What's your opinion on outsourcing?

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Say your comic needs a robot but you can't design robots.
Or it needs a flashy outfit but you're not a cloth designer.
Or there needs to be a castle but you know nothing about medieval buildings.
Or maybe you get some professional help to iron out some of your comic script's rough edges in a couple of important scenes?
Stuff like that.

Would you just plow through and try to do as best as you can, or you would rather leave stuff for people that actually know their stuff?

I think the "outsource that!" would be the better approach that would result in a better quality of your work (I myself commissioned outfit redesigns for my main cast because I can't design clothing for life, and logo design since apparently I suck at that too), but at the same time, it feels kinda slightly... wrong? Your comic becomes less... yours. There are elements in it now that you did not make, that you can't claim credit for, that feel a tiny bit like stealing even if you've paid for the work. Those outfit designs I've commissioned, for instance, I'm still wary of using them freely. Is it okay if I change them? Is it okay if I use their elements to make derivative designs? Is it honest to still say that the comic is made by "me"? I'm not talking about the legal copyright angle here, I do not particularly believe in the business side of the concept of IPs anyway, I mean more... ethical and moral sides, I guess?

I guess it's less of an issue in collaborative projects when multiple people provide their input in the comic-making from the beginning - you won't feel like it's your personal comic if you're just the script writer\illustrator\inker and there's at least one another that inputs an equal amount on effort into the comic.
  • I don't see a problem with requested input (be that writing advice or more visible aspects like logos or designs as you've put it) from other sources. These particular elements shouldn't be claimed as created by you and credit should be given where credit is due.

    There are some aspects where I will sink time into research and dabble myself. Others I'm totally lost in. But I'll try to get some basics together, if only to know how to properly communicate what I want from the person I commission.

    Like, personally, I suck at logos. I like how Soul's Journey's logo looks, but it doesn't translate well to smaller spaces, which is an issue. So for whatever project I'll tackle next I'll definitely consult if not outsource people with more knowledge and training on the matter. While it means that the project isn't 100% mine anymore, I see it as an enhancement rather than the detractor. We're only humans and can't be expected to be good at every aspect of comic making, even if webcomics sometimes insinuate that by "making us" wear many hats. Getting help isn't a sign of weakness, but a sign that you recognize that there are ways to make things easier for yourself and better for your vision, hazy as it may be in some areas.

    (And also, if you look at credits for shows, you'll often have one person or maybe two, who are listed as "creators" of a show. Even though they didn't make the entire show from A to Z themselves. I see that similar, just that we're not studio-backed. (Wouldn't that be nice sometimes?))
  • It's really interesting. There's that question of, does one become somewhat less of a creator for getting help? Maybe a bit of a "purist" sense, and at what point do we delineate things?

    I personally tend to slog through everything myself, mainly because I do this as a hobby. I find it interesting and enlightening (and frustrating, so I manage my own expectations lol). But I can do it because the scale of my projects and my general ambitions allow for it. And as much as I try to do it all myself, I recognize I still lean on resources and knowledge from others too - art references, fonts, websites design and maintenance, etc.

    I don't see an issue with paid outsourcing assuming it's done and presented in an upfront, honest manner. Yes, of course anyone would be more impressed by a creator who did everything themselves, but we know everything we do is a lot of work and so many different hats to be expecting anyone to wear to be able to produce to a certain level/quality. I wouldn't necessarily think less of a creator who "outsourced" - many professionals, manga artists and writers and so on, certainly do it. Researchers, assistants, models, flatters, letterers, editors, etc. enable their creativity output to be more sustainable or scaleable.

    That said, at a certain point it'll naturally get a lot harder to rationalize yourself to others (or even to yourself) as a "creator" versus as a coordinator or director of others' output. e.g., if you outsourced 10% of the work, most people would probably not see any issue with it. But at what % does it become contentious or inarguably "wrong/misrepresentative", or with what particular aspects of the work? Are there certain kinds of things where you are giving up more of your integrity or claim as being "the creator"? 50% of your writing/idea and narrative or plot generation, and art and character design? What about 49% or 51%? How do you measure that? At what point are you not really the creator anymore and more akin to a corporate brand?

    At first it may seem obvious, but like most things it can get super blurry the deeper you go. These are conversations that people can have long and hard debates over, and honestly too much for me to think about at this time of the day, haha. But I think it's also something a creator has to reconcile with themselves depending on how they work, their objectives, and what they value about their own process. Everyone's mileage may be different. I think of Yoshihiro Togashi, creator of Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter, who was told by his editor that he needed to offload more tasks to his assistants like other manga artists, and he refused because he wouldn't consider himself a manga artist if he did so.

    In any case, from a practical and professional perspective, I think there should be transparent discussions with the person whose work you're subcontracting. Ideally in writing, even (sometimes especially) if it's a friend. Relationships can change, people can have unintentional communication misunderstandings. If you're commissioning the design of something, for example, it's important to be clear up front on how you expect to be using it, outline those terms, and if something changes, have that conversation again, update your agreement. I used to - and still intermittently do - small scale freelance commissions. If I were to discover that my work was being used in a way I had never anticipated when I agreed to do it in the first place, with no communication from the original commissioner. Depending on the context/nature of my understanding of our original agreement, and how it was being repurposed, my reaction could range from surprise (pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant) to mild annoyance to strong upsettedness.

    One of the examples that you mentioned - if you commissioned an outfit design and then made derivative designs of it - stands out to me. I think it's an example where the legal aspect can strongly overlap with ethical and moral aspects and the preferences of the person commissioned. It's possible to make blanket "common sense" or "logical" statements about it, but I see a potentially tricky case-by-case thing well before anyone starts getting into super technical legal language. Almost everything (maybe everything!) we do is derivative by necessity and nature, especially when depicting life. Like, if you're drawing a building in a city, or a phone, there are so many aspects that are probably pulled from a real life building or a phone, and so on. For the derivatives of an outfit, some blanket common sense approaches could be - if your terms with the artist you commissioned is that it would be used in the universe of your comic, making derivatives of it as-needed in the universe of the comic seems a reasonable extension and expectation. But if you talked to the artist originally as a "I need you to design something for this character that I can use in this illustration/this part in story where they go to a big gala", maybe that created some constraints around it depending on how either of you perceive it. The artist could get mad if you changed their creation, or used it in a different situation, and whatnot, depending on their perspective.

    I think for many of us, it's not generally an issue because of our scale. But sometimes things turn into issues when the scale grows and public/tangible stakes become higher. e.g., you land some big contract for your work to turned into a movie or whatever, suddenly there's a lot more money, recognition/reputation/fame or whatever on the table, etc. (don't many creators wish hahhaa). Then suddenly lawyers are brought in and casual verbal commitments, handshake agreements, or vague/ambiguous emails are no longer enough. The ethical/moral aspect here is very much dependent on the interpretations of the parties involved.

    Anyways, my longwinded summary - everything depends, and communication and discussion upfront can do a lot to ease everyone's conscience and minds.
  • Oooh, really interesting food for thought here. I definitely agree communication and discussion about how you intend to use the asset is always a good thing, and it's important to give credit and not claim you did something 100% yourself when someone else did some/all of it for you.

    I think the expectation of being a "comic creator" only really includes the art and the writing. If I have one robot for one scene and I hire someone to be my robot art assistant for that scene, I think I still have a reasonable feeling that the comic is mostly mine. But if that robot was in every other page, then I might consider just hiring a 3D modeler and letting them know that I'm going to be using their work as a base, and learning to draw my own robot if it's that important to my story. I see the flatting assistance I hire the same way: even though they did one step and I will credit them for that, my finishing shading and touches are what make it look like my art. Same with an editor; I should absolutely credit them, but I want to make sure that the final decisions incorporate their feedback in addition to my own interpretation and finishing touches.

    For everything else, I think it falls outside of the "comic creator" bucket and you can safely have someone else do all of it, and still claim it as your own comic. Just speaking from my own experience as a logo designer, I am USUALLY gearing to deliver a finished logo, and I would prefer if you had edits or concerns with the use of the logo, that you come back to me to fix it. I put this stuff in my portfolio and if a client decided to change the colors to rainbows or add sparkles, then I might not want to point to their site anymore to say "I made that"! I don't expect a credit on their page or in their book (it would be nice of them, but not necessary!), just that if I claim "I made this logo" my client wouldn't say "no, it's mine!", and the language of my contract reflects that.

    That said, I do offer my clients a cheaper "here's a nice simple font treatment" option, and that's something I'm okay with whatever finishing touches you want to do with it because I never intended to put it in my portfolio.

    Lettering is another thing, very few of us make our own fonts or do our own lettering, and that's on every page. Obviously a font designer is intending their fonts to be used every which way, and selecting the right font for your page is considered your work as a creator even if you don't personally make the font. So I think there's something in your role in bringing small disparate things together to make a cohesive story that still marks you in some sense as "the creator".
  • I try to not get caught up in 'this will make my work less mine', it will prevent you eventually from advancing to larger forms of creation. If you publish professionally, someone else will be involved, many pro comics have the art split up into teams... the inker won't be doing the logo. If you make a movie or game, hundreds and thousands of people will be involved. Getting over the 'it's not purely mine' headspace is vital if you want to get to larger forms of creating.

    My work is now in hundreds of people's books because they were great writers but not cartographers (as I'm sure some of you know I ended up stumbling into becoming a professional fantasy cartographer which is working out financially far better than comics ever did for me x_x). Their novel is no less their novel just because it's supported with my art. I view this as the addition of harmony to a melody. Eventually with enough people you will have a full symphony. If you just want to be a guy on a street corner with one guitar and you don't aspire to be a symphony, then cool.

    At some point I had to jump over the ravine of 'but I want my art to be MY art' and accept that I was now a conduit for someone else's ideas if I wanted to get paid, and consider how that worked with my vision of "being an artist". It's still my world map painting even if someone else sketched it; it's still their world setting even if I drew it. We collaborated. We harmonized. We made something bigger than we could have if we limited ourselves to doing it all alone and forced ourselves to learn to do it all for the sake of our pride.

    Thus, your comic is no less your comic just because you supported it with a commissioned outfit design, logo design, web design, an inker, a 3D modeller who does accurate castle backgrounds for you to draw over, a flat colorer, a full colorer, buying a font, buying stock art to use as backgrounds, buying stock models to use as items in a scene... just, the more you involve people in the project the more you need to communicate with them to make sure they're clear on what you're doing with their contributions, and if / how they will be credited, etc.

    Some of creating is conducting skill from multiple sources to come together and make a better quilt than you could have alone. Moving from indie into big money making creativity makes this skill vital. The biggest projects I've worked on involved dozens of people doing different kinds of art... and those people are likely also standing on top of the work of other people's brushes, stock textures, fonts, programs... on mythological tropes and tales as old as time. I have come to believe creativity is contribution to a co-creative multiverse. There is no purity. In some way you have already been influenced.

    If what stands between you and a great comic is your lack of knowledge of how exactly castles function, then go forth, use a 3D model, a photograph, or hire a background artist. Or go learn about how castles function and draw hundreds of them until you're satisfied if it chafes you because you think you should be able to do it. All of these ways are valid. The only major concern I would have is the rights to using said castle model, and that's when a good conversation or contract will come in handy. Keep in touch with your collaborators so there are no unpleasant surprises.