You see the memes, comments, posts, and various threads about exposure as an artist, how it creates suffering; eating nothing but Ramen and barely keeping the lights on. The problem is how we are looking at exposure. Exposure doesn't mean committing yourself to giving away free work for the rest of your life. We need to look at how exposure affects us- it can offer work to place in a portfolio, practice for your profession (be it sequential pages, lettering, colors, photography, painting, etc), recognition among peers, and fanbase building. These are just a few of the benefits that come with working on projects. And yes, before anyone chimes in- those same benefits and more come with payment. Before you come knocking on my door ready to burn me at the stake for considering exposure as an acceptable form of payment- I want you to take a few moments to read this Twitter thread from someone who is a powerhouse in Indie Comics: Dirk Manning
Now- I am not going to pretend the world is perfect and that everyone who chooses to work for exposure has the same experiences as Dirk, or the teams of people he has worked with. Sometimes it doesn't pan out- I've spoken to numerous creators who've had projects flop, didn't get paid when they were supposed to, were screwed out of royalties, and a host of other problems. The industry isn't perfect- noone ever said it was.
Exposure goes hand in hand with branding, something that I cannot stress the importance of enough; ESPECIALLY when one is first launching their career. Presenting yourself as someone who is approachable, has strong morals and ethics, is humble, and stays hungry- will put you on the path to getting the work you want. This is the type of attitude that grows your network of people and leads to greater opportunities. If you're new to the scene, and scoffing at people willing to give you a chance- you won't get far. Those that are seasoned professionals do not want to work with someone carrying superiority complex. Every single creator I know started in the trenches. They suffered long and hard while making their work successful. And not a single one of them didn't take a gig at some point or another for exposure.
Are you required to work for exposure? No. However, you may want to reconsider before saying no. As Dirk suggests, your success and place in this industry is earned, it is never given. I believe it is also important to note that creators (on all levels) keep their day jobs. I know many of them who work 2-3 jobs while working on their dream projects. If you want a great read on that, I'd suggest checking out Jim Zub's blog- who is writing The Avengers and STILL has to work his regular job.
At the end of the day, a lot of your success is going to hinge on two major components: how hard you worked, and how well you treated people.
Dirk's Twitter thread can be viewed by clicking here.