Open Your Mouth: Issue #5

Thu, June 5th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

Before you make your way over to Wizard World Chicago or Comicon International San Diego with portfolio in hand and dreams of being the next Jim Lee in your head - keep reading.

I asked some comic book editors and art directors for their do's and don'ts, advice on what to include (or not) in your portfolio, what to leave behind and how to follow up a review. In truth, the following is intended to help them almost as much as it helps you aspiring artists out there. This column is partly about "community building," remember? So, let's try to make each other's jobs a little easier, huh?

Hopefully, this helps someone out in the end and somewhere soon down the line we get to see some great new talent on the comics scene because they listened to these words of wisdom…

BOB SCHRECK

"Not every page needs a charging barbarian."
Mr. Schreck is the Group Editor of the Batman books at DC Comics. His reputation precedes him. If you don't know what he's done, where he's come from, the talent he's nurtured, worked with and helped make veritable comic superstars, you should do your research. It'll be fun. Here's Bob's sage advice…

Do: "Bring full size boards (at least 15) of original sequential pencil art only. No swiping. Fully rendered, meaning with backgrounds and all. Bring a pad and pen to take notes. If an inker, attach same size photocopy of pencil art under photocopy of your inks. Any subject matter is fine, as long as it is varied in its emotional pacing. Not every page needs a charging barbarian. Include quiet moments with your characters."

Don't: "Don't bring pin-up pages (single illustrations). Don't bring inks of your own pencils. If you must, always have photocopies of your pencils along with the inks. Don't make excuses in response to any criticism about your work. Listen and say thank you, no matter how hard the reviewer of your materials is on your work. If you don't want to hear any bad news... don't ask."

What to leave behind: "With the reviewer's permission, leave 8 1/2" x 11" photocopies of your work with your contact info on the back of every page."

How to follow up: "Often. Email or snail mail, but only with the reviewer's permission."

Additional advice: "Persistence is a virtue. Go to as many cons as possible and don't be a wallflower. Meet everyone! Fellow artists, fan & pro, writers, editors, marketing folks, convention promoters, everyone!

BEN ABERNATHY

"Anatomy is always a big weakness I see in a lot of work."
Mr. Abernathy is an editor at WildStorm whose credits include "Wildcats Version 3.0", "The Authority", "Robotech", and "Astro City: Local Heroes." Before working at WildStorm he was an assistant to Jamie S. Rich (reigning queen of Oni Press) when they both worked over at Dark Horse. For that alone he deserves your respect and attention. Ben says…

Do: "Bring samples of sequential art! I've sat through enough [portfolio] reviews where guys will just bring their pin-ups and mock-covers - lemme tell ya, for guys trying to break into comics, that will be one short session..."

Don't: "One piece of advice for up and comers on this subject is to seek out sample scripts from publishers as they'll give nice structure to showcase one's art. Some guys often show up with stories they themselves have written... no offense to any of them, but if they're struggling artists, chances are they're struggling writers, too. Getting a professional script is always helpful!"

What to leave behind: "Attitude. I've had people get really huffy over criticism and it always make me wonder if they expected to show their work and get hired on the spot! You're there to learn, so being able to accept criticism is a must."

How to follow up: "This one is especially tough as, unless the person giving you the review hands you his or her card, you're probably stuck sending in blind samples 'care of' the person at the company or e-mail (which in a lot of cases for both, hits the garbage can). Catching up with the person at the next convention is always a good way to keep in touch and update people on work..."

Additional advice: "Anatomy is always a big weakness I see in a lot of work. It's gotten better through the years, but it seemed for a while everyone was learning to draw from Image books of the mid-90s! When I see that, my one piece of advice is always to get an anatomy book from the library or work on all aspects of the human body, not just the biceps or the abs.

"Perspective is always a tough one, too. This one seems especially tough for a lot of people, including working professionals. It's difficult to really nail the right perspective on everything on a page or in a panel and this one is just practice makes perfect...This one's a pretty easy catch as if it looks weird or just a little strange...It's probably not drawn to the correct perspective!"

RENAE GEERLINGS

"Never give up! Never surrender!"
Ms. Geerlings is the V.P. of Publishing and Managing Editor of Top Cow Productions. She does everything from editing scripts to answering fan mail, cracking the whip to playing counselor to her artists, scheduling books to getting them to press. Renae shares these words of wisdom…

Do: "Be friendly, and efficient. Make it a pleasant experience for them to talk to you. Have at least three pages of sequential storytelling art and put your newest work in the front of your book. It helps to see your older work to see if you have the ability to learn, so do keep that in the back of your portfolio. Use this as a learning experience. Rarely will you get honest feedback on your work so really go into this trying to find the top three things you need to work on, as well as what three things you're doing right. This will give you something to work on if you don't get hired immediately."

Don't: "Show them a million and 5 pieces. If I've seen your portfolio, no it won't help to see your sketchbook. Don't try to make your five minutes become fifteen minutes. Don't have an attitude."

What to leave behind: "Good copies of your work with your contact information on each piece."

Additional advice: "Never give up! Never surrender! If this is what you want to do, then just do it. Don't think about it too much or, like most artists, talk about it so much that you're burnt before you start. Just work your @$$ off! Less talk, more do!"

JOHN LAYMAN

"Be merciless…"
Mr. Layman is, in his own words, "the slovenly and much-despised former WildStorm editor, cat lover and harmonica bluesman." He is currently writing and lettering "Puffed," "Species: Naked Aggression," and "Thundercats: Dogs of War." John takes a minute from his busy schedule to offer up this advice…

Do: "Give sequential art, draw males and females, action scenes and quiet moments. Do backgrounds. Do some tech."

Don't: "Don't give pin-ups. Don't show your work and waste an editor's time on stuff that is not for comics. That is, I've had people bring me their graphic design portfolio of logos and whatnot. And then they hand you the portfolio with this expectant look like you might be able to do something with it."

What to leave behind: "I wouldn't leave the editor anything, unless he expresses sincere interest. Chances are, an editor will have to lug back 10 to 20 pounds back of portfolio Xeroxes, and 95% percent of them are crap, and he will just end up hating you for it."

How to follow up: "Phone and email. Be merciless (especially now that I am no longer an editor.) Call every fifteen minutes. Don't take 'not there' for an answer."

MIKE NORTON


DON'T: "Do pinups of your favorite character from the company you're submitting to."

Mr. Norton is the Art Director for Devil's Due Studios and artist of "Jason & the Argobots," "Voltron" and "G.I. Battle Files." He's paid his dues, he's toiled away in the small press and worked his way up that ladder over a number of years. He's been there, done that. Listen to Mike when he tells you…

Do: "Draw what has been explained in practically every submissions requirements I've ever read.... 4-5 pages of a character or characters in a variety of settings doing a variety of things focusing on your strengths and that's that."

Don't: "Do pinups of your favorite character from the company you're submitting to. Extra demerits for drawing said pin-up on lined loose-leaf notebook paper. Even more demerits for inking said pin-up with a sharpie marker. Oh, and about the cover letter. I could be wrong, but I don't think it's ever a good idea in any industry to send a letter stating why the book for the company you are submitting to sucks and how it will only be better if you are hired to draw it. I wouldn't mention it if I hadn't received packages like that."

What to leave behind: "Nice, neat, clean photocopied set of sequential storytelling samples and a business card."

How to follow up: "If you have an email address that has been given to you, email. If you've been told you can call, call. But other than that, if you don't hear anything, resubmit. It's kind of the only thing you can do. I used to hate it, but being on the other side of the fence now, I know how busy editors and creative directors are. If they need you, they'll call. I don't think I've ever got a job because I harassed a guy on the phone."

Additional advice: "Be patient. It sounds easy, but it's true. It took me years to even get in the door. Also, be as objective about your work as you can be. Adapt and change where you can to suit what it is you think an editor wants. It's a commercial art, and there's no shame in tailoring your work to suit an audience. And also wear pants. Not doing so tends to freak some people out."

All right. So, although a lot of the same things are said (e.g. sequential samples, Sequential Samples, Sequential Samples), we have some mixed signals here. One editor says a handful of sample pages in your portfolio is enough while another says he wants to see over a dozen. On the follow-up question, one basically says, "don't call us, we'll call you" but another suggests a lot of schmoozing/networking while another says to call often to get an answer. Which is it then?

Consider the source. Be considerate of the person or company's way of doing things. And to know what that is, as I said earlier, do your research. I've got you started here already, see?

Now, if I were to sum up everything said here, I think all of this great advice can be boiled down to the three Ps: Professionalism, Perseverance and Pants.

By professional I mean be polite, prepared and preferably ready-for-prime-time (or at least ready to listen to people when they tell you that you aren't ready-for-prime-time and then go and do something about it based on their advice).

By perseverance I mean: "if at first you don't succeed try, try again." And if after several attempts you still aren't getting anywhere, then surely you must be doing something wrong. It's not them; it's you. Trust me. Re-evaluate. Re-work. Then re-submit.

Lastly, by pants I mean anything but acid wash.

Ahem.

Act professional, be persistent and wear pants. Get all that? I mean really get it? No? Then allow me to close with this rather amusing anecdote from RANDY STRADLEY, VP of Publishing at Dark Horse Comics:

"Every single person in line raised their hand."
"On the first day of the San Diego Con last year, Chris Warner and I arrived at our Portfolio Review stations to find upwards of seventy people already in line. Hoping to dissuade some of them from wasting their time (and ours!), we announced that we would look at everyone's portfolio. If, in our opinion, the artist demonstrated that they were ready -- or nearly ready -- for a professional assignment, we would talk to that artist for five or ten minutes; critique their work and offer them advice, etc. However, we said that if, upon looking at an artist's work, we felt that their drawing skills were still a long way from professional level, we would cut the review short and send them on their way with advice to attend school, to take advantage of the convention and talk to the attending artists, and to practice, practice, practice.

"I then asked the group how many of them felt that their own work was of professional quality. Every single person in line raised their hand. So, Chris and I sat down and began looking at portfolios. Strangely enough, not one of the artists in line was anywhere near ready for professional work."

Next week: More portfolio prep and review advice, but this time coming from artists who stood in those long lines, had their work ripped apart by editors, but went and did their homework so they are now working on books like "Green Arrow," "Noble Causes," "Terminator 3," "Transformers," "Witchblade"…

Meanwhile, visit the Open Your Mouth message board for some support and encouragement as you prepare your portfolio for review this summer.

Thank you for your attention.

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