Comic books have been a burgeoning underground scene for decades, but with the advent of licensed merchandise, then the Marvel and DC Comic movie franchises, these books are now big business. It is estimated that the industry is now worth an astonishing $800 million a year. Whilst it can be a poorly paid profession, with freelancers being remunerated by the page and offered few rights to their work, the best authors and creators have the potential to earn a surprising salary through licensing deals, promotions and shrewd business moves.
We’ve collated the top-earning comic book authors and artists, check it out.
1. David Choe $300 – 500 million
Choe is a graffiti artist and comic book creator, his most popular work is the graphic novel Slow Jams, which often sells for around $200. But that wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to take him into this top earners list. No, he shrewdly accepted company stock as payment in return for painting murals in the home of Facebook’s then-president Sean Parker back in the early 2000s. It was a risky decision, but when Choe woke up on the morning Facebook went public in 2012, he was an overnight millionaire.
2. Tom McFarlane $300 million
McFarlane made a name for himself during the commercial explosion the comic industry experienced in the 90s. From humble beginnings pencilling issues of Batman and The Incredible Hulk comics, he found his niche and did some work on Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man.
Fans loved his depictions of the Webslinger so much, that he was given his own series in 1990, which went on to sell over 2.5 million copies. One cover by McFarlane recently sold for $71,000. But after a disagreement with his editor, McFarlane struck out on his own, founding Image Comics with a collective of fellow artists.
His vision with Image was to start a business where the writer and illustrator retained copyright of their characters. His most popular work for Image was the Spawn series, a huge hit back in the 90s, with the first issue selling 1.7 million copies, a record for an independent comic book.
McFarlane Entertainment is the business-minded creator’s other venture, which produces toys, animations and video games, making him the richest comic book creator.
3. Stan Lee $50 – 80 million
With a net worth estimated to be between $50 and 80 million, Stan Lee is not only the most famous comic book writer but also one of the richest. Having created the Marvel franchise and held on to the rights, this man brought us such legends as Iron Man and Spider-Man.
4. Akira Toriyama $45 million
Akira Toriyama is a Japanese manga comic creator, most famous for his work on Dr. Slump, which sold 35 million copies in Japan. He later went on to create Dragon Ball, the second best selling manga comic of all time, having sold 350 million copies worldwide. The anime adaptations have gone on to have even greater success, particularly in the West where they are credited with bringing a new audience to the art form.
5. Frank Miller $45 million
Most known for his violent comic book adaptations Sin City and 300, which enjoyed huge success in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Both films worked extremely closely and respectfully to the source material, even using some frames of the comic book for storyboarding. They also made their creator very wealthy.
Miller’s career began in the late 70s when he was writing for Marvel’s Daredevil series. But perhaps his most significant contribution to the comic book industry was his 1986 creation A Dark Night Returns. The increasingly violent and more gritty, dystopian atmosphere of his work signalled a new era in comic books which was a huge hit with the fans during the 90s.
6. Naoko Takeuchi $33 million
The sole woman on our list, Naoko Takeuchi is most famous for her series Sailor Moon. In 1993 she won the prestigious Kodansha Manga Award for the comic, which went on to become one of the most popular manga series of all time. The success of Sailor Moon spawned two anime adaptations, three animated films, a live-action adaptation, video games and a huge range of merchandise.
7. Mark Millar $25 million
A Scottish writer, Millar can trace his love of comic books back to the day he painted SpiderMan’s famous webbing on his face in permanent marker a few hours before his first communion. He has written for both of the major comic book publishing houses, including work on big names such as Superman and X-Men. But perhaps he is most famous for the two adaptations of his original graphic novels to the big screen. Wanted and Kick-Ass were both box office hits, which rode the wave of the comic book revival seen in recent years.
8. Robert Kirkman $20 million
Creator of the zombie-apocalypse comic series The Walking Dead, Kirkman also has some movie and television credits to his name.
9. Kevin Eastman $20 million Peter Laird $20 million
Eastman and Laird are most famous for creating the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Laird used his experience working for a newspaper to put together a press-kit which was sent to TV and radio stations to drum up interest. By their second issue, the TMNT had 15,000 advance orders, five times the initial print run of the first issue. From there, the phenomenon really took off, and licensing deals allowed the two creators to enjoy great financial success off the back of the series.
10. Joe Quesada $10 million
Though beginning his career writing and creating comics for both DC and Marvel, Quesada retired as the longest-serving Marvel editor in chief besides Stan Lee in 2011, bringing him in at number 10 on our list.
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(By Sally Fox)