Mark Waid, one of the most passionate, opinionated (in a good way), and talented comic book writers penned an amazing and inspiring “Open Letter to Freelancers” on the blog for his digital comics publishing site Thrillbent and despite it being written primarily to writers, its message should be useful to any freelance artist, designer, or creative.
Waid has been in the comics business for nearly 30 years and is the brain behind such classics as Kingdom Come, Superman: Birthright (the basis for this summer’s Man of Steel), Irredeemable/Incorruptible, Daredevil, and so much more. Waid has become a buddha-like figure in the comics biz for being a vocal supporter of creators’ rights, a symbol of independence, and a cheerleader for self-publishing.
In recent months, the comics industry has been plagued with story after story of editorial abuse, unethical treatment, and/or uncompromising demands resulting in artists and writers noisily walking off/being fired from books. But Waid says, there’s no reason to put up with mistreatment.
“There are some really good reasons to do work-for-hire. It’s a valuable way to build a reputation. It’s probably not wise to devote 100% of your time to it, but only you know what your priorities and appetites are, and no one else has a right to judge them. And, yes, every job has its drawbacks and moments where it’s better to be flexible than absolute. I truly, truly understand having to take work you don’t love, or work with folks you don’t love, in order to make the rent. And early on, there are things I put up with that I now regret, and there are opportunities I lost because I pushed back, and there are still things I do sometimes to be a get-along guy that aren’t always in my best interests. Everyone’s threshold is unique, and sometimes you let someone take undue advantage because the cupboards are bare or because you’re dealing with a friend who’ll get yelled at if you don’t toe the line. I get that. Circumstances are circumstances. But if you never listen to another word I say, and I talk a lot, please know this: the only one watching out for your future is you.”
Waid acknowledges that life for a freelancer ain’t easy — particularly in this economy — but makes a very strong case for staying strong, compromising only when it feels right (and doesn’t violate your morals), and always striving for quality.
“Be professional. Be a problem-solver. Be willing to compromise in the face of a solid argument. Be willing to lose sometimes because you’ll learn more that way than you will by always winning. Ultimately, if a client is paying you for your services, he or she has every right to set the specifications, just as you have a right to your integrity. But when people jealous of how you make a living try to rag you with that old truism that every company employee has to eat shit now and then, remind them that you are not an employee. You’re a contractor. You do not receive health benefits, sick days, pensions, vacation time, or any of the other considerations traditional employees receive. Your clients have zero ethical or moral ground to lie to you, to denigrate you, to cheat you, to demand more from you than they’re paying for, to unapologetically walk back on promises or treat you maliciously, or to exploit your need to put food on the table. The good ones won’t. Never trust the bad ones.”
And here’s the really good stuff. Read it. Digest it. Read it again. And then read it again. Because the man speaks the truth.
"Stand up for your work, and whenever push comes to shove (as it will), never let anything get in the way of you doing your very best, every time. In the long run, the quality of your work is all that matters. That is your only resumé."