David Hahn is a comic writer/artist best known for comics such as Batman ’66 Meets Wonder Woman ’77, the current Batman ’66 Meets the Man From UNCLE. He’s also known for Bite Club, Robin, Fables, and Lucifer for DC Comics, Marvel Adventures: The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane for Marvel, as well as his creator-owned series Private Beach, All Nighter, and Dayglow. He is a successful comic book creator, working for the Big Two, with creator-owned projects on the side.
Yesterday, he posted the following to his private feed on Facebook. It seemed a heady warning. He has graciously given Bleeding Cool permission to republish his post here. He writes:
It seems it can’t be done. My ability to make a living with my years of experience and skillset is not enough to keep me far enough from the precipice of financial ruin on a regular or comfortable basis.
As a self-employed career, I draw and write comic books- actual comic books with characters you’ve heard of like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, as well as my own creations for publication. I spent 10 serious years of honing my skills with hours of commitment DAILY (and plenty of rejection from publishers) to get to the point where I was good enough to get noticed by DC Comics in 2002 and was finally in a position to have comic book drawing be my full time, main source of income. Once I had that opportunity in 2002, I have managed to keep the ball rolling with other publishers and occasional commercial clients as well.
But here’s the thing: it only works as a viable career if I don’t get sick and have to see a doctor.
Right now, like so many, MANY others, I have a decent middle-class income, but am living at the edge of poverty. Honestly, I think I might be living in actual poverty by definition, but am too proud to admit it, or think I am not because at least I have a roof and running water.
The monthly expense breakdown goes something like this-
Being self-employed, about 32% of my income goes to taxes (I live in the USA). Those taxes are not withheld from my paycheck- I must put that money aside to pay taxes when they are due (we will come back to how often that DOESN’T actually happen in bit). I have child support payments and 50% of health insurance payments I gladly make for my daughter. I have a car payment and car insurance. Of course I have rent, internet, and the cheapest phone plan I could find. I have $400+ per month of horrible credit card debt (more on that in a bit, too). My monthly luxury expense is Netflix streaming, and going out to a modest dinner with my partner once a month or so. After all those expenses are covered, I am constantly left scrambling for money for gas, groceries, and items I need for my work, like those always and forever expensive printer ink cartridges. All of those regular expenses eat up the bulk of my monthly income, and sometimes there is not enough. One thing I don’t have is health insurance. Because I have been a fairly healthy person all my life, I’ve forced myself into the dangerous thinking that, for me, I must see health insurance as a luxury. How screwed up is that? I had health insurance until last August, but I just can’t afford it now.
My partner and I live in a one room, studio apartment (one ROOM, not one bedroom). My income is the primary income that supports us. The car payment I mentioned is for an ATV that is needed because of the rural area in which we live, especially in winter when we use the ATV to plow the snow on our country roads and driveway. I own three pairs of pants, two pairs of boots, a dozen t-shirts, and with the exception of socks, have not bought a stitch of new clothing in over three years. Even though it isn’t the best investment in the long run, we usually buy the cheapest food, soap, toiletries, and sundries we can find. I tell you all that so you know that my living outside of my means is not due to any extravagant tastes or lifestyle.
As I mentioned, self-employed people pay higher taxes. When I get a check, there are no taxes withheld, so I am constantly hustling with payments on back taxes owed and making payments toward taxes due the following year. But, as many freelancers know, when you get that check with zero taxes withheld, it’s hard to just pay that 32% on the spot, when you have need for that cash NOW for the likes of groceries or Christmas presents. If the dog gets sick and has to go to the vet, or the car breaks down, it’s not just a setback, it borders on catastrophic, for many of us for sure.
Credit card debt is nobody’s fault but my own, but lately, it’s been a matter of using the credit card for purchases because I need the cash in my bank account to make my on-time credit card payment. What a horrible cycle. At the very least, I do try to pay over the minimum payment, just for a small piece of mind.
So, what are my options for buying health insurance? My options, even the extreme ones, seem to arrive at a dead end. Like most people, I could have health insurance covered mostly by an employer.
“Yeah, David, you should go work for Disney!” Which would mean, even IF I could get a job at Disney or the like, there is no escaping the fact that I would need to relocate to a city that I can’t afford to live in. I would have health insurance, but would be in an even worse situation when it comes to paying my other bills.
“Welp, David, then maybe you should seriously consider stepping away from the idea of drawing comics for a living.” Sure, I could abandon my full-time comic drawing and get a job in an office, or retail, or a factory, and get health insurance through an employer there. But even though I have not had a raise in my comic book payment rate since 2003 (my per-page rate of payment has not gone up a cent from the big publishers since I capped out in 2003. And from discussions with many of my peers, they also have not had a raise since the early 2000s), even if health insurance was fully covered, there is no job in any of those situations that would pay enough for me to meet my mandatory monthly expenses.
“Maybe you should get a debt consolidation loan to help knock down those credit card payments.” Yes, that was one of the first things I thought of, and dismissed. The problem with that is that it hurts your credit rating. It used to be that having a less-than-pristine credit score meant it would be harder to buy a house or buy a car. These days, a mediocre credit score can affect even renting an apartment or finding employment. Everyone looks at your credit score now. Credit consolidation also means closing the credit card accounts, which makes renting a car (which I have to do twice a year) an even more stressful and difficult task. Credit cards and credit reporting agencies are among the most dangerous things in our economy, and high school curriculums don’t emphasize those dangers enough when you are in school.
I had minimum coverage health insurance through a broker for a year (which still didn’t meet technical federal guidelines for having health insurance), but now that is unaffordable. To be clear, I don’t want it free, I want it affordable.
I don’t write all this for sympathy or “woe is me.” I know that I am a white, male, American, and that affords me advantages, yes, so I’d like to curtail anyone pointing that out to me. I know there will always be someone, somewhere, worse off, no matter who you are. My point of all this is because I am realizing that I am the vanishing middle class. I never really thought much about what that meant until the past few years.
There is one bright spot to all of this (besides my health) and that is that it has really forced me to address the area of my time management. I have always struggled with working smarter when I am at the drawing table. I often find that I have sat there for 8 hours, but only done 6 hours worth of work. My attention to time management ebbs and flows. I need to start focusing again on my productivity, and maybe with more work getting done smartly, I can navigate through this. This isn’t a post meant to indicate in any way that I am quitting comics. I love comics and will continue to create them for as long as possible. This post is just to show that not having something as basic as affordable healthcare is the looming shadow American freelancers are constantly living under. With that, I will likely be online less than ever, but will still be around and available.
Thank you for reading. Single payer now.