Thursday, January 19, 2012

What's an Artist to Do?

Last time around, I talked about breaking into comic writing and got a lot of responses from artists about the same topic.  So, let me say just a few words about breaking into comics as an artist.  Now, the disclaimer should be obvious.  I am a writer, not an artist.  That being said, over the years I have seen thousands of aspiring artists brave the convention floors across the country, looking to crack into the industry.  I've also witnessed countless portfolio reviews and encounters with editors on the subject. 

Here are a few nuggets to consider:

Forget the pinups.  There are so many artists who present portfolios of only pinups and splashes, and the first response is ALWAYS the same.  "Where is the sequential art?"  Editors want to see your storytelling.  Anyone can draw a pinup piece (granted some a hell of a lot better than others), but it's still a pinup.  To get work in this business, you need to have sequential samples to show.  Your first job…maybe your first twenty jobs will be interior work.

Put your best foot forward.  When organizing your portfolio, put the newest (and hopefully) the best stuff up front.  You only get one chance at that first impression - so make it count.

Now, that's not to say that a rejection initially is the end of the road.  It's not.  It's the beginning.  When an editor gives you criticism.  Accept it without offense - do not get defensive about it.  Remember, they are not trying to crush your dreams or dash your hopes.  They are giving you useful feedback on things to work on.  Listen and take it all in - and apply it in your future work.  Editors want to work with people who listen to notes and can adjust and adapt accordingly.  Many (if not most) artists were rejected time and again as they honed their craft and developed to the point of being ready for professional work.  It's not a sprint.  It's a marathon.  You've got to practice and work at it.

Work on what you hate.  If there is something that you feel you don't draw well or don't enjoy, take some time and focus on that specific area.  If cityscapes are not your thing and you show a portfolio with no cityscapes, guess what?  They'll ask for cityscapes.  Editors need to know you are versatile. Backgrounds, cities, animals, vehicles, anatomy, faces, hands and feet.  You need to work on it all.  There are no shortcuts.  I remember an exercise the very talented Micah Gunnell told me about from his days at the Kubert School.  It was all about hands.  He positioned his free hand in different poses again and again and simply sketched them out. Think of it as a challenge - confront yourself with your biggest obstacle and overcome it.

Let's talk about conventions and interacting with editors.  Be professional and confident, but not obnoxious.  I've seen way too many artists present themselves in a sheepish manner that works against them.  Now, we are all introverts to a certain extent, so the notion of putting ourselves out there in a boastful fashion goes against our very being.  But, you have to be positive.  You can be humble and gracious, without being dismissive of yourself or your talent.  I've actually seen artists present their portfolio with the opening words -"I know this isn't very good, but would you mind taking a look."  It's so counter-productive.  Now, there's also a danger on the other side - cocky attitudes can be even more damaging.  Don't be a diva.

One of the more tricky areas of networking is finding that fine line between persistent and annoying.  You want to stay in regular contact with the people you meet, but do not want to become a pest.  That's where new samples work great.  It's the perfect excuse to reach out to people, show them something new, and stay fresh in their mind.  

I want to stress again about being professional.  Don't dress like a slob.  A suit isn't necessary, but be presentable.  The same goes for your portfolio.  Have your work in a nice folder and if possible bring photocopies of your samples to leave behind with your contact information on it.  Sketches drawn on blue-lined paper, colored with crayons, and ripped from a spiral notebook are not the way to go.  It makes it seem like you scribbled something down at the bar the night before as a dare - rather than a serious professional endeavor.  Have contact info that uses your real name.  Save the email address of for your personal life. 

One more tidbit - have an idea of how long a page of art takes you.  Deadlines are a part of this business.  They want to see the best work you can produce in a matter of days, not months.  You could present an unbelievable double spread that blows them away, but if it took 300 hours to complete, it's kind of pointless.

Again, these are just a few of my notes on the matter because I was asked.  Talk to artists.  They know a lot more than me. 

That is all for now.

Good luck.



  1. Well said, JT. I see a lot of portfolios at conventions - especially where I'm a guest speaker - and while I'm not a professional editor by any measure, I do notice a distinct lack of sequentials in just about every portfolio I see.

    Also, I encourage a variety of sequentials - not just superheros battling it out. Also show someone ordering coffee, or doing a morning routine. Tell a story with your sequentials, and have fun with it!