The Starving Artist Syndrome

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Title: The Starving Artist Syndrome
Creator: M.J. Fisher
Date(s): July 1977
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
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The Starving Artist Syndrome is a 1977 Star Trek: TOS essay by M.J. Fisher.

It was printed in Spectrum #33.

Some Topics Discussed

  • fan artists are treated poorly by zine publishers; their art is stolen, used for profit elsewhere, reproduced poorly in the original zine, edited, ruined
  • two zine eds are mentioned as being good to artists: Interphase and This Side of Paradise; while the zine is not named, Fisher may be referring to Energize! as a controversial zine ed on the other side of the spectrum
  • fan writers are more respected by fans than fan artists
  • there are no male illustrators in fandom
  • fan artists should organize and make zine publishers sign detailed contracts

From the Essay

Unfortunately, some people in fandom do not have a fair respect for art, or for artists and a few even have a flagrant disregard.for individual rights and personal feelings that go along with any trade such as art where you spend a great deal of personal attachment in the process of creation.

For some reason artists in fandom do not have the status as fanfic writers have. Treklit is the main staple of the Star Trek genzine and thus a proportional amount of honor is paid to the authors in terms of kudos, notoriety.and rank—yes, folks, we do have a hierarchy in fandom, whether anyone cares to admit it or not, based mainly on respect, hard-working reputations and public image. Artists have never quite figured in at the top of the status chart since art is usually secondary in a fanzine, sad to say, rather than working hand in hand.

A side effect of this is that artwork may not be treated by some people as carefully as it could be, and of course, in many instances this is also a case of sheer ignorance on the part of many faneds when it comes to handling artwork correctly. For as long as fandom has existed there have only been a handful of fanzines developed that print and handle both art and artists well. These same fanzines do so well because the editors are themselves artists. Not only have zines like Interphase and The Other Side of Paradise gone to more expensive printing methods to provide better reproduction but they have expanded on the use of art inside. They actually do have artwork inside, not just illustrations to stories, not just spot illos, not just bits and pieces.
But fanzines like 'Phase and TOSOP are the exception, others still continue to print poorer quality products and handle art and artists with an air of indifference. Some of it, of course, is financial, since most faneds cannot afford to use metal plates or screened illos. One wonders then why there are still fanzines around that print artwork that has fade-out black areas, fine lines that vanish when printed, or detail that fills in and blurs. If you can't print it right, it should not be printed at all. If a faned feels a responsibility to print type that is legible then she/he should feel the same responsibility for only printing art that will be reproducible closely to that of the original.
This isn't the only problem facing art. There are horror stories told, albeit true ones, of artwork that has been stolen or destroyed, or faneds who have taken it upon themselves to do touch ups with correction fluid and ink without the artist's permission, or others who have substituted the originals and sent back facsimiles to the artist. This isn't just an indifference or ignorance toward the art or printing, this is malicious and revolting.

To remedy this I suggest that artists begin to protect themselves by resorting to contracts between themselves and faneds, spelling out their rights and the faneds' obligations. Of course this wouldn't be necessary for a few small illos, but for extensive projects like an art portfolio, such a contract would protect artists from faneds by keeping them aware of the right way to treat art.

A contract for artists would include 1. A statement giving a particular person(s) the right to print specified pieces of art. This should include information specifying if the artwork could only be printed in one edition, or in other publications. Some artists have done art for fanzines only to find their art ending up not only in the zine but on stationery, T-shirts and in prozines. 2. An artist should be able to specify how artwork is to be handled, such as: no thumbprints, no corrections done without consent or no blue pencil or crop marks all over the original for printing instructions. Artists should also be able to specify the way in which art is to be returned to them: rolled up, insured, registered mail, etc. 3. If an artist wishes to have a piece of art returned after use and finds out that the art has been destroyed, defaced, or replaced then an artist should be able to receive reimbursement for the lost artwork similar to a price that could be obtained had the original been sold by the artists.Of course the artist should feel obligated to place a minimal price on each piece of artwork. Even a zined who knows how to handle art well might be put off enough by a contract specifying that each piece of art be reimbursed by $350.00 if lost, that she/he might refuse to accept the out art of fear of breathing on it.
I don't even know if such contracts would be totally legal. I'm sure ho one wants to go through the red tape of having them notarized or drawn up by lawyers. One would assume that if the contract were signed by both parties that it would be binding even without expensive legalese. Yet, even assuming that such a contract is drawn up for appearances sake, without being legally binding, it would still be effective because it would prove to zined that artists do indeed intend to demand better treatment of the fruits of their labors. If a zined ever managed to violate a contract with an artist and avoid legal prosecution then the artist would still have a copy of the contract to pass around to the rest of fandom. With proof like that it wouldn't be hard to turn off other people from contributing to such a fanzine even if the editor can get around the contracts. So. it doesn't matter whether the contracts are legal or not, they still put a more tangible responsibility upon the faned to do right by the artist and not just the authors in their corral of contributors.
The only area that could not be covered in a contract between artists and fan editors is printing. Although an artist has the right to see her artwork ({I don't have to worry about using a his/her pronoun here...there are no male illustrators in fandom)) reproduced well, she does not have the right to demand the method of reproduction.
Interestingly enough, if the major fannish illustrators get together and decide to start using contracts it will effectively bring a lot of faneds into line. If you stop to count them there are only about a dozen people in fandom who do the illustrations for all of the big fanzines, and perhaps a score or so of people who do a cartoon or a picture of the Big E for their own high school zine, or clubzine. Even if a few of the most active artists began using contracts for the major art they submit to zines it would have enough impact to reform treatment standards for artists throughout fandom. Gee Moaven has already begun doing this and others have considered the idea. If the idea catches on it will be possible to drop the use of contracts once the standards of treatment go up.