From the Freelance Files

April 17th, 2009 | Posted in General


I was clearing out the old tear sheet files and came across this old job from 1992 that represents some interesting points about the dos and don’ts of freelance illustration. This was the first job I remember getting directly from my sourcebook ad in the “Directory of Illustration”. I almost turning it down because I was not sure ethically if I should do it, considering the circumstances.

The client was a company called “Business and Legal Reports”, and as the name suggests they usually designed and printed business and legal reports. They had started what would be a series of comic book-like educational booklets meant to be sold to schools with anti-drugs, anti-smoking, etc. subjects.


The ethical dilemma was that I was not asked to create this comic from scratch. What I was being asked to do was finish a partially pencilled and laid out comic already worked on by a previous illustrator… IN HIS STYLE. This I was not too keen on, and I tried to convince the client to let me re-draw the several already completed pencilled pages in my own way, then continue to draw the other pages in my own style.

This they balked at, partly because the timeframe we had was extremely tight. The reason I was being asked to do this is that the other illustrator had apparently dropped the ball rather badly and put them so far behind that this was a bit of an emergency job. I don’t know the name of the illustrator nor the specifics of what happened, but the client seemed very put off by the artist’s performance. I got the feeling that stages of the job were completed much later than promised, and eventually the deadline was upon them and both parties agreed to move on with other plans.


In the end I decided that, given the original artist had lost the job via his or her own choices and created this situation, taking over the job was not an ethical no-no. I was disappointed that I had to ape his style of drawing, but the client insisted saying the style had been approved already and to redo that process at this time was impossible. So, I accepted and completed the job. This led to my doing, in my own style, several other similar booklet comics for the same company.

The main point this illustrates (pardon the pun) is that professionalism counts. The original illustrator may have had serious personal reasons why he or she was unable to fulfill their obligations, but regardless it resulted in not only losing the job, but also the opportunity for more work with that client. Likely others as well… as I have said many times art directors are the source of word-of-mouth work but that applies in both directions. Do a great job for one and they will recommend you to others, but drop the ball and they will pass that along as well. As I remember those jobs were very well paying.

By the way I did this job the old fashioned way, using a film-pos and acetate overlay, then watercoloring and airbrushing the color. The original art for this job is long gone, but I think I’ve got other jobs using this technique that I can dig out one day and share how it works.


  1. bishopslikepawn says:

    “I almost turning it down because I was not sure ethically if I should do it, considering the circumstances.”

    Disappointed this was some art ethical issue and not that you were peddling crack in schools.

  2. Nate says:

    Wow. Yea, before I actually read the blog, I was looking at the pictures like, “That’s Tom’s?!” Too bad you couldn’t put your own spin on it, but looks like you wrapped up this project pretty well regardless.

  3. Brad says:

    Wow very cool post, great info – thanks for sharing!

  4. Dan Collins says:

    I had a job like that once, Tom. I took it but it was tough trying to continue the other guy’s style. I did not like it and would not do it again. If they want me they get my style too.


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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