I’ve been in publishing a looong time. Really, my first story was writing about the mass-extinction event that killed the dinosaurs.

But I joke.

… It was covering the fall of the Roman Empire.

Publishing is easy; it’s changed a lot in twenty five years, but the basic concepts are the same. Technology has moved forward and what used to take days now takes mere hours, and overall everything is awesome.

But what has got worse, are the artists. I’m not talking about every artist, but I am talking about the vast majority of artists that I’ve encountered over the past six years.

The entry requirements are now so low that literally anyone can set themselves up with an Artstation account and say they are a professional. And you can do your research, but it’s often carefully constructed so the companies you ask have really only seen a very small amount of work from that artist (so it’s not really a true indication of their professionalism or ability).

And it’s really worrying. I’ve had more problems with artists in the last few years than I have in all my years of working in publishing.

District 31 is almost FIVE years late with its first proper release. FIVE YEARS. And that’s caused by… well let’s list some of the issues I’ve had.

Cake Off. This is the first of a series of games and this small release has been a mind-bending experience in patience.

The first artist turned out to not have a decade of experience (all fake) and was in fact a 16 year old working in a bakery. It took me about two months to get to the bottom of this and work out why she wasn’t submitting any work in the style she had promised.

Next artist went off on long-term sick. That’s just horrible and I really hope things got better.

Total delay so far: about 8 months.

Next artist complained the whole time. Literally. I allowed them to set their own style and they still complained (about how hard they were finding it). They delivered the majority of the project 8 months late. I had to scrap everything as the quality started great, but just declined over the months into something utterly devoid of charm and character.

We’re now about two years into the project. Every time it can take months to find a new artist.

The next artist was more interested in posting pictures of her and her friends than she was doing the work (do people not realise that while they’re telling me they’re hard at work, an Instagram photo on the beach tells another story?)

Another 8 months and endless delays (and money) and I had to drop that entirely as the standard just wasn’t there (but the first few pieces were awesome so what gives?).

I know it’s easy to say you should have moved on much earlier, but when they’re giving you deadlines and excuses and you’re SO invested in a project; it’s really hard to drop it all and start again. It’s quite soul-destroying, actually.

The next artist was amazing. She did AMAZING work for 48 hours. Really, mind-blowing stuff. Then I got a message a few days later saying she had issues. I didn’t hear from her for five weeks. Then she kept saying she was working (but no work was forthcoming). I was continually chasing her and again, nothing… (if you’re “working” then I should be able to see the things you’re working on, surely?). I ended up telling her that I shouldn’t have to be chasing professional artists, she took umbrage at that and dropped out of the project. It was a huge shame, but I get the feeling that’s what she wanted all along. Don’t take the work if you can’t handle the workload!!!

I wouldn’t mind if she could blame me for making unreasonable demands (or for being difficult), but we’d barely spoken (other than for me to coo over the concept art she was sending).

The NEXT artist – wow – she was a litany of problems. We’re about four years into the project now and she was great. Being Russian, she started off with perfect English. Before she signed the contract (which states the artist must speak fluent English), her English was perfect. I’ve been back a few times to check the emails and they were substantial and you’d never know she wasn’t English…

Then came the problems. I don’t know how she had communicated or if she’d used someone else to get the job, but she could barely speak English and I couldn’t make changes or suggestions simply because she didn’t understand them.

It took a long time to get the work done (less than half the work, actually) only for her to tell me one day she was going back to a “normal job” and wasn’t doing any more work on the project. She’d previously told me she had to flee the country, so it was a complete roller-coaster.

She literally left me with half a project at the drop of a hat (but still wanted paying for the work she’d done – that I couldn’t use). I begged her to stay on and finish the project but she refused (again, still wanted paying).

We’re well over four years now and then I found Maria, who is everything you’d want from an artist. She’s hungry for the work, talented, creative and just awesome.

The right artist just fits like a glove and it’s all effortless.

They say you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, but when you’re spending years to get the right artist and thousands upon thousands of pounds, it does start to get gruelling.

People have asked me why District 31 hasn’t released anything in years. And this is why. All the other projects are the same. Eldritch was just a litany of problems with artists changing their prices AFTER signing a contract, not doing the work, not following the brief – and some of these artists are people you will know from games you like!

But I’m still here and we’re still going. Cake Off is only a few months away and Eldritch shortly behind it. Snowball Storm has massive problems with the artist delivering the three parts of the project in different styles, so I had to go back and get some of that work done by another artist, but it’s all coming this year.

I swear, some days this job is trying to kill me.

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