Alexander's Band: helping South African illustrators get a better deal

Concern over the well-being of the creative industries in South Africa prompted illustrator Emma Cook to set up her own agency.

For many creatives, the admin side of things is simply an unwanted necessity. However, when freelance illustrator Emma Cook delved deeper into the business of illustration, she saw an opportunity to make a difference to her fellow creatives, and maybe even the industry as a whole, in her native South Africa. Here she explains her hopes for her new illustration agency, Alexander's Band.

What made you decide to start an illustration agency?

I'd had the idea of starting up a local illustration rep a few years ago and thought it would be a great natural career step. Then, last year I took a short course that focused on the business side of an artistic career, and since that I have become more interested in the business of illustration, specifically in a South African context.

What's the creative scene like at the moment in South Africa?

We have our own set of challenges here that make our working lives a little different from the international standard. For instance, usage fees for illustration are pretty much unheard of - illustrators have been handing over the copyright for their work for years without knowing their rights. The collective effect of this has prompted a real interest for me in the wellbeing of our industry. It became increasingly apparent that getting my repping work up and running could be valuable to a number of illustrators, as well as a way to help spur on a wider change by setting an example.

What exactly does Alexander's Band do?

Alexander's is responsible for all of the nitty-gritty admin involved with illustration. Marketing the illustrators, sourcing work, negotiating costing, timing and usage, issuing contracts, managing expectations of both the illustrator and the client, invoicing clients and paying the artists. It's a lot of admin, but sometimes I do get to do something different. Right now, I'm also helping curate an exhibition of South African illustration, in collaboration with a gallery in Australia.

How many people work at Alexander's Band, and what do they do?

The website and content, signing artists, chatting to clients, issuing of costing, and, and, and… it's all me. Hopefully, as things barrel along, I can take on some clever and passionate people to help out, but that may be a little while off.

How did you go about attracting talent?

Attracting people hasn't been a problem. I think the illustrators here in South Africa are very much aware of each other and what we're up to. It also didn't hurt that a little before putting Alexander's together I had gathered a group of around 20 illustrators together to collaborate on the commissioning and drawing up of a solid contract for us to use when costing and invoicing. It meant that when I approached people to be part of Alexander's Band they already knew that I had everyone's best interest in mind and was committed to creating something of value for our little country at the tip of the world. As I write there are 12 wonderfully creative creatures on the books, with lucky number 13 busy prepping his images for the site.

Who are you representing that you're particularly excited about?

Everyone. Really! I do have a few favourite pieces scattered about the portfolios that I would love to have on my walls. Ryan De Carte's digitally painted still from the boxing scene in Snatch makes me all kinds of happy, as does Joey Hi-Fi's comic cover for The Increasingly Awkward Urban Adventures of Joey Hi-Fi.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 221.

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