Chris and I just got back from CNTx and that means we looked at a lot of portfolios. So it seemed like the perfect time to review our Top 5 Comic Portfolio Pitfalls!
PITFALL #1: Asking “Am I Ready?”
People regularly come up to me at conventions, ask me to look at their work and then pop this dreaded question, “Do you think I’m ready?”
It puts me in an awkward position, because the response to the question you’ve asked is either “Yes” or “No.” One answer might give you a false sense of where you’re at when the other could be unintentionally crushing.
We’re all on an artistic journey–and we’ll all improve with time if we stay active artistically and continue to polish our skills. So instead of asking “Am I good enough?” try, “What are the strengths that you see in my work?”, “What are the weaknesses?”, “Do you have any suggestions on how I could improve?”
Not only are the answers to these questions infinitely more helpful to you, they’re more reflective of the fact that we’re all moving ever upward and pressing toward greater control of our talents.
PITFALL #2: Including Work You Know Isn’t Your Strongest.
If you ask me to review your portfolio, I am assuming that what you put in front of me is your best work. But it still happens that when I point out a weakness in a piece the artist interrupts me to say, “I know” then gives me an excuse why it is that way.
If you know there is a mistake in your work either fix it or take it out of your portfolio!
Five stellar pages are better than 10 if half of them are weak. Awkward foreshortening, perspective mistakes, and inaccurate anatomy are some of the most common errors I see.
Work until you get it right! If you don’t, believe me, someone else out there will. I don’t know what you can do, I only know what I see in front of me. So choose wisely what to include!
PITFALL #3: Making Me Work For It.
It is inevitable that at every show I attend, at least one person will ask me to review their work, then proceed to pull out a beat up, disorganized sketchbook raining loose pages like New Year’s Eve confetti.
Please be respectful of an artist’s time when you ask us to look at your work. I’m at conventions to work and make money–I love critiquing people’s work, but I still need to do those other things.
If I talk to you for a half an hour, that’s one commission I gave up just to talk to you. So just be mindful that most of us want to help, but please keep the time reasonable.
Sketchbooks are mostly full of just a few motifs, anyway–a collection of the same faces and poses over and over again. So pick a best piece that encapsulates what you’re working out in your sketchbook and show me that one. I shouldn’t have to comb through a 100 page sketchbook just to get to the 6 pieces that are indicative of your work.
Come to me ready: with organized, clean, neat, work. No pages falling everywhere!
This is also true if you send me digital work; sending a link to your entire DeviantART portfolio or your webcomic’s complete archives is not helpful.
Pull out six to ten of your best pages, create a digital PDF and send me that. Or link to one of your favorite pages in your comic, then specifically ask me to read the next six pages.
If you send me a long list of links, unfortunately, I won’t click on them all. I’ll pick three or four randomly and make my judgment from that.
PITFALL #4: Favoring Style to Substance.
Comic pages need to read easily and clearly. This means they read left to right, then top to bottom without the reader having to pause to figure out which panel is next. Trying too hard to create impressive, intricate layouts often leads to reader confusion.
Characters or objects breaking out of a panel should only do so if it leads naturally to the next panel in sequential order. Really confusing pages might show off how creative you can be, but save it for a poster or a cover. The pages of your comic should suck your reader into your story, not take them out of it!
Fun fact: I made it through DC Comics talent search with simple six panel pages with plain white gutters! And the story was just three teenagers talking in the cafeteria on lunch break! No giant explosions, alien invasions or rooftop chase scenes. The editors who reviewed my work were impressed that I took a simple scene and made it interesting.
PITFALL #5: Avoiding Difficult Things in Your Work.
Most of us can draw our favorite subjects and poses really well. But a comic book artist must be able to draw anything and everything: cars, rooms, cities, crowds, schools, secret lairs, planes, military bases, mountain ranges, coffee shops, horses and all shapes, colors and ages of people!
I always take notice of portfolios that include the most difficult things to draw: descriptive backgrounds, varied camera angles, and accurate perspective. It is pretty easy to tell when someone fudges the perspective in their drawings. I know it’s hard work, but take out your ruler and learn how to do it right.
Every panel starts with a horizon line–and everything in that panel will either be above or below that line. So draw accordingly! This is a great tool, be sure you learn how to do it. If I were hiring, I would never, ever, ever hire someone who had not mastered perspective drawing.
It’s also a guarantee that if you hand me a page without backgrounds on it, I’ll hand it right back to you and tell you to put them in there.
Flip through your favorite comics–environments are an essential part of storytelling. Learn to embrace that and use descriptive environments to bring your characters to life.
Strong looking work that doesn’t include difficult camera angles, accurate perspective, and detailed backgrounds isn’t actually strong work. And it’s pretty easy to spot when an artist is hiding their weaknesses by avoiding them.
*Bonus Tip* Don’t set your portfolio, your coffee or anything else on my merchandise.
Those comic books, prints and fliers you just set your book bag on actually cost me quite a lot of money to print. I take great care to make sure my merchandise makes it to and from conventions undamaged. If an item gets bent or stained by what you casually plop down on top of it, I can’t sell it. Please respect that and set your things on the floor, and hand your portfolio straight to me. I’ll enjoy our conversation so much more if you do!