Monday, July 17, 2006

Your Comics Portfolio: 14 Bits of Advice

The Comics Art Portfolio advice from Andrew Pepoy (link no longer works), other comics professionals on The Drawing Board forum (that link is gone, too) and from the So You Wanna site are all very useful.

Now I'm gonna give you my list and add a few tips most people don't really talk about.

1. Put the work in a portfolio case.
Pepoy mentions this... and to back him up, loose pages means you are NOT READY. It looks unprofessional and it's hard to handle. Please take the time to respect your work enough to put it in a case.

It doesn't have to be an expensive leather case. It doesn't even have to be the type with a handle. There are book-shaped, bound portfolios with a set page count that are quite reasonably priced. They can be found at any art supply store.

PS: stick to a 9 x 12 or 11x14 size. Bigger than that and you'll come off like an art student (and maybe you are but you want a JOB, right?). Make photocopies or print outs of your work so it'll be small enough to fit. Don't bring original art if you can help it.

2. Put your resume on the opening page of the portfolio. It's part of the presentation.
It looks like you know what you're doing. It'll look professional. It'll look like you really want a job.
Include it if you've done illustration work for hire, and include sample printed books or tear sheets if you have them. If you're new at this, don't worry and don't include it.

2A. (Print that resume on nice paper. Make sure there are no typos in it!) (And if you're not including it cause it's your first job, please do make a nice business card with your contact info on it. More on that below in #10.)

3. Arrange your portfolio in some kind of order.
There are all sorts of ways to arrange your portfolio. Pepoy's list had good pointers. Here is yet another way:

Put the resume first.
Follow it with the copies of art.
If you have any of your artwork printed in flyers or ads or in comic books already, place all that stuff together after the art. It'll look good to have printed samples.

10 - 15 pieces total is good. Make sure there is at least 4 pages of sequential art in there. (if you don't know what "sequential art" means, you're not ready.)

4. Only include art on the discipline you want to work in.
This was mentioned on the SoYouWanna site under "KNOW YOUR SPECIALTY". But it bears repeating. In other words don't show "a little bit of everything". It comes off like you're unfocused.

If you wanna pencil, show your pencils. If you wanna ink, show inks.

5. If you want to work in mainstream comics, don't include x-rated art samples.
We don't really talk about this too often ... and it always surprises me when some guy comes up to the table with a portfolio of this stuff. I think it's just for the shock value, but just in case you are honestly genuinely mistaken:

Don't do this. People might be polite to your face but if you offend the wrong person you may never work in that particular editor's office. Ever.

It's unprofessional for mainstream comics, and simply inappropriate since it's not going to prove you can tell a story in comic book form.

6. Know what you're there for. And pay attention.
If you don't know what you're there for, the reviewer isn't going to be able to read your mind. There's also going to be an entire line of people standing in front and behind you.

So know what you're there for. Are you there for a job, or are you there for a review and feedback? Maybe a little of both ... ?

Remember to pay attention and listen to the reviews happening ahead of you when you are close enough. You might learn something.

7. Be Polite when you approach. Speak up and speak clearly. Shake hands.
When you finally get there, introduce yourself. Listen and know who you are speaking with and getting reviewed by.

You'd be surprised at how many people WANT to get a job in comics and then sabotage themselves by being total jerks to the people potentially hiring when their stuff gets reviewed!

8. As you get reviewed, have the courtesy to listen.
Don't interrupt. Don't be defensive. Don't sulk if they turn you down.

Listen. Learn. Get better. Come back to the next Con.

Most people will not walk away with a job after a portfolio review. (SOMETIMES it happens but VERY RARELY.)

9. Don't take the review personally. Learn how to improve your artwork.
When I was breaking into comics and would get a table at a New York Con with my studio mates (between '87 - '92) my friends would get their art portfolios reviewed by VERY FAMOUS COMICS ARTISTS (not naming names) who would THEN proceed to absolutely shred their work apart. And rudely, too. (I don't think there's any need to be rude at a review.)

Today those friends both freelance from their own studios and make a living with their art. They let those mean spirited reviews roll off their backs and just got better where they needed to. (Heck, and the stuff they do now PAYS a LOT BETTER than comics work does! hahahahaha to the mean comic book guys!!)

Making art feels very personal, but when you're looking for work as an artist you enter a whole different ballpark. When you show your artwork in order to get hired, it's now about business. It's not about you. It's all about whether the art is what the publisher (READ: deadlines) needs and is looking for.

Even if they DO reject the art this time, it doesn't mean you'll never get a job in comics. It doesn't mean your work stinks (to say it politely). This is ONLY about being ready for a job right now. This is NOT a personal critique.

It might be as simple as you're not ready to work professionally just yet. It might mean you need to work on your backgrounds and get more reference, or get better at anatomy or at inking line weights or at color depth.

Or it might mean you are ready but the art looks like everyone else that already works for them, so you really need to knock the ball out of the park with something really great and imaginative to impress them.

Or they're just not hiring NOW and they'll keep your card in file ... ! (keep sending them samples. You never know when they JUST MIGHT NEED YOU...)

If you have a good reviewer, they will tell you exactly what you're missing and what to work on. And if they are a reviewer worth their salt, they'll be able to convey that feedback in a constructive way that doesn't belittle you or your work.

A lot of this is about having the stomach to handle rejection. (Don't worry, this happens to novelists and painters, too.)

10. Make sure you have a business card on hand and some sample packets ready.
Maybe you'll use them. Maybe you won't. But it's better to be prepared.

Some editors may not want to take photocopies of your work at the con. Don't worry. If they like your work, they may instead ask you to mail samples to their office after the convention. If this happens, TAKE THIS OFFER SERIOUSLY AND GET THEIR BUSINESS CARD. MAIL THEM PHOTOCOPIES when you get home!

I can't tell you how many artists mess it up right here because they never follow up!

If there's no follow up, they won't remember you from the other 100 portfolios they saw that day (let alone weekend). And if you don't follow up, it means you don't care. At the very least, have your business card on hand. If they have your card and get your package when they're back at the office, they will remember you.

11. If the editor/reviewer says he can't give you feedback don't push him for feedback.
Don't be pushy. If he can read art, he'll tell you when you come back to be reviewed. If he's leaving, he can tell you who else at the table can review you.

If you stopped by at a bad time, make it your business to come back.

But if he says "he doesn't know how to critique art" believe him! I've heard more bad advice given out by non-artistic editors who don't know how to direct artists (yeah, you wonder how they get hired too, huh? I do.) and usually this happens when they get pushed by someone who is Anxious for a Review From Anyone Behind the Table.

12. Don't use pornography as anatomy reference.
A few years ago at a NY Comic Con I overheard one editor tell a newbie artist to use porn as anatomy reference (!) That editor no longer works in comics.

It's just not professional to use x-rated stuff as reference. Why?

a. The anatomy will look weird. The pictures are doctored, and the proportions are faked via surgery or Photoshop.

b. The poses are unnatural. If you think putting a costume solves "the problem", it doesn't. People don't sit or pose or stand like that in real life. Really.

I'll even spare you the why it's bad from a spiritual angle this time (the root word of pornography is "porne", which is Greek for "prostitute". You figure it out.) So let me instead appeal to your greed for fame and fortune as a popular comics artist:

c. Use inappropriate reference for your artwork and you WILL cut off an entire section of your potential fan and readership base.

Go take a real anatomy class at an art school and draw real naked people in a normal art classroom setting. You'll learn better. (And it won't set the rest of our collective teeth on edge.)

13. If you want to work in comics, know what you can handle.
Comics means publishing means deadlines. You will be expected to keep deadlines. Knowing you can meet them will make a difference to your publisher.

How much can you draw a day? You have to know this when you bring in your portfolio.

To get a monthly book you have to be able to pencil one page a day MINIMUM.
To get a monthly book you have to be able to ink one page a day MINIMUM.
To get a monthly book you have to color 2 pages a day MINIMUM.

You have to be able to meet these minimums -- and don't be shocked -- but know you're probably going to be working freelance at about $10 an hour if you're breaking in as a penciller. (Inkers and colorists make less ...)

14. A lot of women work on staff in comics.
You may be under the impression that the comics industry is dominated by men, and that may be largely true for the higher profile artist and writer side of things. But a surprisingly large number of women work on staff in production, as editors, assistant editors and in other departments that are not immediately obvious to the public. This might really help you with points 5 and 12.

It will help you stick with it if you love the field and the potential it holds as a storytelling medium.

Good luck. Have a great show!


Unknown said...

Wait -- but what about writers?

(Man, I'm never gonna break into comics!)

Erica Well said...

I've just gotten a second request for writer tips ...

I'll see who has good writer tips and then add in my two cents later this week!