Sunday Mailbag

July 27th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: How do you handle artists that you hire/train or added to a multi-caricature artist private/corporate gig that try to steal your clients as they work for you? It’s an ugly part of the party caricature business.

A: One thing I have never done in the “caricature business” is to be an agent for other artists, booking them to do events or “gigs” and then paying them a percentage of the fees collected. I have always preferred the retail approach to caricatures, where I have set locations and times and let my customers come to me rather than the other way around. Still, I have done my fair share of party work (years ago, I don’t personally do parties anymore except under special circumstances) and have worked with and know several caricature artist agents, so I am familiar with the issue you are addressing. There are similar issues involved with using a rep when doing freelance illustration and even within the retail caricature business.

For those who might not understand this problem, it is an ethical issue involving the artists an agent sends to draw for one of their clients for a given event. An unscrupulous artist drawing at this event might approach the client directly at the party and hand them their business card in an attempt to get the client to call them directly next time and cut out the agent… the artist will charge the client less than the agent does but make more because there is no agent percentage involved.

Obviously this is ethically wrong. The agent got the artist this gig, and the client is their client. Further work from that client or stemming from anyone attending the event should go through the agent. As an agent I would provide my artists with agency business cards, complete with a place for the artist to write their name if an interested party at the event wants to inquire about caricatures for some other function, and forbid any personal business cards from being brought to the gig. I would also educate my clients beforehand that the artists working their event represent my agency, and any future events in which they want to utilize the services of any of the artists at their event should be booked through my agency. In the event I find out one of my artists are trying promote their own agendas at one of my events, I would simply never use that artist again. Agents spend time, money and effort marketing to find these clients… that is what their percentage is buying for the artists who work the gigs for them. Some artists don’t understand this. They apparently think clients fall out of the sky and perpetually believe that agents are like pimps taking advantage of their god-given talents. Let the unethical artist spend their own money, take their own time and expend their own energy to market themselves in the future… most will figure out the agents earn their money. Ethics sometimes come into play the other way around as well. I have worked gigs where the client approaches me and asks if they can call me directly next time, attempting to get a cheaper rate. I always refer them to the agency.

In the freelance world their is a similar ethical issue when doing jobs for reps. A rep is an agent for freelance artists, and if a job comes in from a rep then any subsequent jobs from that same client should go through the same rep. I don’t do many rep jobs but I do have two clients that originated through a rep, and these guys often call me directly for new projects. I always refer them back to the rep, which is only fair.

Ethics come into play in any area of life or business. It isn’t very hard to figure out what is right and what is wrong… it’s usually obvious. Go about life doing the right thing in such cases, and I believe you will ultimately be rewarded if in no other way than with a clear conscience. Karma is real… it’s even in the Bible: “Do unto others as you would have other do unto you.”

Thanks to Mr. Happy Go Lucky for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Frosted Donut says:

    I’ve faced this same issue with freelance Technical Writing, both as the contractor and the contractee.

    Aside from all the ethical issues you raise and address nicely, I’ve found one additional compelling reason: it’s a small world.

    If you cut somebody out of a contract (by going to work directly for the client), it will eventually get out. Other people won’t give you contracts (you’ll steal their clients). Clients won’t give you work (would you hire somebody who’d do something that unethical?). You get a reputation, and not a good one.

    This never happened to me–I’m always adamant about “Sorry, but you need to contact the agent directly”–but I’ve seen it happen to other people. And for years afterward, the reputation lingers.

  2. Tom says:

    That is very true. The freelance world isn’t as big as one might think. Reputations do proceed you, be they ones concerning your work, ability to make deadlines, ability to take art direction, etc. Solid professionalism and ethical responsibility beget the kind of reputation that helps get a freelancer jobs.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: