I got hit up today by a freelance cartoonist looking to have his work published and gave him the standard answer: “I’d love to, but we can’t pay you. Sorry.” The apology on my part was sincere, and I dug his work, so I thought having him in the paper would’ve been cool.
A little while later, he sent a note back saying he’d contribute for free. That he cared more about getting his cartoons out than being paid.
This is the ideal position for a creative person, right? Somebody who feels so strongly about their work that they’re willing to give it away just to have the chance to catch the eyes of others? Someone so desperate to share the core of their being with the world that it trumps any and all practical concerns.
For a long time now, this has been trumpeted as integrity’s endgame. The truest and purest of motivations. And I get it. I’ve given my work away for as long as I’ve been working. It’s part of creative life. I know his position. I’ve been in that position, and every now and again, I still am.
Maybe that’s why even more than usual I wanted to email him back and tell him fuck that shit. To never give his work away. That the expectation of others that artists will work for free is a sham and that he should never be so willing to bow to the idea that art doesn’t have value in the real world. That terrible people only made it that way so they could get away with stealing the beautiful expressions of those without the means to support themselves. That even for just a single-panel cartoon, he deserved and was entitled to compensation, if only for making and living up to a weekly commitment, which as someone who presides over an each-Friday deadline let me tell you is rare enough. I wanted to say, “I appreciate your passion but that shit gets you nowhere when it starts taking food out of your mouth.”
That cynicism plus truth equals realism. Grow the fuck up.
Somewhere into the third paragraph of the email I realized I wasn’t talking to him so much as to myself at some imaginary juncture in my life that, if I was ever actually there, I certainly don’t remember it now. I don’t know this kid, his situation. Maybe he’s a CEO’s son and doesn’t need the money. Maybe he won the Powerball and drawing is how he keeps busy. I deleted the draft of the email and told him instead that we’d try it out for a couple weeks and that if he decided after that he didn’t want to work without pay anymore that I’d completely understand and it would be fine. No obligation.
Because again, I get it. We have writers on the contributors list who’ve written for this paper longer than I have who don’t get paid for their work. It’s wrong, and it’s fucked, but the basic fact of the matter is that the society in which we live puts no value on creative effort. Every now and again somebody becomes a superstar and then makes money on that, but most don’t. Most go on giving their art, their music, their writing, their talent away for free or for chicken scratch, until their bitterness eats them from inside and they lose the passion that once seemed so essential to who they determined themselves to be. If nothing falls apart between now and then, we’ll start running this cartoon in the March 5 issue, and I’m glad to have it, both because the samples seemed like a solid fit and because I believe in upholding The Aquarian’s tradition of supporting independent-minded creativity of various forms, but I also hate myself just a little bit for knowing that I’m part of the problem and that by running this cartoon, I’m exploiting the very passion that I claim to want to foster.
And that, my friends, is what it’s like to be in management.