UK Comics Creator Survey findings released, reveals positive creators but low incomes for many

UK Comics Creator Survey | Image © MGL Media
Image © MGL Media

The results of the UK Comics Creators Survey initiated by Comics Laureate and comic creator Hannah Berry have just been published. While many findings were positive, it has exposed 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, perhaps leaving the industry altogether.

Launched earlier this year as a research project into everyone making comics in Britain today, the UK Comics Creators Survey aimed to “snapshot” the industry – and use the results to help support it.

The survey, which offers a rare and fascinating snapshot of comic creators and creation in the UK, was built by the Audience Agency and financed using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the British Council and the University of Dundee.

UK Comics Creators Survey - Love the Comics Medium

Over 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 of comics or cartoons for public consumption aged 16 or over.

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.

UK Comics Creators Survey -  Comics Production Does Not Pay
UK Comics Creators Survey -  Regular Sources of Income

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.

The income levels appear to tally with findings in the CREATe study of UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts based on a large scale survey of 50,000 authors conducted in 2018, which revealed that among the UK’s authors, typical annual earnings were less than £10,500. This equated to a fall of 42% in real terms income for professional authors since the first such surveys was conducted by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society in 2006.

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 respondents noted, “but a great storytelling medium.”

UK Comics Creators Survey -  Intellectual Rights

Hannah is planning a follow-up Q&A with the Audience Agency who can discuss the implications of the findings and answer any questions or listen to any feedback, and this will be open to anyone who wants to join in. This is likely to take place virtually at end of August or beginning of September. Sign up to Hannah Berry’s mailing list for full details.

British Comics Industry “Unique”, says Comics Laureate Hannah Berry

Hannah Berry. Photo Claire McNamee
Hannah Berry. Photo Claire McNamee

“The ecosystem here in the UK is unique,” notes Hannah Berry in her foreword to the report on the UK comic industry, a description, she argues, that could today be best described as “nebulous” and “more of a collective endeavour, willed into being by the enthusiasm of its participants.”

“We don’t have the production and retail infrastructures of the US,” she observes. “We don’t have the social and cultural acceptance of France; we don’t have the nation-wide readership of Japan.

“What we do have is a flourishing scene that has regrown of its own accord in the last couple of decades, following almost no conventions and with very little precedent, shaping itself around its own interests and blazing its own artistic trail. The sense of community and belonging that has grown from this – as you’ll see in this report – is a dizzying, Disney level of heart-warming.

“The downside of the blazed trail, unfortunately, is that this glorious medium seems forever on the brink of being taken seriously while never quite making it. Always the bridesmaid, never the celebrated art form.

“Despite its growing audience and increased sales figures, the scrappy, rough-and-ready frontier of comics is not a reliable source of income,” Hannah continues. “There is barely enough of an industry for more than a handful of creators to sustain a career in comics alone.

“Much as we love comics, having an actual career in it is like pulling teeth. Specifically, it’s like pulling teeth and then standing behind a tooth convention table, smiling gummily at passing tooth fairies in the hope they’ll give you money for them.”

UK Comics Creators Survey -  We Need to Develop New Audiences

Like many respondents, Hannah remains committed to the comics form, arguing it is, “hands down the most exciting and accessible storytelling medium.”

Her hope is that the results of the first UK Comics Creators Survey bring a stronger sense of identity to the British comics community, learn more about those working within it: who they are, how they’re doing, what obstacles they’re 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.”

Professor Chris Murray
Professor Chris Murray

“It is fantastic to have this data,” notes Professor Chris Murray of the Univeristy of Dundee, who is also Director of the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies. “What it tells us is that the comics industry in the UK is full of enthusiastic creators who put a huge amount of labour and love into creating comics, but struggle to make a living from this work.

“The costs to creators in terms of their well-being can also be high, and the Covid-19 has certainly exacerbated those pressures. But what the report also points to is an opportunity to identify and respond to these pressures and the possibility of creating a network of communication and collaboration across the industry, allowing creators to share experiences and learn from one another in the spirit of creating a more collegial, diverse and sustainable industry for all.

“This survey is a very important step towards that. I am hugely grateful to Hannah Berry for leading on this, and to everyone who participated.”

Hannah Berry’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.

The findings from the survey, made freely available online, complement other research such as the Fair Pay for Artists Project instigated by Thought Bubble Festival, which was also funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

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

Join Hannah Berry’s mailing list to keep in the loop on the UK Comics Creators Survey and other follow-up events

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

UK Comics Creator Survey 2020

UK COMICS CREATORS SURVEY – IN SUMMARY

Who took part in the research?

• Participation was open to all UK-based makers of comics or cartoons for public consumption aged 16 or over
• The survey was live between April 18th and May 19th, 2020 and generated a sample of 623 respondents
• A higher proportion of respondents (60%) identified as male compared to the 2011 UK population census profile (49%)
• The respondent profile is younger (68% under 44) than that found in the 2011 UK population base (47% under 44)
• The results indicate that comic creators are less likely to identify as heterosexual (69%) compared to the ONS 2018 UK population baseline (95%)
• A slightly lower proportion of respondents identified as being from a Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic background (10%) compared to the 2011 UK population base (13%)
• A slightly higher proportion of respondents identified as being D/deaf or disabled (21%) than is found in the 2011 UK population base (18%)
• Respondents largely self-identified as either Middle class (50%) or Working class (31%)

How do they feel about comics and the comics industry?

• The respondents expressed an overwhelming love for comics, but high levels of frustration regarding the comics industry

“Love comics the medium, love comics the community, not as fond of comics the industry”

What sort of work are they producing, and who for?

• Most respondents are involved in Writing (85%) and Art (79%)
• The most common formats are One-shot/Single issue comics (56%) and Graphic Novels (52%)
• Science Fiction was the most prominent genre
• 67% of respondents said their work regularly features socio-political topics and/or traditionally underrepresented people or groups
• 90% of respondents said that their work is primarily aimed at an adult audience

Do they make a living from creating comics?

• The average overall income from sources directly or indirectly related to comics production in 2018/19, was £10,299
• 66% of respondents made less than £5,000 from their comics production in 2018/19
• 10% earned between £20,000 and £50,000, and 5% made over £50,000
• The average total income in 2018/19, from any source, was £24,223

What challenges do they face?

• ‘Lack of financial income, or expectation of it in future’ and ‘Lack of time to create’ are the main challenges respondents face in their comic production life

What support do they need and what changes would they like to see?

• ‘Effective Selling’, ‘Pricing for your work’, and ‘Legal rights in creative industries’ were identified as the areas where respondents would find training and development most useful
• Respondents most frequently identified greater financial security, more time to produce, and better regulation and transparency within the comics industry as the things they would like to change in their comics production life

How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on comic creators?

• The key areas where the pandemic has affected comics creators are the time spent on production, increased
financial insecurity, and negative mental health impacts.

“Every problem has become magnified…”

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

Join Hannah Berry’s mailing list to keep in the loop on the UK Comics Creators Survey and other follow-up events

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

UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts 2018: A Survey of 50,000 Writers

In 2019, CREATe released a study of UK Authors’ Earnings and Contracts based on a large scale survey of 50,000 authors conducted in 2018. The survey was funded as independent research by the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), and is a re-run of a survey first conducted in 2006 (also led by Kretschmer), and repeated in 2014 (by Gibson, Johnson & Dimita out of Queen Mary, University of London). This series of surveys offers one of the first opportunities to assess robustly the effects of digital changes on the labour market and working conditions of a specific professional sector. A related news item is here on the ALCS web site

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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8 replies

  1. A very interesting set of results highlighting the issues creators face in the UK. Even before Corona the “comic arts” were struggling, now even more so.
    How, moving forwards can we ensure that creators are protected?

    • I’d suggest it’s not just about protection as promotion, and raising our game in terms of getting the word out there about the work of an amazing community, be it work that is independently produced through various means; work professionally published, be that in the remaining weekly comics, in graphic novels or one shots; and supporting the push for more opportunities for everyone to learn the comic form, by letting people know about the work of places like the University of Dundee (among others). We’re trailing behind other European countries when it comes to “comic courses”. Oh, and finally, I’d welcome more placers where our comics heritage is honoured, which is why I’ve been so active supporting the survival of the Cartoon Museum.

  2. An important survey for sure but I’m confused in one respect. The term ‘industry’ is used in relation to comics because an industrial mode of production is used to create comic fare: stories about characters owned by a production house are realized by a fordian system of production for reasons of speed and efficiency. most people involved in the survey would seem to want to move towards a vibrant comics culture in which they owned their work and commerce functioned to ensure them a living. In other words that would like a comics and graphic novel culture like the publishing and selling of the novel in all its forms. In which case the division of labour is an unnecessary complication. I would suggest, and I’m speaking for myself, that actually writer/ artist dichotomy is false and comics were invented by a single mind, are advanced that way and are at their very best when they are the product of one individual who has practiced enough to think comics narrative from sketch to published page. It was not at all clear how many people really are ‘comickers’ who have worked hard to improve their storytelling or illustrative skills.

  3. Excellent data and analysis. I appreciate this very much. Thanks!

  4. Hi – copied and pasted from another discusssion about the survey over on Facebook:

    I’ve been thinking about this all some more overnight…. in particular the headline re comic creators not being able to make a living wage.

    I saw a tweet last night (can’t remember who it was, sorry) discussing the survey findings, and saying that the problem was “greedy publishers keeping all the money for themselves”…. but surely the issue isn’t an unequal distribution of the profits, but that there barely ARE any profits.

    There is a small, finite (and shrinking) audience who are prepared to spend real cash money on comics for grown ups in this country (there are more positive green shoots in the kids’ market). And there are a lot of comics for that small audience to potentially buy.

    Fine art has a similar fairly small audience who are prepared to spend money, but they make up for that by charging some of that small audience a king’s ransom. If you are selling paintings for £20k a pop, which some artists I know personally are, you don’t have to sell many of them before you’ve made yourself a liveable salary. But you can’t exactly charge £20k for a (new) comic even if you happen to have a really rich number one fan. (Hence a lot of comic artists spending more time drawing comissions nowadays than drawing comics, because you can charge more for the comissions, but that’s a whole other tangent).

    So, economically, if there isn’t enough revenue coming from comic buyers to give all our creators a living wage, given the low unit price of the product and low volume of said product being sold, what are our options?

    1) grow the audience of people who want to read the comics AND pay for them. (Same supply, increased demand)

    2) reduce the number of active creators and comics produced, so that the small amount of available revenue isn’t getting divvied up between so many people. Each surviving creator benefits from an increased share of wallet. (Same demand, decreased supply)

    Or 3) prop up the inherently unprofitable industry with grant funding for the benefit of the arts (subsidy)

    I think they are the only options?

    Option 1 is clearly the “best” solution for the industry. But I don’t see this point addressed too thoroughly in the survey. How to drive up sales to give the industry a boost so that creators CAN earn enough to survive.

    Perhaps the answer is to use the public funding for general “comics are great!!!!” sales/marketing efforts – and other projects to create new or reinvigorate old markets – to benefit the medium as a whole….. rather than to subsidise a small number of individual creators’ salaries, while the rest starve, or give up.

    Just a musing…..

  5. The missing link in building sustainable careers in comics is simple, if we cannot grow a larger audience and avhieve higher sales any other change will amount to moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Payment to writers and artists alike are not linked to talent or effort, they are linked to the ability to drive revenue.

    Without sales there can be no sustainable industry. I would regard that as the biggest issue the industry has to face.

    If there are to be a follow-up surveys, I’d like to see them looking at a couple of different areas that I think would add to what we have here give a fuller picture of the state of the comics industry.

    Firstly we need to understand why sales are low, why more people do not buy and read comics.. What does the general population think of our medium and why is that so many people in the UK would never dream of reading a comic. We need to understand, across a broad range of age-groups, why (or if) there is the negative or ambivalent attitude towards the medium.

    The general public in the english speaking world seem to regard comics as those weird things that geeks and nerds read and collect. They are generally regarded as trash, with no artistic value. News items on TV or in the papers often amiount to “look at the funny people who like those weird comic thing”. I’m not sure that is true in other countries. So a comparison to attitudes in other european or asian countries would be fascinating.

    If attitudes are different, why? That would tell us what, if anything we can do, to move things forward. I’m sure many of us have ideas already.

    Secondly, many of the issues for individual creators centre around the actions of publishers, including access to their publications. A survey of those publishers, large or small, would be fascinating. Its important to understand the reasons why they tend to play safe or pay low rates.

    Do they stick with a small number of creators because to open it up further would reduce the income of the people working for them now to the extent that their income would become unviable?

    How many publishers are subsidising production and actually paying more than can be afforded because they love the medium? Things could even be worse that they appear from the results of the survey.

    As with all good research this report results in more questions than answers. Its a fascinating read and a great start in understanding the problems with the industry in the UK.

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