At Emerald City Comicon‘s “Marvel: Breaking Into Comics” panel, moderator and Marvel Comics talent scout CB Cebulski was greeted with eager applause as he stepped to the microphone. The packed hall was eager to hear the advice and anecdotes of Cebulski and Marvel writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chris Yost and artists Ramon Perez, Phil Noto and Adi Granov. The panelists recounted their stories of breaking into comics, and offered advice on issues of professional practice in the comic book industry, from portfolio building to Twitter account managing.
Cebulski opened the conversation by engaging directly with the audience, asking for a show of hands of aspiring writers, artists, colorists and “corporate types.” His first piece of advice consisted of good news and bad news. “The good news is that it’s easier than ever to break into comics,” he said. “We have ways to get in now, through the internet, through communication, through publishing, through Kickstarter, so there’s more opportunities than ever for you as aspiring writers, artists, pencillers, inkers, colorists painters, to publish your own comic and become, you know, a professional comic book creator. The bad news is, is that it’s harder than ever to get paid for it… the talent pool has grown enormously for people like myself who are out there looking for talent, so you’ve got to work extra hard to not only produce good work, but to also make a name for yourself, and get noticed.”
DeConnick said she’s broken into comics many times, and recounted just a few of those stories. In the mid-nineties, she became interested in the field, and began following, and contributing to, online forum discussions hosted on Warren Ellis’ website. She eventually begain writing steadily for “Artbomb.” The forum provided her with a valuable networking and community building tool, connecting her to a range of professional writers. Her eventual entrance into the field came through a convoluted series of events, involving a book-signing event with Neil Gaiman, a letter to the writer that eventually led to a gig as a researcher for Gaiman, and leading to a series of gigs adapting Japan and Korean manga into English. “So by the time, in 2005, I did ’30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella,’ for IDW, with Steve Niles, I had written over 10,000 pages of dialogue,” DeConnick said. “So, I had chops, I could meet a deadline, I understood what it means to work to order, and then work begets work.”
Coming out of art college, Perez made repeated visits to the New York Comic convention to get feedback on his portfolio. He eventually began working in role playing games. “So I just kept drawing and drawing contantly,” Perez said. “I actually produced more work than ever for the gaming industry.” Perez echoed DeConnick’s statement that “work begets work.” Around this time, Perez started going to a lot of shows, and making contacts with up-and-coming writers. “When these writers actually made it into Marvel, I started getting calls from editors going, yeah, B. Clay Moore wants you to draw this book for him, and I’m the editor on that book.”
Noto said he broke in around the year 2000, while he was working as an animator for Disney. “I went to art school for illustration, and came from that kind of background, I was just, like, an illustrator, and I slowly got back into comics with, like, the new Image,” Noto said. “I just started drawing comics stuff for fun.” He began attending conventions and setting up an artist’s table, doing commissions and posting samples of his work online. At the time, he said, “you could spend one evening and look at all the comic art on the internet.” He began getting more offers for comic book work, leading to his departure from Disney in 2002 to pursue comic book work full time.
Adi Granov had a much briefer narrative of his path to Marvel, joking to Cebulski, “you sent me an email and that was it.” “Really,” he said, “my only advice is just to be good… with art, if it’s good, it gets you noticed.”
Yost said that he “snuck in,” beginning his career writing for animation. Yost had written a couple screenplays, then sent some work in to the Marvel offices, and, he said, “it really was just being in the right place, at the right time, with the right piece of material.”
Cebulski offered some portfolio advice for aspiring artists, putting an emphasis on simplicity. “When it comes to building a portfolio as an artist one of the things I recommend is keeping it simple,” he said. “You really should have a maximum of probably about ten pages in there: a couple storytelling pages…then a couple pin-ups and a couple cover shots, that’s really all you need. And when you are building your portfolio, I highly recommend, always put your newest work first. This is a common mistake is see every show I go to. People put their old work first and their new work in the back to build a progression, but as they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.”
For writers, Cebulski said that it is a much more difficult to break in to Marvel. Because reviewing writing takes time, writers generally only enter Marvel Comics through previously published work.
Throughout the conversation, Cebulski and the panelists emphasized networking and community over all else. Remaining in touch with those artists and editors who have reviewed a portfolio, through persistence and personalized, professional contact.
“Like in any other industry,” DeConnick said, “who you know matters.”
“You guys have a tool right now that is amazing and I use it more than anything else developing writers and artists,” Cebulski said, drawing the conversation to a close. “It’s Twitter.” He reminded the assembled crowd that they can find him @CBCebulski.