John Romita sits on exalted perch in the comic book industry today as an elder and beloved statesman. The artist drew Amazing Spider-Man for broad swaths of the 1960s and ’70s, and as Marvel Comics’ art director for many years, his style and demeanor set the tone for an entire company. But we all have to start somewhere…
“I got my first check from Steve Douglas of Famous Funnies in 1949,” the artist tells Newsarama. “It was $270 for a 12-page romance pencil job. It was never used; it was pretty bad, but he helped young artists all the time.”
Romita’s stock grew down the line. That spiked romance story (wonder where it is today?) led to romance work at DC Comics, and soon Marvel Editor-In-Chief Stan Lee nabbed the artist. The rest, as we say, is history.
Back in 1949, Romita’s $22.50 rate per page was a nice, healthy rate. By today’s standards (all figures courtesy the Bureau of Labor Statistics), it translates to $225.30—still a good rate.
Want to see how rates have changed through time? Here’s a sampling:
The Mask and JLA artist got his start with Dark Horse Comics.
“I got $50 for pencils and $40 for inks from Dark Horse to draw "Homicide," which appeared in Dark Horse Presents circa 1989," said Mahnke. "I had to draw a bar scene, cars, regular guys in suits. I had no idea how to draw this stuff. It was eight to 10 pages without a superhero in sight. It took me about two days to draw the one panel with the establishing shot of the bar interior. Today, I could probably draw the entire thing in two days.”
IN 2015 MONEY: Mahnke’s $90 a page is $172.97 per page, and his time investment is considerably shorter!
“The Man Who Killed Superman” got his pro start in 1982, penciling Warlord #63 for DC Comics at $40 a page.
IN 2015 MONEY: That $40 is $98.78.
The Nocturnals creator launched his career penciling a back up story for an Eclipse Comics's The Merchants of Death #1 for $50 per page.
“Drew most of it on my grandmother's kitchen table one summer in 1988,” Brereton says.
IN 2015 MONEY: Brereton would be making $100.73 per page on granny’s kitchen table.
The long-running current Amazing Spider-Man writer got $30 a page for a Mighty Mouse Marvel story in 1990.
“A few months later I got bumped up to $40 a page, which, I believe, was the minimum rate for a writer who was also on staff,” Slott says. But Slott also had a trick up his sleeve.
“Back then I did a lot of letters pages—reading the fan mail, picking my favorite ones, answering ’em, and typing it all up. I did that for three or four books, because at 50 bucks a letter column, it paid more."
IN 2015 MONEY: Slott’s Mighty Mouse would have got him $54.70 per page, and those letters columns? $91.17 per page.
The prolific writer who succeeded Stan Lee as Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief started with two short stories for Charlton Comics in 1965 at $4 per page. He also penned a never-published Jimmy Olsen story for DC in the same year at $10 a page.
IN 2015 MONEY: Roy’s Charlton rate would have been $30.26. At DC, he got a princely bump to $75.66.
The man who has colored everything from Scooby-Doo to Hellblazer (some range there, huh?) got his first pro gig in 1981 coloring a reprint for a Supergirl story at $6 a page.
“At the time, DC was publishing the reduced size digest format for reprints, like Archie Comics continues to do to this day,” Ziuko says. “It was a great place to break in new colorists to the industry, since you were basically doing ‘copy-coloring,’ following coloring that was already published and attempting to simplify it for the smaller format. The DC page rate for coloring across the board at the time was $6, but within the year, DC would raise their rates.”
IN 2015 MONEY: Hoo, boy! Colorists were cheap! That $6 then would be only $15.73 today!
Bob got his start as a “Crusty Bunker,” one of the many, many, many uncredited assistants working at Neal Adams and Dick Giordano’s Continuity Associates. His first gig was inking backgrounds on Dr. Strange #4 in 1974. He was paid $25. Not $25 per page, but for the whole job.
IN 2015 MONEY: Bob’s $25 gig would be $120.85 today.
Poor ol’ Frank Quitely started at what it likely the lowest of low rates. “When I started working on Electric Soup 27 years ago, I wrote, penciled, inked, lettered and half-toned five pages per issue for a curry, which almost invariably gave me diarrhea,” he says.
IN 2015 MONEY: Alas, diarrhea is still diarrhea.
And, here’s a bizarre-oid look at an “alternate” take on rates. Circa 1988-89, NOW Comics, publishers of Speed Racer, Ghostbusters, Ralph Snart Adventures and more got the notion to tie rates directly to sales. As NOW landed the licenses for The Terminator, Green Hornet, and Twilight Zone, publisher Tony Caputo was confident his books would start selling 100,000+ copies. Under this scale, a writer’s rate on a 15,000 seller would be $15 a page, and rise to $60 per page if the book sold 100,000 copies or more.
These rates were never implemented, and on low-selling books, the actual NOW rates were closer to $15 a page for inks, $5 for colors, and $2.50 for letters.
IN 2015 MONEY: Caputo’s dream would have paid that 1988 writer $30.22 to $120.87, depending on sales.