Animator Don Hertzfeldt: Get Paid

"Artists shouldn't be making art on the side, it should be their job."

If you asked me to rattle off my favorite animators, I could probably name three or four. Most of them would be Japanese. But nestled amongst them would be writer and filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt. Hertzfeldt gained internet notoriety with his Academy-Award nominated short, Rejected, an increasingly troubling and hilarious series of fictional, rejected television ads. From that point on, his name became synonymous with people shouting “My spoon is too big” or “My anus is bleeding.” I still know the dance from the latter bit.

Hertzfeldt was in Vanity Fair talking about his new film, World of Tomorrow. What struck me the most was his frustration with how our society treats artists as, well, artisans.

The last Don Hertzfeldt’s film I saw was his 2011 trilogy, It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Even now in 2015, it’s rare to find a film that addresses mental illness in a fashion that doesn’t contribute to the stigma surrounding it. For one hour, you live the life of Bill as he comes to grip with his failing mental health and ultimately death. Despite Hertzfeldt’s stick figure drawing style, the film is powerful and heartbreaking. You can watch the trailer below.

Even as a somewhat not dying (I can’t bear to call it “success”1) freelance cartoonist, I have a lot of trouble asking for and getting money for my work. It’s a serious problem that all artists face, whether they’re writers, photographers, or designers. Young creatives are preyed upon by companies looking to get free assets. Whether it’s through shady contests2 or asking creatives to work “for exposure.” This insidious system begins at the very beginning, where art is taught as a hobby. We all know hobbies are for fun, right? That isn’t work! From there, we as creatives are primed to just give our work away as something we “would have done in our free time” (omg no, get paid for it anway!!).

As a webcartoonist, I live in a world where the comics are free and the income is generated by merchandise or advertising. Cartoonist Kris Straub once said commented about this lamentable situation where cartoonists are “T-shirt salesmen first, cartoonists second.” In my on-again-off-again career as a cartoonist, getting paid for the actual comics has been a pretty recent development, especially now that I’ve skipped on tshirts and prints in order to focus more on books. Here I was, 32 years old, sitting at home with a saddle stapler and a bone folder, putting books together like I should have been doing when I was 16 years old. But like Hertzfeldt, I have found new success in this old method because people will buy books.

1 Statements like this are actually part of the systemic problem where artists devalue their own self work. 2 Seriously, don’t ever fall for this. Contests are just another way to make you for free to maybe get a shot at making some money.