First off, some history: last May, the Kickstarter for Sullivan’s Sluggers launched with a goal of $6,000. An OGN by Mark Andrew Smith — who I only really knew from Amazing Joy Buzzards with Dan Hipp and the two or so issues of Gladstone’s School For World Conquerors I read collected before I got bored and put it in my “to sell on ebay” pile — and James Stokoe, whose Orc Stain was one of my favorite books of the last few years? Yeah, okay. I backed it quickly (maybe the first day?) at the $30 mark cuz I wanted Stokoe’s art in an oversized hardcover. I should have noted that Stokoe — who I follow via RSS, Twitter, Tumblr, standing outside of his apartment every night while he works inside, etc. — was relatively silent when the project launched. That was a red flag.
A month later, the project closed, having made over $97,000 dollars totaled. Think about that for a second. Close to $100,000. The hardcover that was promoted as a gift for backing at the $30 level was upgraded to a slipcased hardcover, which, when coupled with the fact that production was moved to China (cuz those guys will print for cheeeap!), pushed the delivery date back from the anticipated September date to … like a week ago? Okay. Whatever. In the interim, I got what seemed like one bazillion project updates and heard tales about how Stokoe basically hated the book for a number of reasons. But it sold. I bought it. Whatever.
Fast-forward. Early December I got an e-mail from Mister Smith that says, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Hey. I have a new book that sounds a lot like a sequel to Sullivan’s Sluggers — you know, that book that made like $100K on Kickstarter — but has a different artist and is soccer instead of baseball and I also have a very specific idea of what I want for this logo* and somebody on Tumblr said to talk to you. (I’m gonna stop paraphrasing here) Do you think this is something you could take a crack at with some sketches or mockup?”
Whoa whoa whoa. Slow your roll, son. You want me to do basically design a logo for you and hope that you’ll pay me for it? Yeah, no. That sounds a lot like spec work. Which is a no-no. Here’s the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ (AIGA, the professional organization for design) statement on spec work. Design contests, design “auditions”, etc. all get my blood boiling cuz it takes what I do for a living and turns it into a game. You wouldn’t ask a bunch of plumbers to each do the plumbing in a room of your house and then pay the one who you think did the best job, right? No, you’d lay out the job parameters, get estimates and then give the job to the one you thought was gonna do the best job for the best price. BUT it is the sequel to a very successful book and maybe this guy just doesn’t know any better? I mean, it could get me some “exposure” (Remind me: can you buy groceries with “exposure”? I don’t keep up on the economy so maybe I missed it and it has become legal tender now?) and the guy did just make a lot of money off Sullivan’s, so maybe I can just do it this once? He’ll pay me, right?
I asked a writer friend or two if this smelled weird to them, with one of them saying, basically, “Oh, this is for Mark Andrew Smith? RUN AWAY. DO NOT WORK WITH HIM. He tries to weasel free work out of people all of the time.” Oh. So yeah, the dude knows better; he’s just fishing. Ugh.
So I sent him back an e-mail saying, “Thanks for contacting me. Here’s my portfolio site. If you think I’d be a good fit, I can work up an estimate on what a logo design would cost you and I’m really confident that I can get you what you want. Yaddayadda.”
I never got a response.
Than I see this little bit of weaselry and I find out he’s hit other people up for free coloring work and free editing work and then remember that Stokoe has all but asked for his name to be taken off the thing and I’m feeling like I dodged a bullet. Like I said, I wasn’t gonna say anything about this, cuz as a guy who likes doing freelance design work for comics and pop culture, I feel like I can use all the friends I can get, but this is just not cool. This is literally exploitative.
I’ve done cheap work and even free work, but those are for people I either like a great deal or am related to or who I know can’t afford what I would normally charge AND have a project that I believe in. This is okay. Sometimes you have to work for free. But if you can afford me and still want to try and Tom Sawyer me into painting your fence for you? Nah. No thanks. I’m good.
*A guest speaker in college once dropped this bit of knowledge on our class: “Graphic design is problem-solving. If you give me a problem, I can come up with a solution. If you give me a solution, we’re gonna have a problem.” This little aphorism has served me well through my career.