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Breaking Into Comics: Part Three

Mon Oct 18, 2010, 6:51 PM
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PART THREE: Submitting samples

Okay, we've already discussed that breaking into the comic book market [ or any art based market for that matter ] takes a self conscious - critical eye and, generally speaking, you can't just draw 3-6 sample comic book pages for the first time and nail a job with the top publishers.  Even though that sounds reasonable enough, some artists simply don't understand that you need to baby step your way into a comic book career.  

Let's put it this way:  You may want to be a lawyer.  Perhaps you have received high marks in school and consider yourself very intelligent.  In fact, you might be very intelligent - but that doesn't mean you can pass the Law Exam for your state [ country, etc ].  It's true you don't need to go to law school to be a lawyer.  But you have to pass the exam.  So, technically, if by some miracle you taught yourself to pass the exam, yes - you could be a lawyer.  But, most law firms want to hire a lawyer with a degree.  It tells them you've covered all the bases and are familiar with all the basics. Luckily, you don't need an art degree to become a successful artist.  But you do need to develop your artistic chops to become a valid consideration in the eyes of comic book fans and, more importantly, comic book editors.  

After reading Part Two you realize it's probably necessary to start on the bottom and work your way up.  It's also probably a good idea to make a lot of your artistic mistakes at the expense of smaller publishers.  Think of the smaller publishers as Gladiator School.  They get you ready for that big battle in the coliseum.  So... let's get you published.  

The first thing you need to do is assess your talent level.  Where do you fit in the current industry?  You need to look at your talent level realistically and answer that question.  Aiming high isn't a bad thing but if your ego can't take rejection - you're probably better off starting with a publisher that puts out books befitting your current state of ability.  Remember, think of it as a training ground.  You might even get some offers to work on "spec", which is short for speculation.  We'll discuss that in a bit.  But right now let's say you've assessed your talent and believe that a company we'll call Dreadful Comics would consider hiring you.  

So what does Dreadful Comics publish?  Hopefully Dreadful Comics isn't a comic book company that publishes only one comic book.  If they do, it probably means they're self publishing.  If they're self publishing, meaning it's just a writer and an artist [ or a writer/artist ] publishing his or her own comic book, they're not going to have the funds to pay you to draw a comic book for them.  Even if you would draw a comic book for them for free - they probably aren't interested in doing all the leg work required to make your dreams come true.  So you need to find a comic book company that publishes at least a few comic books.  

Pretend that company is called Capital Comics.  They publish at least five titles a month.  Some are just mini-series but they have a few ongoing titles.  They're going to need to find artists to draw these books.  Trust me.  Small publishers always need new talent because a lot of their artists get better and move on to more lucrative work.  Or, in some cases, they'll hire a new artist that can't deliver work on time.  Missing deadlines causes a trickle down effect that costs publishers money because distributors also have delivery deadlines.  Penalties and other costs will bleed a small company dry [ and a big company ].  So, you'll always find some opportunity at a smaller company.  Maybe not every single one but if you've assessed your talent well, you'll be on your way to a comic book career.  So, now that you've found a company - you need to draw some sample pages.  I suggest picking a title of theirs that you could see yourself drawing and come up with a 5 page short story that incorporates their character[s].  Can't come up with a story?  C'mon, try!  Alright, for some reason, even though you're creative enough to draw comic books you've decided you can't write... Fine.  Here's what you do: find a five page [ or six or eight, whatever ] story with, say Batman or whoever, and adapt it to their character.  Your samples don't need lettering, they just need to look like they tell a story.  

Now, since you've studied the medium and you're familiar with comic book page layouts you know you want to give them some variety.  Show some "regular people" in your sample pages.  Not just super heroes or the beautiful girl detective - this is very important.  You may not need more than a panel that shows some bystanders reacting to the action or a situation you're illustrating.  But, show the editor or publisher that you can draw a wide range of things well.  You'll want to show the exterior of a building or buildings and the inside office or room where the story takes place [ remember, you don't have to take me literally.  Maybe your story takes place on a ship.  Which means you'll want to show the ship on the water and from the cabin, etc. ].  Give them some range.  Just drawing muscular super heroes won't make for good samples.  Show as much as the story allows and as much as your skill set can handle.  

You may have hundreds of drawings you would like to submit [ in person at a show or via email or snail mail ] but don't.  Too much is never a good thing.  Inevitably, if you have hundreds of drawings or sample pages that means that they vary in degrees of quality.  You only want to show your best work.  And you don't to give them too much because the more you send the more chances they'll have to see something they don't like.  Leave them wanting more.  To be honest, if you draw 5 nice pages, that's all you need.  Maybe throw in a faux cover and make it six!  But that should be enough.  If they want to see more then that's a good thing.  Ask them for a sample script at that point.  It means you're building a rapport.  

To reiterate, you never need to show a publisher, editor or an artist at a convention more than 5 to 10 pages of samples.  No one really wants to look at more than that.  5 to 10 pages is plenty for an editor to assess your talent level and give you an assignment.

What about including pieces of art that aren't comic book pages?  Well, let's think about that for a minute.  What exactly will they be hiring you to do?  Draw pictures of their character posing without backgrounds?  Headshots?  Nope.  They're going to hire you to draw comic book pages.  So why would they want to see stuff that looks like it could belong in a sketch book?  They wouldn't.  So don't waste their time.  You may want to include a faux cover but it's really not necessary.  Editors are smart enough to know that if you can draw a comic book page that you can probably draw a single image for a cover.

With your comic book page samples ready to go, make some clean copies of them or scan them.  Email or mail them to the editor you wish to work for.  Never send originals.  If your pages are fairly general and you've come up with a generic hero to fill your story - you may be able to get away with submitting samples to many publishers at once.  Excellent!  Keep the opening email short and sweet.  Introduce yourself and get to the point.  No sob story.  No, "I want this so bad!".  Nope.  Just make it professional and let your work do the talking.  If you're emailing your samples [ provided you've found the editor's email address, of course ] make sure the files aren't too large.  I know you're proud of your work, but don't send huge files.  Nothing more than 150 DPI is necessary via email [ in fact, 72 is probably fine ].  At 100% viewing size the pages shouldn't take too much scrolling to see them in their entirety.  

Less is more when it comes to art samples.  

Next week we'll discuss the option of self publishing and working on spec.  The following week we'll discuss what to do when an editor agrees to give you an assignment.

  • Mood: Llama
  • Listening to: Alt Nation
  • Reading: REH books
  • Watching: Deadwood re-runs
  • Eating: Healthy
  • Drinking: H2O
Add a Comment:
 
:iconmayster:
mayster Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2011
I'm going to a comic expo and I'm gonna bring a portfolio of my work. Anything else I should bring?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2011
Nope. Just an open mind for helpful critiques, etc. A good attitude helps too! Smile.
Reply
:iconmayster:
mayster Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2011
Thanks alot. These things you post really give me hope that I'll be in the biz someday soon.
Reply
:iconmayster:
mayster Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2011
Do you have any recommendations for any small comic companies? When I look for a company to send samples to and all I find are big companies.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2011
I would pick up a copy of Previews at your local comic book shop and then you'll have a list of publishers and know what type of material they publish.
Reply
:iconralphenstein:
ralphenstein Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2010
Thank you so much for these! Very helpful, and very kind of you to take time to pass on good advice to us budding artists. I'm still honing my skills, but I can see that this advice will be of great use to me in the future.

More of the same, please!
Reply
:iconjayson-kretzer:
Jayson-kretzer Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2010  Professional
Another great article. Thanks for takin the time to write these up! Also, saw where you'll be attending Megacon next year, Lookin forward to meeting you there!
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:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2010
Cool! See you there!
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2010
Hmmm, Im thinking we is Due a new episode in the series mate.
;)
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2010
Hmmm... You're right!
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2010
eagerly awaiting to see how yer gonna get me into the Biz, so Hop to the next article mate. hahaha.
;)
Reply
:icongoldenavatar:
goldenavatar Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2010
While you can't "fav" journals, if you're watching an account you can save them into a devious folder for later reference. Thanks for sharing these by the way. They've given me insights into a facet of the publishing industry I've been both curious, and weary of.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2010
Glad you dig em'!
Reply
:iconliteboxxx:
liteboxxx Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2010
thanks for the tips! :worship:
Reply
:iconfrvn-art:
frvn-art Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2010  Professional General Artist
Well there's a big booboo for me. I should stop making pinups and focus on sequentials.
Reply
:icontombancroft:
tombancroft Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2010  Professional Filmographer
Thanks Dan, awesome as always. I'm glad to see you aim to keep this going!
Reply
:iconaugustustodopoderoso:
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
Iīm trying my luck this weekend at a local con. Letīs see how it goes. Thanks for sharing these journals. Itīs really helpful for wannabe comic books artists like myself.
All the best, mr Panosian

ps:"Gladiator School"=priceless metaphor :D
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2010
LOL!
Reply
:iconclassico:
Classico Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Dan... this information is beyond helpful. So good - so so so good.
Reply
:iconfindingox:
FindingOx Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
fantastic... thanks for taking the time to do this for everyone
Reply
:iconjdhook:
jdhook Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Thank you for the wisdom
Reply
:iconlightning-powered:
Lightning-Powered Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional General Artist
Now this one's my favorite entry Urb - really gets into the nitty gritty of what it takes to make it in this biz, which honestly is quite intimidating - how did you keep going strong? Did you ever feel like you weren't going to get far with the convention submissions until, all the sudden that guy got back to you with an email or whatever?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Not at all. Because I took the small steps to the bigger publishers. I didn't just draw my very first pages and submit them to Marvel. I started working for small companies that my talent fit well with and gained experience along the way.
Reply
:iconlightning-powered:
Lightning-Powered Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional General Artist
Now this one's my favorite entry Urb - really gets into the nitty gritty of what it takes to make it in this biz, which honestly is quite intimidating - how did you keep going strong? Did you ever feel like you weren't going to get far with the convention submissions until, all the sudden that guy got back to you with an email or whatever?
Reply
:iconjoshawafrost:
JoshawaFrost Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Very good installment! I am thirsty already for more =)
Reply
:iconmdavidct:
mdavidct Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
thank you for share this help a lot
Reply
:iconbbsc:
BBSC Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Any tips for writers trying to submit? Or writer/artist combos submitting book ideas to smaller companies?

So far, we've pitched to several smaller companies and still either get ignored or the brushoff.
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
That's much tougher arena to crack. I would suggest self publishing to break in. Hopefully your book gets some notice and eventually some press and... boom. You're in.
Reply
:iconandrew-ross-maclean:
Andrew-Ross-MacLean Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Pure Gold Dan, Thanks so much. -A
Reply
:iconkollyo:
kollyo Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
greatest info, thanks a lot
[link]
Reply
:iconcassandrajames:
CassandraJames Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
These are all awesome Dan, I can see them being very helpful to a great many people including myself. (Especially your later ones, I can't get to U.S. Conventions so there's no way for me to show my work to an editor besides online.)
Reply
:iconmoray-eel:
moray-eel Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
great articles - thanks for the insight.
Reply
:iconmasterss:
MasterSS Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010  Professional General Artist
Hi, first I would like to thank you for sharing this information with us. I read in an interview with Randy Green, he said it will be better to show the publisher "at comics conventions" a complete story of 22 comic pages or even 44 comic pages, this will show the publisher that you are able to handle this kind of projects and he will trust to give you work more than if you just show him 4 or 5 pages, so what do you think?? (excuse my bad english :) )
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
I think that's over kill, personally. If you show 5 -10 pages, all with consistent quality, it's good enough. I've never met an editor that is going to sift through that many pages and truly give them a real good look. A few very well drawn pages doesn't seem like a chore to examine and it's also enough to get a good idea of your talent. I doubt an editor is going to give any newcomer a 44 page comic book to draw anyway. They'll probably give you a short story. Or 22 pages, tops. Once you've drawn a 22 page comic book for them you'll have 22 pages worth of samples for your next job quest.
Reply
:iconjhansard:
jhansard Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Thanks for sharing this information. Been following this journal with interest as it's particularly relevant to me at the moment. Keep up the great work. :D
Reply
:icongreymoonx:
greymoonx Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010   General Artist
Thank you for sharing your knowledge :)
Reply
:iconspacefriend-krunk:
Spacefriend-KRUNK Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Professional Artist
quit lying. everyone knows that you have to blow your way into the industry. that's how you got in both times, dude!
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Well, er, um... That's actually described in detail in a few more journals. So what...
Reply
:iconspacefriend-krunk:
Spacefriend-KRUNK Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Professional Artist
=)
Reply
:iconspikeyheadedfreak:
spikeyheadedfreak Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Awesome man. May I have your permission to print this web page to use in my media studies Journal? We basically have to find articles relating to media print them, analyze or just put them in for the hell of it, and seeing as this has alot to do with field I'd like to eventually get into, I figured it'd be a good series to put in to show my lecture I've been looking a little further into things. Due Credit would be given and its just for a non profit university project
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
No problem.
Reply
:iconspikeyheadedfreak:
spikeyheadedfreak Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2010
Cheers, just thought it'd be polite to ask.
Reply
:icontoktobis:
toktobis Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Man I wish you could fav journal entries! This is incredibly helpful, thank you for taking the time to do this.
Reply
:iconjasontormos:
JasonTormos Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010   Digital Artist
these are super helpful,Thanks Dan!!
Reply
:iconredcavalier:
Redcavalier Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Student Digital Artist
Thanks for the tips man! I've been reading every one of them and really enjoying 'em! Can't wait for the next one!
Reply
:iconckirkillustr8:
ckirkillustr8 Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
What about taking a previously done comic from the same company, and redoing it?
Reply
:iconurban-barbarian:
urban-barbarian Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Not a bad idea. Ideally you do a better job than the original artist though! But not a bad idea!
Reply
:iconckirkillustr8:
ckirkillustr8 Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010
Neat.:la:
Reply
:iconsparatik:
SPARATIK Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010   Digital Artist
that's rad dan! thanks man, I really appreciate all the info. I'll prob repost this on my current journal where I ramble about motivation lol thanks :thumbsup:
Reply
:iconnmrosario:
NMRosario Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Excellent advice about the file size! Nothing annoys me more than when someone emails me a photo and when I open it up all I see is a shoulder, then scroll, scroll, scroll, hey there's a neck, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, and a nose....

Normally, if I'm emailing an image that's not going to be used for printwork, then I don't send it any higher than 72dpi. Is there a specific reason why you recommend 150 dpi?

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to write all this out, it's greatly appreciated.
Reply
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