Smiley Spot: Lessons from Comic School
Last week I was given a portfolio review at the Kubert School in New Jersey. For those not in the know, Kubert School is the only official school teaching comic book art and has produced many of the industry's top talents. The facility is the dream I had as a kid about what school should look like. There was comic art on every wall, the library was at least 80% comic books, and each classroom was dedicated to a specific function (the animation wing, the life drawing wing, and so forth). I want to thank the great faculty and student body for answering all of my questions and presenting very positive energy.
I will spare you whether or not my portfolio was good enough to make it in, but I wanted to share many of the skills and tips they taught me in order to become a commercial comic book artist. Most are self-explanatory, but hearing them from the institute that teaches professional development in the field is a good rubric by which to consider my own professional career.
1. It is all about the portfolio. There was no pretense: the only thing an employer for comic art is looking for is a strong portfolio that matches the needs of the company. As an artist’s skills go up, those skills need to be displayed and made specific for the employer's needs. If you want to approach the industry as a potential commodity, you have to meet the expectations a professional has.
2. Prepare to face rejection: The one notion that no one wants to admit to is that, at least initially, your portfolio and applications for work will be rejected. It is not a reflection on the artist, it is simply the process for employers to test an artist's commitment to the field and encourage artists to better meet their needs. The general formula is that an artist will meet with an employer, the employer will critique the work and another interview will happen to judge the skills the artist has amassed. But the process of rejection isn’t done then. After the artist's skills improve, the employer might not have any work available. To make it to the levels of success you desire, a comic artist needs to know that the process of rejection is meant to help them grow and is not a personal attack. Still, wear a suit jacket, it can’t hurt.
3. Time Commitment: The only consistent question I got for each entry in my portfolio was how long each piece of art took me. I gave the honest answers as you should, but they were looking for two things. The first was that the artist could put the time it takes into a project that the project demands. The second is that the artist can get the project done on time. I was fortunate that I had my comics I worked on with Andrew (at Paradise Comics Toronto, BUY NOW!!!!! ;) where each page took only 3-5 hours to draw, but I also had my larger illustrations which took me over 25 hours of time to complete. If you aren’t going to put the effort in then the result wont succeed, and if you can’t hand in anything at a reasonable time what good is hiring you? Learn to do both.
4. Articulate Passion: Once he was through most of my images, my interviewer asked why I wanted to be a cartoonist. I will save my answer for another time, but he was not looking for a BS answer. They do not want to hire someone simply looking for a paycheck. They do not want someone who cannot articulate a love for comics and cartooning. If you have survived the comic-hating world for your whole life and are now willing to take the time commitment to present yourself as a comic book artist, then you probably love comic books. Tell people why. Consider that answer and make it represent who you are and why you want to be a part of this business. It is clear that even hard working artists might never get rich and never acheive the levels of fame they want, but if you can articulate what you love and why you want to dedicate your life to trying this, then you will have a much better shot.
Until next time, you should buy a copy of HardWear #2 at Paradise Comics in Toronto, or contact me to get you a copy. Seriously the book is crazy. Messed up things happen in it. I might not be well in the head, check out the issue to make sure.