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.