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Ryan Estrada and Dorothy Gambrell Chart Their Income as Webcomic and Freelance Cartoonists

Whenever I hear about someone making a living as a webcomics creator or freelance cartoonist, I wonder, “What exactly do they mean by ‘making a living?’” Fortunately, Cat and Girl creator Dorothy Gambrell and Aki Alliance creator Ryan Estrada have decided to humor the fiscally curious among us by explaining how they made their living in 2011, with the aid of some lovely charts.
Gambrell has been posting these income charts for a couple of years now, breaking down how she earns money from her artistic work. This year, Gambrell tested a new money-making scheme: the Cat and Girl Fun Club. Folks who subscribed in November get fun gifts — minicomics, CDs, DVDs, t-shirts and other mystery items — from Gambrell throughout 2012. It appears the subscription drive was a success, contributing to her huge boom in November.


While Estrada admits that money is something that most people (and especially freelance artists) are loathe to discuss in detail publicly, he recently charted his last five years of annual income in hopes of giving other aspiring cartoonists or webcomics creators more context about making in a living in his field.
I think that in this new world where all the rules of how people earn a living have been thrown out the window, a little data can be very helpful. So because it may help a fellow independent artist, or someone who wants to make a living on the internet, I’ve done a little math homework, and am presenting my income from the last 5 years as a full-time artist, and typed up a breakdown of what I did right or wrong each year, and what I learned from it.
Unlike Gambrell, Estrada doesn’t have a continuously running webcomic to merchandise. He makes the bulk of his income as a freelance cartoonist, although he’s trying to focus more of his efforts on his own work. In his year-by-year breakdown of his freelance business at his LiveJournal, he explains that while his income isn’t high by US standards, he spends most of his time traveling in areas where his cost of living is quite low:
People always assume I’m rich because I travel a lot. But actually, I travel to places where I can live cheap. I would be destitute in the US, but in most places I travel, I live like a king!


It’s hard to say how representative Gambrell and Estrada’s experiences are, but I suspect that freelance cartoonists’ finances are as varied as their comics. Like so many cartoonists, Gambrell and Estrada give away much of the content they produce for free, so these income breakdowns are also a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of freelance cartoonists and their ability to market their comics and artistic skills using an an unconventional business model. Just like any other entrepreneurs, freelance cartoonists need to constantly refine and grow their businesses, as well as test out new and innovative ways to earn money doing the things they love.

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