offers, but those were the rates they aimed for and got paid on most occasions. Anything less and they wouldn’t be able sustain a living, let alone support a family. It varied, but not as much as you’d think it would.

  5. Thank you so much for this article. It’s helped me realise that my dream of bringing my characters to life isn’t impossible!

  6. Uhm……Ok, I read your info, thanks. But I have some other questions that nobody on any of the comic/artist forums I’ve been on have answers for (or they just don’t want to answer).

    Are there artists who also write? Or writers who also do the artwork?

    How about people who are willing to, lets say, do the work pro bono? I really don’t have that kind of money to be putting into the graphic novel I want, but I would absolutely be willing to partner with someone worthy and willing to help me get it all done. I’ve got the story in my head, but I’m horrible at writing and don’t have the money for all the artwork supplies needed to do something like this…..although I think I help out, as I do have some artistic blood in me.

    Any feedback or info would be appreciated.

    1. There are lots of illustrator/writers, it’s not actually that uncommon. The problem is they’d probably prefer to work on their own ideas rather than someone else’s, when they have the time unless it’s an established IP. You’re especially not going to find an illustrator/writer who would want to work on another person’s idea pro bono, even if it wasn’t writing and illustrating. I think your best course of action is to learn to write, there are lots of course about and then learn to draw if you don’t want to invest in an illustrator. Alternatively, if you ever want to bring your idea to life, start saving!

  7. Great wealth of information. I’m putting together a comic book to promote my business. Been gathering information/talking to illustrators/creators the last few months and this article has cleared up a few misconceptions I had about the process of building a comic book. Thank you!

  8. Many comic book publishers like Image comics want an artist attached to the work when you submit, and want to approve any changes in artist you make. Is it reasonable to higher an artist on a page by page basis with the understanding that if the book gets picked up by a publisher/distributor that they will join the team full time? My worry is that a freelancer might prefer freelance to being tied to a project, but I have no friends in the comic book industry to partner with. I’m also an unpublished author with no bona-fides or money, but one problem at a time.

    1. Just make sure being part of the team if it’s picked up is part of the contract you have with the freelancer. If you have no money to hire a comic book artists though, that’s probably a non-issue and since you don’t have an artist friend who’s already part of the industry and willing to work with you on spec, you’d best get saving. Or better yet, put your time and effort into getting your writing published and build a reputation as a professional story teller. People either need to want to work with you, because of your experience and credentials or you need to foot the bill and pay for their time and talents. I’m afraid that’s just how it works. Be the best at what you do and people will publish your work and want to work with you. If you already know you’re the best, you can always self-publish. 🙂

      1. Hello! I really enjoy reading your article! I do have a few questions:
        I am in the process of writing a graphic novel that will be a three book series. Would self publishing be a good option? If so, do you know any good websites for self publishing?
        Also does your website have comic book artist who can do the penciling, inking, lettering, and coloring? Thank you and hope to hear soon?

        1. Hi Emily, a lot of them can do the lot, but tend to specialise in one specific aspect or another. Check out our comic book illustrators. Also there are an endless number of ways to self-publish, a Google search will shed some light on the subject, if you’re not just going to sell directly via your own website.

  9. I had an idea for a story that was too short to be a full novel(paperback) so I thought to go the route of Graphic novel, but I had no idea that the cost per page was as high as this. And my story is very visually driven so 24 pages wouldn’t scratch the surface.

    Not sure how to proceed now.

    1. Simple, break it down into a serial comic. You can always publish it as a collection or graphic novel once it’s complete. 24 pages is common and your story will be on 21-22 of those pages. You can always sell a couple pages to advertisers to help fund it, other independent comic creators might be interested in buying the pages to advertise their comics or even their or your own related merchandise.

  10. I like to start a new comic book called the Enchanted Ones. A new cast of superheroes all-black cast that live in New York City and can do amazing things.

  11. Hi Darren, I am getting serious about producing a comic book, and this was a very helpful article. I would like to hire a top notch artist to bring the comic to life, however, I wonder what the actual process of payment would be like. I imagine I would write a check or venmo some cash, but is that it? I’ve never been an employer, and I guess that’s what I would be if I hired an artist. Any words of advice on this aspect of the business?

    Thanks again for the great article.



    1. Hi Jason, you’d pay the artist as you’d pay for any other service. The artist will have payment options, and they’ll try and accommodate you if you’re looking to pay by another method. Some countries might require you or the artist to fill in a tax form or two, but that’s only normal if you’re running a business, rather than an agreement between two individuals. Let me know if you’d like assistance finding an illustrator for the job?

  12. HI Darren, thanks for the response! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, for some reason I was expecting to get an email alert.

    I don’t think there is any reason to put it off any more. I would like to hire an artist. I see you have a form, I’ll fill it out. Thanks!

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