I figured it’s the start of the new convention season and lots of people are going to be packing up portfolios to show to 2000AD (and other companies) so, let’s see if I can’t shed a little light on some of the mysteries of the submissions process…(Feel free to ask more questions in the comments and I’ll try and answer EVERYTHING – and don’t be afraid, if you have a question, no matter how stupid you think it is, I’ve probably had to ask someone the same question – NO MATTER HOW STUPID) Rich Clements (one of the mad men behind hi-ex comic con and futurequake) asks:
Well, the simple answer is that … you don’t. I’ve known great artists who don’t think they’re good enough and rubbish artists who think they’re geniuses. In fact, my first multi-part Rogue Trooper largely came about because Rob Williams pushed me to show a new portfolio to Tharg – something I was too worried to do, thinking the work wasn’t good enough (actually, still not convinced).
The important thing is to get your work seen by as wide a circle of people as possible, cream rises.
One aspect of whether you’re ready or not that is easy to spot is whether you’ve actually completed pages. Again, I’ve seen portfolios that are AMAZING – but nothing is finished. Filled with half drawn pages, single – BRILLIANT – figures on unfinished pencilled backgrounds. The work is good enough to be published – if only the artist would finish ANYTHING. But they don’t. And, year after year, they have the exact same, half-genius half-useless portfolio. In the meantime, again, year after year, the guy (or gal) that gets their head down and IMPROVES while showing their portfolio, they are the one that will make it.
A single portfolio session rarely leads to commisioned work, you build a relationship with an editor over time, by showing work that gets closer and closer to publishable, year on year, then an editor can feel a) you’re good enough and b) you’re someone they can count on to do the work.
Thing of how you’d approach a great big gorilla, head slightly bowed and NEVER LOOK THEM IN THE EYE.
What’s general protocol for actually approaching editors/pro artists for portfolio advice? (Obviously with artists I’m guessing you want to wait till they’re not sketching, but is that only at the bar?)
Ok. I’m joking. A little. There are a couple of ways to do this, usually there are portfolio review sessions where you wait in line and go up to talk to an editor/artist with portfolio in hand. This is, for many, a slightly nerve wracking experience – but it doesn’t have to be. No editor or artist will tell you you’re rubbish, they’ll all look for good stuff in the portfolio to comment on. Unless you’re REALLY, REALLY good, then they’ll look for what’s wrong. BUT – even standing in line it’s pretty easy to size up someone and figure out if they’re ready. Here’s some SEKRET KNOWLEDGE:
1) Small, tidy portfolios make you look a whole lot more professional than bigger A2 portfolios. An editor will size that up right from the start – A2 portfolio suggests ‘art student’ – and, therefore, someone not quiet ready (though the contents of the portfolio are the ultimate arbitrator) A4 portfolio suggests someone who’s done this a LOT and doesn’t want to lug a big portfolio around – ie this guy is a pro in some artistic field.
2) How you dress/look/smell COUNT. Even the greatest portfolio in the world but covered in tomato ketchup isn’t going to impress. Get out of the con, make sure you have a shower, make sure you’ve got some deoderant with you (spray it before you join the queue) 3) Editors audibly sigh (and despair) when they open a portfolio and it’s choc full of pin ups. As great as you may be, it’s of little or no use for about 99% of a comics content. An editor already has dozens of cover artists on tap (along with all of the great interior artists, all of whom would love to do a cover) -and ye old ed knows that they can all meet deadlines and do good work.
Really doesn’t matter HOW you arrive at finished art, as long as the art is finished. Some tools are better than others, and an editor will often advise new people to try dip pens or brushes rather than markers (or whatever other tool they’ve used) but this is more about getting variety in the line weight of your artwork – in the end, whether the art is all digital, painted with a fine brush or drawn with a pigma pen it’s about getting a bounce and vibrancy in the line (it just so happens that this is easier with a brush and a dip pen, hence the oft-handed down advice)
– I’m looking to show folks my work in B&W at A3 but there’s a chance with some of it that it’ll be tampered with in PhotoShop (for assembly, most likely) – Is that acceptable or one of the unwritten no-no’s?
Yes! Also, bring a small portfolio with you WHERE EVER YOU GO. Be it bars, pub or whatever. NEVER force someone to look at your portfolio, but if you’re with friends and one of them knows an editor and they say ‘oh, do you have a portfolio’ the answer should ALWAYS be yes.
– Can you actually just walk from table to table garnering advice on your work or should you just pick a few? (I’m looking to tailor various parts of the portfolio to various publishers)
See above, basically, as long as it looks good – no one really cares how you got there.
– Can you submit work that has pencils incorporated into the inks as finshed work? (Bit specific, sorry)
(Mind you, 20 years ago the advice was different, but that was a technological limitation – it was always much easier to reproduce strong b&w art than it was pencilled greyscale art). Barry Renshaw asks
2000AD are unusual in that they like an artist who does all of the art chores, if you do coloured work include that (unless it’s terrible). I’d be inclined to bring 5-6 pages of a single continuous comic strip along and, behind the portfolio include the pencils/inks. But keep them at the back – just in case the editor asks to see them. As far as 2000Ad characters, if you want to draw Dredd bring a Dredd sample, if it’s SinDex, bring a sample of that and if you’re not fussed, bring along something NON-Superhero. Nothing will sink you faster in 2000Ad than having a portfolio bursting with spider-man (or any other yankee spandex wearing do-gooder). Rich McAuliffe via twitter (@richmcauliffe_)
Hows about number of pencil pages versus inked and coloured, how many is overkill, just use 2000AD characters or use other characters as well.
Here’s the horrible truth: the slushpile (when art is sent in to be sat on top of all the other art that is sent in) is the worst way possible to break into any comic. If you can: avoid it.
My question would be on the advised wait. If you hear nada in 4 months should you re-submit?
In fact, Marvel decided to abandon it altogether in favour of hunting down artists at comic conventions – they reasoned that so few decent artists came out of the slushpile it was no longer worth doing. And the reason? I’d guess it’s because, if you’re a good artist that by the time they find you in the slushpile you’ll have already made a mark somewhere else that they’ll have seen. I sent art to the 2000AD offices about four/six months before I was first commissioned by Andy Diggle – to this day I’ve no idea of whether he saw my art in the slushpile. By all means send stuff in, but it should be treated like a lottery – YES, you might win, but you’ll be doing yourself a whole lotta of good by pursuing other options. Get yourself in published by someone else, keep hitting comic conventions and show your work around. If you’re good enough those options will reward you far quicker than the slushpile. By the time I’d showed my work to Andy I would’ve been embarrassed by the art in the slush pile… (BTW the same advice is pretty much true for any writer, many of whom, when they receive the rejection letter have already decided the work wasn’t up to scratch. The only writer that I know of that got a break via the slush pile was Mike Carey – and he’d already broken the US by that time!) James at the 2000Ad message board asks
I think I’ve already covered the whys, above, but I’d go with A4: Less hassle, more professional looking and … less hassle.(Also: my advice is to put completed art into an A4 pocket file, one with the pockets built into it, it’s just a lot easier to manage). I lugged A3 cases with me to every con for a couple of years until I got wise and started bringing an A4 folder – it’s never made any difference (really it boils down to content) A4 photocopies, stapled together (or paperclip) with your name and contact details on EVERY SINGLE PAGE (probably best to number them too – that way, if they get separated then they’re easy to put back together in order). In my career, I’ve bought leave behinds with me EVERY SINGLE CON – and only been asked once. I’d advise people to have them, but don’t get too down hearted if you don’t hand any out. ‘Locustsofdeath’ via 2000AD Message board
What’s the best format to leave samples behind? A4 I assume, but stapled together? Presented in a polypocket lined display book? Folded into quarters and stuffed into a letter envelope?
What size should you show arwork at? I’m thinking A3.
NEVER EVER EVER Submit a future shock with art. It’s totally pointless, and, if it’s a good script it might be ruined by some bad art, or, if it’s good art it might be ruined by a bad script. (I mean, statistically, at least one of those statements is true, right?) in any event, even if it’s great art and a great script it’s incredibly presumptuous to think the writer and artist will team up on that single strip – futureshocks are held in the drawer for when they’re needed to fill some space, they hold scripts and commission art when it’s needed.
Offhand do you or anyone else know what would be the best way for a writer to submit? Scripts only? Completed strips? Both?
For a writer, I’d suggest two tacks: Send futureshocks, by all means (but see above when I talked about the slush pile), but also get your head down and start publishing your own work. Futurequake (the small press sci-fi anthology title that’s currently on issue 15) was started by Arthur Wyatt who’d had enough future shocks rejected to begin his own comic with them. The act of writing these up, commissioning artists and publishing it allowed Art to hone his skill-set enough that, eventually, he was able to get working for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. And it’s since moved on to have a life of it’s own. Similarly, Al Ewing became a fixture at the conventions with his mad-out-there mini comics that eventually led to him being commissioned to write mad-out-there series for 2000AD. Si Spurrier started in the slush pile, but his first proper commisioned comic came from the very first (IIRC) ‘pitchfest’ (a mad idea where a panel of experts sit and listen as you explain your pitch for a future shock to them… all human life was there…) The list of writers who’ve come purely out of the slush pile is … well… I’m not sure I know any.
EDITED TO ADD: Art actually sold his first work via the pitchfest too, he had this to say “Not sure FutureQuake helped directly. It certainly hasn’t hurt though, and is great for seeing how stuff works in print.”
Art also added this:
The other thing i’ve learned is to really, really pay attention to Matt [Smith – 2000AD Editor] feedback.
Even when it’s short and seems somewhat dismissive it’s generally a really to-the-point comment on what you need to do. As a writer, when someone says “I don’t want this, because of A, B and C” it;s easy to focus on “I don’t want this”… When A, B, and C can often be instructions to what an editor *does* want, and often make for a better story too.
Kevin Levell (via twitter) says:
Largely it depends on what they’ve said – if it’s non-commital “Yeah, this is really nice” “Yeah, you’re fairly shaping up” or words to that effect you’ve got to figure out a way to kick that up a notch – and get the new work under the editors nose. You’ve got to get the editor to look at your work with a fresh set of eyes (harking back to the Rogue Trooper story above, the new samples I showed Matt were dramatically different from the work I’d done up to that point, these were greywashed and suited to Rogue) you’ve also got to find a second angle of attack. Start looking for writers that are up and coming that need artists (writers ALWAYS need artists, especially good ones that can meet deadlines) work with them, let those writers become your ‘agent’ – by pimping themselves they’ll also be pimping you. If they’ve said something along the lines of “Yeah, we’d definitely commission you for something” all you can really do now is periodically send them emails showing them what you’re up to now. Keep a blog, fill it with new material, any time you do something radically different send a quick email (with the art attached) to the editor (WARNING! DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS THE EDITOR HAS ALREADY EXPRESSED A SERIOUS INTEREST IN GIVING YOU WORK!) Emperor of the 2000AD Message board has a bunch of questions:
How do you turn a positive response into a commission without bugging the hell out of the editor?
What do you feel the optimum number of pages for a portfolio is? I know the temptation would be to jam as much as possible in to put your best foot forward but the editor has a finite amount of time and turning up with 50 pages is probably extracting the urine.
Even if EVERY SINGLE PAGE is amazing, I’ve found people have a page threshold that really hovers around 6 to 12 pages. AND THAT’S IF IT’S GREAT. I’d keep it to about 5 / 6 pages of a single 2000AD comic strip (or other strip) the important thing is they should be consecutive comic pages – without lettering. An editor should be able to skim read the comic your presenting and understand it. If you have multiple, distinct styles of art then you should include a short strip in each style – but few people do. If you can draw sci-fi and fantasy, include both. But not more than 5/6 pages of each. Don’t expect many people to reach past the first four/five pages – so keep the strip you’re happiest with at the front.
I’m old school; storytelling is more important than gorgeous pencils/inks/colours – so whatever you include should be sequential (even if the best page is page 3 – and, for an improving artist, the best page will always be the last page they did, believe me, if an editor can see a gradual improvement from page 1 to page 5 it’s a good thing).
Would you recommend having a whole 5 page sample from a script or lead with your best page and possibly show pencils, inks and colours? Or go for as varied a mix as possible?
re: Pencils/inks/colours – 2000AD don’t really do teams (for pencils/inks) so, unless you’re inking is REALLY terrible, pencil and ink. If you’re an amazing painter then go full colour too. Though my taste is for b&w lineart.
EDITED TO ADD: Don’t bother lettering your work. 2000AD already have some top notch letterers and you’re lettering will only get in the way…
YES! If you have it and you can, bring a multiple samples. And keep them in the same portfolio – rejigging it through the day, putting the stuff you want a particular editor to see at the front. If they glance and see different styles it does no harm…
Would you recommend take a lot of samples with them but pick from those to build a specific portfolio aimed at the editor (2000 AD stuff for Tharg, Spidey and Hulk for Marvel, etc.)?
I had (probably still have) a terrible reputation for showing my art to anyone who asked. ALWAYS keep a portfolio and always be willing to show it to people. Don’t force it on anyone, just keep it handy. (An A4 folder is, obviously, a lot better for this…)
Is it worth just carrying a more general selection around so you can show it off to random passers by?
Yes. (I mean yes to ‘it’s a longer process’)
Picking up on locust’s: who do writers make conventions work for them? Liquor and editor up at the bare and then pin them to the wall when free booze has impaired their mobility enough? Spike their drink with GHB and make them sign a contract or the donkey photos bet circulated? Or is it a longer process: get your work done and out there, use that as a springboard for informal chats with editors and work up from there?
Do you have any best/worst stories about conventions? Portfolio nightmare viewings? fan stalking? Feel free to do change names to protect the innocent. I’m really thinking of this:
Nothing that I’m prepared to spill on the web …
Any big dos and don’ts other than: wear deodorant and lots of it.
I think I’ve put a load of dos and don’ts in – hopefully that’s plenty to be getting on with…
Sleeping with fans – good idea or great idea?
Crotchless Spider-Man outfit – yes or no?
Right I think that has exhausted my questions. For now.
Well, I’m exhausted too. Hurrah!Oh dammit, he posted some more:
Yes – though don’t expect to do much with those other than swap amongst a bunch of other artists/writers. The ONE time you’ll be asked is the one time you haven’t got one (mind you, if an editor is interested it’s more likely he’ll give you his card).
Oh and would you recommend having a card 9or even a bookmark?) to hand out with further details on, so if they were possibly interested they could look up your other work?
Do that too – it has the added bonus of a) getting your name about in the small press (many of whom are ALSO trying to work their way into the pro circuit, and may, eventually, lead to your first pro work) and b) everytime you write/draw and publish something you get a little bit better than the last time. Editors end up with a stack of things they usually throw away, so don’t get to worried about an editor refusing. A smarter tactic is to start giving freebies to the OTHER people who work with the editor, give out free comics to PR people, artists, writers, anyone in the pro areana, one of them may eventually lead you back to the editor… Phew… that’s all – hope you find a nugget of use in some of that, if there’s anything more you want to ask just post in the comments. Good luck! -pj
What about printing off a few copies of a little sampled comic (bringing together your small press work and a few pin-ups perhaps?) to give to editors so they can nose through it at their leisure? Alex Ronald reckons the comic he made really helped.
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