Dawn linked me a cartoon recently that I now can’t for the life of me find, so I’m going to do the worst thing possible and try to describe it to you from memory.

A comics writer and artist team are hosting a panel at a convention. In the first panel, the writer talks about how much freedom he has in the medium versus his previous work in television and film because comics “have no budget”.

In the second panel, he goes on to give an example of how he could write that an armada of 200 uniquely designed alien spacecraft are dropping out of a wormhole in hyperspace, and how in most media the expense of showing that would be prohibitive, but in comics it’s totally possible.

In the third panel, the artist (who has been silent but steadily growing more and more agitated) is leaping across the table at the surprised writer and screaming “I’LL KILL YOU!!”

If you haven’t worked collaboratively on a comic, you may not get it, but I’d wager every comics writer who is not also an artist goes through that phase where they think “comics have no budget” and whatever they can dream up is totally possible. There’s no actors to hire, no sets and props to build, no locations to rent. Especially if the writer comes from a background that previously had all those complications, then one guy or gal doing some drawing seems like the simplest, cheapest thing in the world.

And that’s when you send your artist the “two hundred ships” script and they start plotting your painful death, assuming they don’t just laugh in your face. There is indeed a budget for comics, and it’s based around how much your artist can feasibly get done in the amount of time allotted. If you’re working with a career artist who has no other job, is solely dedicated to your project, and has a team of inkers, flatters, and colorists backing them up, then congratulations! That’s a nice, big budget to work with. You might just be able to get that gigantic, ultra-detailed splash page of your dreams.

If, on the other hand, your artist is, say, your wife, and she’s got side projects and she has a day job and has to do all the penciling, inking, flatting and coloring herself, your comics budget is considerably more restricted and you should probably keep that in mind when plotting out your epic battle scene. Even if you can talk her into doing it, you should be prepared for it not to necessarily live up to the vision in your mind’s eye.

Now I’m not saying this has happened– oh, who am I kidding? This absolutely happened. I had to learn to manage my expectations, even though I was living in the same house and was witness to everything she went through in the process of producing the illustrations. Sometimes your budget fluctuates at this level just because of basic human being stuff, like an unexpected illness or family emergency cutting into the time and energy available. Maybe you end up having to go back to your script and figure out a way to tell the same story at a lower “cost”. Maybe you even have to just skip a week, easing off the throttle so the whole engine doesn’t break down. I suppose that last is arguably a mixed metaphor but you get the idea. Hell, I was just reading today that Marvel’s Civil War II event comics which were supposed to finish up in Summer are going to have their end delayed until December. Such delays are not all that rare for books of even the major comics publishers, and those are the guys operating with what you would presume to be the biggest budgets.

Now to be fair, I’m not advocating that the artist needs to be completely coddled. Even if it’s a second job for them, it’s still a job and there are certain expectations that should come with that. But a little understanding can go a long way, and it’s seductively easy to write “A big, epic splash page! 200 spaceships pour out of hyperspace, lasers and missiles firing!” and forget the effort and time it’s going to take for your partner to draw all of that. Remember the budget — even if it means you can’t get all those nifty special effects you want, it’s better than an insane artist trying to throttle you in front of a convention full of fans.