Open Your Mouth: Issue #6

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

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

Last week we featured a couple of editors, an art director and even a couple of vice presidents of comic book companies doling out their advice on how aspiring artists can build a better portfolio and submissions package, and best present those (as well as themselves) in a professional manner at portfolio review sessions on the convention circuit. But the big question is: Will putting what they put on paper into practice lead to a professional assignment? Or are all these "guidelines" just another way for "the man to hold you down"?

I asked some gainfully employed artist pals o' mine the same questions I posed to the aforementioned "management" on the do's and don'ts of what to include in your portfolio, what material to leave behind or submit, and how to follow up a review. After all, every one of these guys has put together portfolios and pitches. They've all stood in those lines at conventions hoping to impress editors and find work, only to have their work ripped apart and be told that they're doing something wrong. They've "been there, done that." But, hey, they jumped the hoops and look where these show dogs are now.

So, what insight do these working professionals have to share? Any secrets the gatekeepers withheld from us in the previous column? Compare the tips tossed out here to what was said last week…

DO'S AND DON'TS

"Put in more pages of sequential storytelling and fewer sketches of your dog."
Sequential samples, sequential samples, sequential samples. That's the first thing out of each of these artists' mouths. Mock covers, pin-ups, and design concepts in your portfolio are fine, some of them say. But they all agree that the single most important type of art sample to have in there: sequential samples. As Scott Morse (whose credits include "Elektra Glimpse and Echo", "Barefoot Serpent" and one of my favorites "Ancient Joe") says: "Put in more life drawing and fewer drawings of mainstream characters or characters you've created. Put in more pages of sequential storytelling and fewer sketches of your dog."

Research, research, research. Jose Garibaldi (artist of "Maria's Wedding" written by "New Mutants" scribes Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFillipis) says: "Make sure what's in your portfolio is relevant to what the company publishes. Do your homework and know what each is looking for."

In other words, someone at CrossGen might not be that impressed with your Batman paintings. Show those to Bob Schreck. And those Yu-Gi-Oh sample pages? Try Tokyopop. Don't waste your time showing them to Marvel editors. I hear manga is done over there anyway.

Draw what you know. "Make sure to show the style(s) of work you'd be most comfortable creating on a regular basis," adds Garibaldi. Although it helps to be versatile, don't show lifelike, 'realistic' pages if you'd rather work in a cartoon-like style."

Draw what you like. "Green Arrow" artist Phil Hester warns: "Show what you really care about, not what you think they want to see. What they want to see is a passionate and skilled artist."

Put your best foot forward. Hester continues: "Feature only your best work. 3 really great pages trump 12 mediocre pages. Don't make excuses for your work. If it has to be apologized for, it shouldn't be in your portfolio." And Rob Armstrong (whose inking credits include "Transformers" and "Dark Minds") concurs: "Don't ever put any work that isn't your best stuff in your portfolio... only show the good stuff."

Put your best face forward. Think about how you carry yourself and not just what you carry inside your portfolio. "Don't argue with an editor, even if he or she is wrong," Hester says. "You came to them for advice. Be polite enough to listen to it. Besides, they may be right. If not, take it with a grain of salt and move on."

Garibaldi also reminds aspiring artists: "Although you want to exude confidence, leave over-confidence at the door. Remember that you are approaching the publishers, and not the other way around."

Jamal Ingle (whose credits include "New Warriors", "Noble Causes" and "Venture") makes a great comparison: "At a portfolio review, you should behave as you would at any job interview. You're looking for a job, from someone who has a job to do. They're there to help you along if they see potential. So listen to the advice that's given and be courteous."

"Manners, manners, manners," agrees Armstrong. "Be as nice as you can. Comic pros, whether editors or otherwise, are a very jaded group of people (me included). We won't give you the time of day if you're not polite."

Does it not make you wonder how many rude jerks these editors and other comic book pros have encountered at cons that so many of them have to remind folks to "be nice"? Some people's kids!

WHAT TO LEAVE BEHIND

"Editors really hate it when you think you're the shiznit."
When I asked these artists the "What to Leave Behind" question, half of them responded with: "Attitude." Or as Francis Manapul, Top Cow top calf and artist of "Witchblade" and "Tomb Raider," put it: "Editors really hate it when you think you're the shiznit."

Meanwhile, the others (getting that I meant "what material to leave behind with the editor after the review) replied to the "same question with: "A shizmall paczizket." Er, I mean, a "small packet."

Yes, size does matter. Think of how many aspiring artists line up for those portfolio reviews. Consider each and every one of those wannabes leaving a ten-page package of art samples with the editor doing the reviews. How much do you think all that paper weighs? And between the Abe Sapien bust the editor just got for 30% off retail, the Oni trade paperbacks he was just comp'd, and your twenty-page "Spider-Woman" sample or Bible-sized pitch for a "Kamandi" miniseries, which do you think he's going to make room for in his suitcase? No, it really doesn't matter how sexy those Spider-Woman pages are.

Hester claims: "Big packets go in airport garbage cans." Myself, I've personally seen many a submission package either left under the table on the con floor at the end of the day or in an editor's hotel room at the end of the show. And that's no bullshiznitz.

Ingle has a good general rule of thumb: "A small package of photocopies, four to five pages. Each page should have your name and contact number. Your package should include a cover letter as well as a business card."

Morse has another good idea: "Put together a minicomic of your work. It helps if this is an actual sequential story, but if you only have a few sample pages and some good life drawings, throw them together and staple them up with a fun little cover. These things are much cooler and easier to transport than fifty pieces of Xeroxed 8.5 x 11" paper in a presentation folder."

Garibaldi suggests: "If you have a Web site, go to Office Max or Kinko's and have business cards printed up with your URL, e-mail, and phone number. They're fairly cheap, and you get a box load to hand out to everyone. Staple those cards to your packet."

Neither Jose Garibaldi nor I, nor anyone in our respective families, work for either Office Max or Kinko's.

HOW TO FOLLOW UP

But speaking of business cards…

Following a portfolio review, Ingle recommends: "Try and ask for a business card from the editor who gives you a review. Ask the editor if it would be OK to contact him by phone and follow up with a phone call within a week after the con. After that it's up to you to continue sending new samples as often as possible."

"'Swingers' rule: Wait one week after the con to contact him or her."
However, Armstrong warns: "Editors are pretty good at letting you know if you have a shot right there by either giving you a business card or not. If you get one, then contact him via e-mail only ("Swingers" rule: Wait one week after the con to contact him or her). Oh, and e-mailing contacts is like tennis. One person serves, the other responds. Don't jump the gun."

While you're applying all of Rob's metaphors, similes and movie refs - or trying to figure them out - consider the dose of reality that Garibaldi dishes out next: "If you have yet to hear from an editor, they may have lost your submission, they may too be busy, or they just don't have an opening for you."

Yeah, "lost." So then what?

Manapul recommends: "Mail the editor some new stuff to show improvement. Look for them at other cons to show them more new stuff. If they see improvement, well, by golly, you might just get a gig!" (Now, it's "by golly"? What th--?!)

And Scott Morse pushes the minicomic thing some more and also warns: "I know you want to talk to the editor you gave stuff to. Don't try. He or she is busy editing. What you do is put together another minicomic and send them that. Send it to their co-workers. Send it everywhere."

By golly, that idea's the shiznitz, Scott!

ADDITIONAL ADVICE

"Don't get discouraged so easily. Don't get ahead of yourself. If you're not ready, you're just not ready…"
To end this piece, I asked everyone if they had any other "additional advice", any parting words of wisdom to impart. And not just about portfolio reviews or submissions packages. The people who you want to be had this to say in closing…

Helpful Jose Garibaldi (whose "Maria's Wedding" debuts in July) says: "Don't get discouraged so easily. Don't get ahead of yourself. If you're not ready, you're just not ready…"

Multitalented Mike Hawthorne (whose "Three Days in Europe" is in stores now and "Terminator 3" will be in stores soon) puts it a little more bluntly: "Make sure you got real chops before you go out there."

Skillful Scott Chantler (whose "Days Like This" is in stores now) elaborates: "You should really learn to draw before approaching editors, who are just going to tell you to 'learn to draw.' And for that, you really need to talk to other artists and find out what they know. As good as a lot of editors are, they almost always come at it from a perspective of 'Can I sell this?', which isn't what you need as a developing artist. Artists, though, can be amazing in helping you develop a style and to really think about what it is you're trying to accomplish artistically, not just commercially."

Savvy Scott Morse (whose contributions to "Sam & Twitch" and "Sidekicks" can be seen later this month) adds: "Make a name for yourself. Don't expect Marvel or DC to do it for you. Don't expect Oni or Dark Horse to make you a hit. You need to be what you're selling to the editors and the publishers and the public. Set up at conventions, even if you're not selling anything. If you have minis, give them away. You never know who will walk by. I did this before I got started, and made all kinds of friends. I work with half of them now."

Finally, Jamal Ingle (whose "Venture" is in stores now) sums it all up rather nicely for us: "Here are the top five lessons I've learned over the years regarding portfolio reviews:

  1. Don't put old pages in your portfolio. Nobody wants to see Batman pages you did when you were six.

  2. Don't have an attitude. No matter how good you think you are, they've seen better.

  3. Don't make excuses during a review; it makes you seem wishy-washy and defensive.

  4. Never say: "I think I'm better than (insert superstar artist here)." It's not up to you to make that distinction. It's good to be confident but bad to be an asshole.

  5. Remember that while it does happen, it's certainly happened to me more than once, don't expect to walk away from a portfolio review with a job. Make the most of your time by getting tips on improving your work."

A good portfolio, a good attitude, a little good luck and some good timing, that's all you really need to break into comics. Oh, and maybe some good advice from people who know what they're talking about. It's been our pleasure to provide you the latter, but the rest is up to you.

Next week: Aspiring writers, we have not forsaken, thee.

Meanwhile, why not visit the shiznitz Open Your Mouth message board because, by golly, you never know who you might come across over there.

Thank you for your attention.

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