Sunday Mailbag

December 28th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: While in school at Syracuse I heard (maybe from Nick Meglin) that the artists of MAD were not paid that well. Essentially they traded exposure in MAD to secure freelance work from other sources. Can you tell me if that was true and if it is still true? If not is payment in accordance with the Graphics Artist Guild standards. Also there is the usual gang of idiots but does Mad negotiate on a separate basis for say a “visiting artist” i.e.. CF Payne?

A: This is a bit of a delicate subject, because I am not sure if it is proper to discuss MAD‘s pay scale for freelance work publicly. I don’t have a copy of The Artist’s Market, which is a book that publishes the rates individual magazines pay for freelance illustration, writing, cartoons, etc., so I don’t know if MAD reveals those numbers or not. However I think I can answer your question without going into specific figures.

The answer is: It depends on what you consider “being paid well” means, and what category you try and place MAD work in. MAD is unique. It’s both a magazine and a comic book, but it’s also completely neither. Therefore it’s hard to pin down what kind of pay you can call “standard” for work in MAD.

Compared to regular comic book work, where you get paid anywhere from $75 to $200 per page for pencils, $60 to $100 per page for inks and $60 to $100 per page for coloring (or higher for any of those tasks if you are a big time artist working on a big time book), MAD pays quite a bit higher. MAD artists of course routinely do pencils, inks and color all themselves, so you need to compare the combined rates of all three comic book artists involved to the single MAD page rate. Even then I can safely say MAD‘s rates are much better. Some comic book artists get royalties on their books but that is both rare and rarely adds up to any actual extra income (it’s my understanding that the number of issues needed to be sold for royalties to kick in is generally so high that it is seldom if ever reached). So, compared to regular comics MAD actually pays very well.

However compared to other magazine illustration and especially advertising, MAD generally does not pay the same level of rates. This is especially true if you consider the time involved. As I have said before, freelance illustrators are not charging for the time it takes to do an illustration, but rather for the rights to reproduce the images. Still, it is hard to divorce yourself entirely of the consideration of the time involved in creating an illustration versus the amount you are paid for the reproduction rights. MAD work is extremely involved and time consuming, especially when you consider the research and homework you need to do in order to do something like a movie or TV parody well. All work for MAD is also work for hire, so you have no rights to the artwork after it’s done. Essentially you are therefore supposed to be compensated for full rights, which in general is 200% of your usual asking price for magazine work and much more for advertising. When you think about it in those terms, an argument can be made that MAD‘s pay rate is not so good.

There are other considerations, however. First, MAD pays upon submission, NOT publication, so you don’t have to wait for a check. In fact, MAD is by far the fastest paying client I have ever worked for. They aren’t quite as fast as the old days, when an artist would deliver their work directly to Bill Gaines at the MAD offices, and receive a check on the spot while Bill guffawed at the pages in hand. Its pretty close to that, however. I usually have a check in my mailbox within a few days of my delivering the art… never more that a week. They take care of their freelancers.

Second, what you heard from Nick (or whomever) about “exposure” in MAD is also quite true. I have gotten many jobs because of my work in MAD. That is most definitely a tangible benefit to working for the magazine. However there is also a kind of stigma about working for MAD… many more “upscale” magazines specifically avoid what they call “MAD Magazine caricature” in their publications. Since TV Guide stopped using Jack Davis and Bruce Stark style caricature illustrations you do not see many MAD flavored caricatures in major entertainment publications. Still many more like the look and as I said jobs do materialize because my involvement with MAD.

As to your alluding to being paid “in accordance with the Graphics Artist Guild standards”, I can tell you that almost nobody is paid according to those standards. The Graphic Artist Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook is so optimistic in it’s estimates of pay for various jobs that only the very top people in their respective fields can expect to get those rates. I use the Handbook for guidelines on copyrights and typical rights agreements and to get an idea of what would be considered the highest rates for a given job. In that respect it’s useful.

Finally, I do not believe that there is a different pay scale for the regular “Usual Gang of Idiots” and a “guest artist”, but I do not know for certain as I am not privy to the rates of other MAD artists… only my own rate. I would be shocked if I found out that long time artists like Mort Drucker still got the same page rate the rest of us get, but again I have no idea.

Given all the different considerations I feel MAD‘s page rates to be quite fair and their payment practices to be outstanding. I can say with certainty that I have never worked harder on any jobs than the one’s I have done for MAD, and they have never given me cause to lament that hard work nor made me feel inadequately compensated.

Thanks to Michael Garisek 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. Michael Garisek says:

    Very illuminating
    Thanks Tom


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

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