How to hire an illustrator for a graphic novel can be a trickier proposition than it might seem at first sight. On one hand, having a professional graphic novel illustrator do the job can bring about quite rewarding results. On the other hand, as one graphic novel author points out, there are some serious hurdles you need to overcome with such a project.

The first hurdle is time. As he notes, drawing, coloring, and lettering more than 100 pages is to take someone a long time. This is particularly the case if you are going to hire a freelancer for such a job. At the same time, graphic novel illustrators, like most other artists, often have a hard time sticking to a schedule. Strict or loose, no matter.

The other problem could arise from the fact that very often, graphic novel artists work as a team. As Hire An Illustrator notes, if you are putting up a traditional graphic novel team, “you’d have the writer (yourself), a penciler, inker, colorist and a letterer all working on the project.”

Of course, many graphic novel illustrators can do most of these tasks by themselves. But, then they will need more time to do the job, and the actual costs might be higher than those for a team.

But, it is getting that graphic novel published that counts. As the above source points out, “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 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 vitalized and interesting, plus, everyone needs to start somewhere.”

What you need to know before you begin the hiring process

Some of the principles that you apply when hiring an illustrator, in general, are also valid when you want to hire an illustrator for a graphic novel. But, graphic novels, or comic books as some might call them, have their own specifics. To that effect, there are elements to hiring an illustrator for such a project that is specific too.

First of all, you may decide to hire a graphic novel illustrator or a team through a graphic novel publisher. That can solve the problem of getting the job done in the best possible manner, but it may also solve the problem of publishing the graphic novel project when it is ready.

On the other hand, the cost of that process is usually quite higher than the freelancer route. At the same time, most of the publishers would require you to write down all the elements of the project. This includes the preparation of the script of your novel.

Is there a change there if you decide to go the freelance route? As far as the plan and the script are concerned, as Hire An Illustrator (above) notes, not really. This particularly concerns the plan of the project, because you might be working with a number of different freelancers, who may not even live in the same country.

Also good to know is the fact that the graphic novel script is not written or formatted in the same manner as a film or video script.

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 (above). There are plenty of books and online resources on how to write in a comic script format.

Hiring a graphic novel illustrator and working with one (or a team)

When preparing the graphic novel project, you should have in mind that you may be working with more than one person. Also, never forget that the whole process might take some time. As the above source points out, “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.”

What this means that from the beginning to the end you will be in the role of the person managing the project. Graphic novel producer, if you will. As in any such process, “communication is key”.

Here, as Shake The Lake Comic (STLC – above), says, nobody starts out as a perfect manager. You’re either too soft and your team will run amok forever spending all your money, too hard and you’ll lose the respect and enthusiasm of your team (of the highest importance in a creative project), a poor communicator, doomed to confuse and frustrate all around you or you might just be completely in outer space with no idea what you want, how to get it or how to let others help you get it.

Another thing that you will need before you really start is the budget. With graphic novels, as pointed out budgeting can be a tricky proposition. Still, you will need at least some target numbers. This is particularly the case if you decide to go for the freelance option. There, the budgeting plan needs to have stricter guidelines than when going through a publisher.

hire illustrator for graphic novel

Finding, selecting, and ending a relationship with a piratic novel illustrator

Finding graphic novel illustrators, particularly online is not a problem, as far as the number of potential offers is concerned. As mentioned, you can contact a graphic novel publisher or one of the freelance agencies like BunnyStudio. You can also go through comic book/graphic novel forums like Penciljack. There, you may “get recommendations from moderators and community members who can’t point you in the right direction for your specific needs.”

In the latter case, you may be offered a lot of talented freelancers who are just starting out.

But, as STLC (above) correctly points out, “talent without professionalism = headache.” So, if you insist on going the freelance way, going through agencies like BunnyStudio might be the right step. Good agencies have vetting processes for all the skills freelancers offer.

When you post your job offer, it should be worded in simple and straightforward terms. Still, you should provide enough information to grab the interest of quality professionals. “Provide a one-sheet on your project, an example of past work if you have any, some reference images (this is important because artists are specific to their own styles), and the pay rate even if it’s ballpark.” You can expect a negotiation so know the industry-standard rates, depending on where the potential illustrators come from.

When selecting, ask for links to applicant portfolios and references. “It might be a good idea to pay for a few samples or character designs to see how closely the artist can get to your vision.”

Have in mind that you might need an exit plan. When producing a graphic novel, a lot of things can go wrong. You might need to switch illustrators. Deadlines and budget(s) are very often broken, and you need to be prepared for such a possibility.

What are the costs of any given graphic novel project?

The key element in any graphic novel budget is the payments to artists/illustrators. That is why when hiring a graphic novel illustrator it is important to have all the possible financial elements in mind.

For the payments, Hire An Illustrator (above) suggests that your financial proposal might be in the form of a page rate including a buy-out fee. It can also provide for “an advance with royalties being paid additionally later on.”

Professional comic book illustrators will expect to be paid with more than assurances for their craft. “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 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 (above).

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.

“Other things to consider will be whether the comic is black and white or color, 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.”

How to hire an illustrator for a graphic novel – additional remarks

So what should be your financial calculation when you want to hire an illustrator for a graphic novel?

According toHire An Illustrator, 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 color, black and white might be within your budget, and if the artist offers it, a payment plan could be your way forward.

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 penciling stage, but then only 2-3 after the pencil artwork is complete. Any artwork that is ready and the client approves it at any stage will be considered final.

As is probably evident from the information above, hiring an illustrator for a graphic novel is not an easy task. Still, if the results are good, the whole process can turn out to be quite rewarding.