Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creating a Comic Book Portfolio: The Ramblings of an Artist

New York Comicon this year was a fun experience.  I got to meet some new friends, hung out with old friends, met comic fans, and also go to spend some time with the top brass at DC comics.  It was literally a whirl wind of activity and 5 days quickly flew by in a flash!
  But one part of a convention that seems to drag by is when an aspiring artist asks for a portfolio review.  I don't mean that to sound like I hate looking at portfolios because I really don't.  But what's frustrating is the fact that out of maybe 20 portfolios that you see, one person actually took the time to research what goes into a good portfolio.  In fact, it's very mentally taxing to look through portfolio after portfolio to simply give the same advice, over and over again.
  A few days ago I read my friend and Editor Vince Hernandez's blog on how to break into comics as a writer. I would suggest you read this first. I really liked the info he gave and felt that maybe I could help a few people by giving my advice as to how to make a comic book portfolio.
  Now, just a disclaimer, when you read on I may sound very blunt and almost rude but if you can take what I say as constructive criticism and work it into your portfolio, it will give you a better overall product.  I don't mean to sound mean, or like a jerk, but sometimes this kind of article can come off sounding that way.  Remember, I'm on your side and trying to help make a dream a reality.

Things to get into your head:

  First, let me say, it's almost impossible to break into comics.  Think about it.  You are literally going up against hundreds, no, THOUSANDS of others all around the country all trying to get a shot with a company.  Not only that, but you are also going up against people from all over the world.  With the internet, new talent can be discovered from around the world at any time.  You need to go into your portfolio preparation with that in mind.  You need to be better than everyone else if you want to get a job.  And even then, you may never get work professionally.  It's a tough reality, it's not fair, but thats how it goes.
  Second.  You need to put the time, and years of work necessary to make a professional portfolio.  It took me my entire life of hard work to get a job.  Over 20 years of focussing on art.  As a kid I took art classes, I studied films, made my own films, read books, sought wisdom from artists I knew and generally was never satisfied with what I was doing.  I always wanted to get better.  I made a decision when I was 20 that I wanted to shoot for comics as a took me another 5 years of hard work to finally get a job.  During those 5 years I busted my butt eating up all the information I could about art.  I took 3 years of art training in college focusing on Animation, and after graduating spent another 2 years worked on anatomy, storytelling and all the other bells and whistles of comic art.  Then I got the biggest break of my life when David Finch, my favorite comic book artist decided to teach me one-on-one.  You may call it a lucky break, but the fact of the matter is the hard work I put into the craft paid off.  Dave saw something in my work that impressed him.  6 months later I was working for DC comics.  It took me a total of close to 25 years to get to where I am now.  How much time have you put into it?
  Third, are you willing to learn?  I'll touch on some of these things in the next sections, but the worst is when you start to point out things an artist is doing wrong, or is generally bad at and they get defensive.  The worst is when someone defends their work saying, "Well, I didn't get to spend as much time on that page as I would have liked."  Really?  Then why is it even in your portfolio?  Instead, come prepared with a pad of paper and a pen and write down everything the person looking at you work points out.  You must have a heart to learn.  You must have a soul that is never satisfied with your achievements and wants to strive for more!  To be better with every drawing!  You need to put the time into learning everything about art.  Not just comics, but everything.  You never stop learning so embrace that and get to work!

The Meat and Potatoes:

The Portfolio:

  The first thing you need to do is to create a portfolio of your work to show your employers.  Unlike other jobs where you simply put your credentials and work experience on a resume, in comics you need to prove you can actually do the job with hand drawn work.

Some companies will list what they are looking for in a portfolio but for the most part, it's not how many pieces you have but the quality in which the pages are done.  For example, my portfolio simply consisted of 6 pages.  6 well done story pages.  In fact I spent over a month working on 6 pages.  It took me a week per page because I wanted every page to really scream, "Look what I can do."  I knew that when I got work, I would have to pump out a page every day or so and that I would lose some of my quality but that doesn't matter at this point.  I knew I could do the work very quick if I needed to and over time I would develop speed as well as quality.
  Most of the time I see portfolios filled with everything from pages to covers, to concept sketches to inks, to colors to everything.  I can't stress it enough: If all those pieces are junk it doesn't matter if you have 100 pages, it's still junk.  In fact, I can immediatly tell if a portfolio is something worth looking at or something worth giving back simply by looking at the first page.  So if your work isn't up to par with the top artists working at DC or Marvel from the first page, you've literally killed your chances.  5 or 6 pages of a comic book story is what you need, but it also needs to be 5 or 6 pages of killer, mindblowing, professonal art.  Does it have to be perfect?  Nope.  Mine wasn't.  But it showed the publisher what I could do and that I have the seeds of talent that could grow into something more.   You can also throw a few pinups and covers, but for the most part it should be a great story to really show off your work!  Also, focus on ONE thing. If you want to be a penciler, only show pencils.  If you want to be an inker, just show inks.

  Back to Basics:

  This is the information that I repeat for all of the portfolio reviews I look at either over the internet or at a con.  Take this information seriously and get to work on it!
FUNDAMENTALS.  This is the word you need to focus on for years and years before trying to put together a portfolio for serious consideration.  This means going back and learning the fundamentals of art.  Everything from pose, anatomy, perspective, composition, storytelling, lighting and shadows, line quality, line weight, buildings, cars, trees, plants, faces, dogs, cats, everything.  The best way to learn these things is to take a course.  Try getting into a local college, or art program that goes into heavy detail on all the subjects of art.  I took the tradigital animation program at St. Clair College in Windsor Ontario. Even though it wasn't a comic book course, I still learned all of the fundamentals as well as using computers and 3d programs to create art.  I also learned storytelling, storyboarding, page flow, action, and movement from the course.  In the end it still took me 2 years of heavy research to learn even more.  On top of that it took 6 month of hardcore work to let Dave Finch mould my skills into something further.  Am I getting the point takes hard, long work.

There are some options as well for people who can't take a course.  But I am warning you, learning by yourself is very tough and only the strongly motivated will survive.  A good thing to do is get some books, read them front to back, then draw them out, front to back 4 or 5 times.  You need to learn everything you can.  Here are my book suggestions:
Bridgeman's Guide to Drawing from Life.  Literally draw this book out 2 or 3 times until you can memorize every system of muscles and anatomy.
Drawing Comics the Marvel Way.  This has everything you need to know about drawing comics.  Read it, draw it, study it.
As for perspective, look online on Amazon for a good perspective book.  I have this book:

Vanishing Point: Perspective For Comics From The Ground Up.  It's a pretty good book with everything you need to know about perspective.  

Another good suggestion is to pick up David Finch's Gnoman DVD tutorials .  This is pretty much what I did with Dave but over the course of 6 months.  

Again, from here it's what you are willing to put into your art that is going to help you become a better artists.  

Also, try to pick a style that is popular.  Jim Lee, David Finch, Olivier Coipel, Michael Turner ect.  sell books simply because of their art.  They are the guys with the longest lines at comic conventions.  They are the guys you want to be.  If you can draw like these guys, comic companies will want you because their style will sell.  I was taught by Finch and because of this my work resembles his.  When I told Dave I felt like a rip off, he told me that it was a good thing and because of it, my career would go far fast.  He was right.  Now, I am able to branch out and try to create my own thing but I will always follow the style he taught me.    What artists do you like?  A good thing to do is simply get some of their work and try to draw like them.  For myself, it was Dave Finch, Ivan Reis, and Alan Davis.  Copying their work for a month is a good exercise. From this I learned anatomy better, their storytelling style and how to incorperate their styles into my own.  Do it.  
  Sometimes you'll hear that comic companies only want someone that looks unique.  Thats not entirely true.  Let your style turn into it's own over time.  For now focus on the artists who sell.

The Portfolio Review:

  Once you have a portfolio and have gathered up the courage to take it to a con, remember these few things.

BE HUMBLE.  You need to realize you are not a professional.  Even after working this last year as a comic professional, I still feel like an amateur with lots to learn.  Go into a review looking to ask questions and learn, never to get a job.  This is an opportunity to show your work and get critiques.  Again, being a jerk and acting like you're the best will not help.  Write down what the professionals tell you, go home and work on that for another year.  

DON'T hand in a portfolio that showcases your home made character.  Sadly, however great you think your creation is, the reviewer will think it's crap.  I don't want to see "metal armor man" fighting mutant rats as your professional sample.  Pick a good story (there are tons online you can find) change it up a bit and incorporate a character like Batman, Superman, Wolverine, or Daredevil into the work.  You want to show a company you can draw their characters.  If your version of Batman is something great, they will notice that and you will have a better chance at work.  In fact, everyone has seen Batman and can tell if you got the chops simply by seeing you draw such a well known character.

BE REALISTIC.  You may never work in comics, ever.  I took the animation program because I wasn't going to take the gamble of putting all my eggs in one basket.  If you buy stocks it's not good to plunk down $1000 on one stock.  Instead you may buy 1000 stocks at $10 each in order to diversify.  I knew that if my comic book dreams would have never come true, I could fall back on my animation training, or graphic design, advertising art or something of the sort.  Thats why taking a strong college course is a good idea.  You may be able to break into something else.  Maybe you're meant to work in comics, maybe you aren't.  If you find that years and years and years have gone by and you've never landed one good comic job, maybe its not for you.  If you hear from guys that you have the talent, it's just going to take some more work, than that's a sign that maybe it's for you.  Get your work out to every company possible.  Working for a small comic company (and I mean those small, small, indie companies) making $20 a page is better experience than doing nothing.  I planned on doing my own book with a buddy if things didn't work out.  Find an aspiring writer and come up with an indie book.  Maybe publish it online.  Do what you can to get your work out there.

Remember, taking a good, long, realistic look at your work can really help.  Pick up a modern comic, maybe something that isn't a top selling book or with the best art, and hold it up to your own.  Is your work better?  Are you a stronger artist then they are?  Stop listening to your mom, girlfriend, or friends who tell you that you are amazing, and look at your work with a critical eye.  Is your work at the same quality as a DC comics or Marvel comics artist?  Thats where you need to be.  WORK hard and get to that point.

Also, don't draw manga...

Lastly, a little spiritual wisdom.  Being a christian, I believe that God has a plan for my life.  I was actually going to a bible college when I felt that God wanted me to chase the comic book dream again.  I prayed about it day and night asking Him to show me what he wanted me to do.  Was it any coincidence that I got to learn one-on-one with my hero?  I don't think so.  It was all God.  Is it any coincidence that in only a year and a half of working in comics I've been able to accumulate a resume that includes working on characters like Superman, Animal Man and Batman?  No, it's God.  Being a christian puts life in a very different perspective.  It gives me contentment with my life.  If God chose to bless me with a career in comics, or not, was all up to Him and not me.  I would just follow where He led me.  Even today I'm being faced with some HUGE career decisions but it all comes down to prayer and seeking His council.  God is my secret weapon in my career and I believe it's my Faith in Christ that has allowed me to get to where I am.  If God takes it away tomorrow than I have no worries because He's always come through for me.  He's Faithful even when I am not.  I give him the glory for my career.  My talents are His and not mine.  What a difference it makes in life when you have the God of the universe driving the car instead of yourself.  
Lastly, my final piece of advice: your hard work and a hard work ethic can pay off where you lack talent.  When I got my first job on Superman/Batman #70, I BOMBED the book.  The deadlines were tight, I was sick and throwing up from the stress, and my work sucked.  It was the worst thing I ever did in my life.  BUT I hit my deadline against all odds.  I got every page done on time.  Even when my inker bailed on me, I called DC, told them what happened and they helped to get the book done.  Because of my work ethic and my passion to get the job done, they gave me another job...and another... and another...  Even though my worked sucked at first, I still got work because I was reliable.  I showed them I could hit deadline and save the day.  It's moments like that that lead up to getting the chance to draw two issues of Batman: The Dark Knight.  Two issues that needed to be done in 8 weeks.  Two issues that I finished and rocketed my career to a place I never dreamed it could be.  HARD WORK PAYS OFF!!!!

I hope this little write-up can help.  I'm sure there is a bunch of other things I could talk about or forgot to touch on, but maybe I'll add to this the next time I head to a con.  Good luck, work hard and do things right!

Below are scans of my portfolio samples.  First editor I showed them to at DC gave me a job.  They aren't the best, but they showed what I could do.  Notice I tried to put one of every element I would need to be able to draw... City, cars, stores, people, smoke, Batman (anatomy vs. clothing), Men, Women, bad guys, different scenery, children, guns, special effects and shadows.

-Jason Fabok
Oct 30, 2011

Monday, October 03, 2011

New York Comicon 2011

I will be heading out to New York, New York in the coming weeks to take part in the festivities known as the NEW YORK COMICON!  I will be at the Aspen Comics Booth (Located next to the DC Comics Booth) for the weekend, signing books, doing commissions, and having fun!  I always love to hear what fans have to say, talk comics, and make new friends.  Come on out if you are in the area.

Also, you will be able to purchase the Fathom NYCC Exclusive at the show.  I did the cover for this one.  I wasn't to crazy about the finished piece but I think Peter's Colors helped it to turn out better than I thought.  Check it out below!  I love the purples and teals with the blues.