“Hell of a way to make a living but a great storytelling medium” – new comics survey reveals

Comic creator at work painting (with ink) a comic character
Image credit: MGL Media

The community still loves comics despite tough times for their creators, new research initiated by Lancaster University-funded Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, reveals.

The first UK Comics Creators Survey exposes the low levels of income and the impact the Coronavirus Pandemic has had on creators, many suddenly finding themselves without work and seeking other income sources, some even leaving the industry altogether.

Hannah Berry hopes the results of the first survey of its kind will bring a stronger sense of identity to the British comics community, shed more light on those working within it (who they are, how they are faring and the obstacles they are facing) and what they need to be able to continue making comics.

“If there’s one thing this survey has shown unequivocally it’s how much the community loved comics but wishes things were better,” says Hannah. “This report is the most accurate snapshot of the UK comics scene to date and, with it, we can finally start a discussion about the steps we need to take to support ourselves, each other, and our fledgling industry.”

The survey, launched in April, was built by the Audience Agency and financed by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the British Council and the University of Dundee.

More than 600 creators from all walks of life – both full-time and part-time comic creators – responded to the survey, which was open to all UK-based makers (aged 16 plus) of publicly accessible comics or cartoons.

The majority of respondents were aged under 40, suggesting that interest in being part of the comics industry in the UK, once dominated by weekly comics for both girls and boys, remains strong.

However, the ways to make a living as a comic creator have changed dramatically since that was the case in the 1990s, moving toward independent publishing, graphic novels and crowdfunded projects, despite the continued publication of Beano, 2000AD and a few other ‘traditional format’ titles launched since, such as The Phoenix, for the news stand.

Responses indicate that among the many responders, the average overall income from sources directly or indirectly related to comics production in 2018/19, was just £10,299 – and 66% of respondents made less than £5,000 from their comics production in 2018/19.

The survey also revealed 87% of creators rely on income from at least one other source outside of comics, and, of those who said comics was their primary occupation, only 62% said it was their main source of income.

Just 10% of responders earned between £20,000 and £50,000, and 5% made over £50,000.

However, enthusiasm for ‘The Ninth Art’ remains undiminished in most, despite the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the economy as well as health.

“It’s a hell of a way to make a living,” one respondent noted, “but a great storytelling medium.”

Hannah plans to hold an open Q&A with the Audience Agency to discuss the implications of the findings and answer any questions or listen to any feedback.

Hannah’s work as Comics Laureate is supported and co-ordinated by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Lancaster University.

The Comics Laureate champions the role of comics in improving literacy in schools, libraries and education. Hannah Berry, who took over the role from Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, is an award-winning graphic novelist, comics creator, writer and illustrator.

• You can download and read the UK Comics Creators Survey from Hannah Berry’s official web site at hannahberry.co.uk/survey

• Find out more about the work of the Comics Laureate, a post supported by Lancaster University, here on the Lakes International Comic Art Festival web site

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