THE ART OF SUBMITTING: how to give in to your worst fears and get an art job in the comics business
NOTES FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS: Poll questions, come-ons, and Comic Book Galaxy back from the half-dead
DAMAGED VIEWPOINTS: more piercing letters and terse replies, on subjects from Frank Miller and bad TV shows to the secret origin of the Westgate Hotel
CAVALCADE OF LIES AND SNEERING: What the Administration is up to this week, plus a rare treat - silence in the House
SUMMERTVTIME BLUES: As the days get longer, the struggle for decent TV goes on
"I've been an illustrator and graphic designer professionally for about ten years now and I would love to add comics to my professional field. I know times are bad for such attempts but what can I say - the love runs deep...
It's a myth that it's a bad time to break into the business. If you're an artist. (It's never all that good a time to break in as a writer, though some times are better than others and new writers do break in regularly.) The demand for artists is always strong, particularly with real book publishers now getting into the graphic novel business, and even Marvel and DC are always looking for the "hot new thing." The caveat is that you have to be able to produce the kind of art they're looking for, and that varies from moment to moment, and different editors are always looking for different things so there's always "luck of the draw" in who you get the chance to show your samples to.
"Last year at the Comicon I mainly went for cover art work, but pretty much every company literally said (often before the actual review started) that they were not looking for cover artists. A DC editor added "We don't care if you can paint like Glen Fabry. We can get Glen Fabry", to which a person in the crowd said "Yeah, but we're cheaper!" which got a lot of laughs from both audience and editors but the fact that he made a valid point got kind of lost. Exit the hope of getting in with Fabry-quality art at Joe Schmo-price level. I'm not Fabry quality, but you know what I mean... I had noticed the 'no cover artists wanted' bit on websites as well --along with the fact that without at least 4-6 sequential pages you couldn't even get into most reviews. Unfortunately most publishers were very late with putting up their Con-info, so just to get in, I scribbled 4 sequential pages in far too short a time ( not to mention far too little experience in that particular craft to begin with). So obviously they were not up to snuff. Not surprisingly, I got a fair share of pointers on where I needed to improve, so it was still quite educational. I didn't tell them the circumstances, since it would've sound like excuses anyway and it would also sound like I went in knowing I would be wasting their time.
The cover thing is an understandable error, but it's still an error. Many artists are attracted to the idea of doing covers for the same reason many of them like doing pinups: one big drawing (often of busty females, for some reason) that stand a good chance of drawing attention while dodging most of the drudgework of comics. The error is this:
That's a fan view of comics. Stop thinking like a fan and start thinking like a businessman.
A cover isn't an art showcase. A cover is a sales tool. It exists to sell the comic.
Even many comics companies strayed from this principle for awhile, but most are coming back to it now. There are artists who work primarily as cover artists (Tim Bradstreet, for instance). You'll notice these are mostly established artists, and there's a reason for that: while covers are (theoretically) intended to be a point-of-purchase sales tool, something to catch the casual reader's attention, most covers are not marketed to retailers. Retailers select their wares often well in advance of seeing the covers, from the Diamond PREVIEWS catalog, sometimes before the covers are even drawn. Under those conditions, marketability is often dependent on the name of the cover artist alone, which is why when comics companies opt for a cover not drawn by an artist working on the interiors of the book they either prefer an established artist whose established name and reputation can attract at minimum attention and preferably additional sales, or, in desperation over impending deadlines, they grab whoever's available who'll do a reasonably good job. In any case, what this means is that "cover artist" generally isn't recognized as a vocation in comics, and certainly not for newcomers. If anyone is really determined to get that job, more on that in a moment.
"The covers got very good reactions, but, of course, no actual work. It was obvious however that there was a lack of sequential artists among the hopefuls so I thought I'd give that a more serious go this time around. In the time since Comicon, I've been studying professional aspects of drawing pages and I'm quite aware it's a very hard job since you have to be capable in so many different aspects of drawing.
The number of would-be comics artists who don't want to draw "sequential art" baffles me. What that really means is "I don't want to draw comics," because that's what "comics" are: a sequence of panels that work together to tell a story. It's like applying for a job as a bus driver and saying you don't want to stop for passengers or even drive anywhere, you just want to sit behind the wheel and look out the front window. Or applying for a waiter job and telling them you just want to push the dessert cart. Why on earth would they hire you? You're telling them you don't want to do the job they need you to do. Same situation here. Comics are not single-drawings, spot illos, pinups or covers. So anyone who doesn't want to draw "sequential art" should be thrilled when an editor passes on their portfolio; it means they get their wish.
You mention in part of your letter that many online submissions guides now ask for 4-6 pages of sequenced artwork (a single storyline/vignette) to demonstrate your skills. While I'd think any editor worth their salt could easily make their determination on three pages, it's always in your best interests to follow whatever guidelines you're given, if only to indicate you won't try to shortcut things if they give you work and you're willing to play by "the rules."
I wondered what your thoughts are on this: hopefuls at cons get rejected about 99% of the time and the reasons given are valid. Many of us don't have as clear a grasp on things like fluent and clear storytelling, perspective, composition, anatomy, dynamics, textures, consistency in likenesses, shading, expressions, camera angles, etc. as we'd like to think. Fair enough. If you can't handle hearing that you shouldn't be in the business anyway.
But what gnaws at me occasionally is seeing artists I see on the shelves who are often also terribly weak in the exact same points. And I'm not talking about good artists who drop a stitch. I'm talking about artists who are consistently sub par in several vital aspects. Weak poses, empty backgrounds, bad perspective, etc. And not just indie comics, but big publishers too. I doubt I have to tell you this since you see more comics than I do. How is it possible so many artists of that level see print? I've seen some people at the reviews who were very impressive, yet got turned away. And I'm sure they needed improvement but so do the artists I just described. How do those people manage to regularly get paid for crappy work? Are there that many artists who are editor's nephews or something? Or does 'cheap' count for more with sequential pages than with covers? I honestly don't understand."
No, cheap doesn't really count. If the cost of talent was a determining factor for most editors, you wouldn't find so many of them scrambling for high-priced talent. While it's not always a perfect equation, value of services in comics isn't determined by how much you charge but by how much you sell, and it's the companies that set the rates, not you. (Though some negotiation may be involved.) In fact, an offer to undercut rates is usually perceived as desperation.
Around the time I broke into comics there was an old saw in the business that you have to be better than the best to break in but you only have to be as good as the worst to stay in. That wasn't really true then, and it isn't true now, but as a rule of thumb it's roughly accurate. Under the right circumstances you can only be as good as the worst and keep working in the field. Don't concern yourself with how the worst in your field are doing, because there will always be bad people working in any field. The best rule of thumb is probably to ignore the work of the worst and aspire to be better than the best. Which often requires deconstructing what makes the "best" great, from your point of view, and reconstructing the information in ways you can apply to your own work. (It's often worth doing this with bad work as well, though; a negative influence - figuring out what not to do - is often more beneficial than a positive one.)
But I answered your question once before, on a writer's panel at a convention when asked by one audience member why he couldn't even get his writing samples looked at when comics companies were publishing so many bad stories, and the answer to the question hasn't changed. To the best of my memory:
1) Your work probably isn't as good as you think it is.
2) People's tastes vary. An editor may actually prefer the "bad" art he's printing to what he sees in your portfolio.
3) It's an editor's job to get his books out on schedule, not to take risks. The established artist, regardless of skill level, is a known quantity. You aren't. Your art has to be of sufficient quality that the editor is willing to overlook the risk factor. The established artist has already leaped that hurtle.
I forget what the fourth reason is, and
5) Even bad work is harder than it looks.
The issue isn't whether bad artists are working in comics. Of course they are. And I know it feels like they're taking work away from you, but they're not, because you're not getting that work anyway. Just remember that it's not an editor's job to dig up new talent, it's an editor's job to get his books out on time and make sure they're books that sell within the company's tolerance level. Digging up new talent has fallen to the editors, but it's not really their job. So it's your job to convince them that giving you work would make their job easier and your work will sell more comics, and that's not easy. If it were, everyone would break into comics.
But the smart angle these days may not be portfolios at all. The best way to get published now is to get published. Start with some small, even tiny, company. It doesn't matter whether the book sells or not, as long as you have published issues to show around. These go a lot further with editors or publishers than portfolios do. In addition to demonstrating your talent, it also demonstrates that you had enough determination and professionalism to finish an issue of something, and self- or small publishing allows you the freedom to demonstrate anything else you like. Want to be a cover artist? Show them you can do it. Wanting to be published is understandable, but being published, even if you have to do it yourself, is better.
A quick poll. I haven't discussed it with Jonah yet, but for various reasons I'm considering moving the column to Friday. Barring that, if I have trouble again getting a Wednesday column done, would you rather a) see a postponed column appear later in the week or b) see a "greatest hits" rerun of select material? Let your voice be heard.
Any budding comics talent looking for a wealth of inside info on the business can find more in my e-book TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting all my Master Of The Obvious columns, available at my website Paper Movies. Political mavens may be interested in the e-book IMPOLITIC: A Journal Of The Plague Years, collecting my political essays from Sept. 2001-April 2005, also available at Paper Movies.
Also at Paper Movies now: the first issue of my mid-90s Dark Horse mini-series ENEMY, with art by Christopher Schenck and Shepard Hendrix, and the second issue of my late-'80s First mini-series TWILIGHT MAN, with art by Tristan Shane and Eric Vincent. The first is a conspiracy thriller with superhero overtones, the second modernized sword-and-sorcery, though the prefatory information is on a disconnected page. Unfortunately, my main computer died as I was uploading the TWILIGHT MAN pages, so there are a couple navigation errors that won't be changed until I can put a new rig together (everything's now on a hard drive inaccessible until it lands in a new computer), but at least there's something up.
By the way, thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the old Neal Adams comics covers jpgs pointlessly scattered throughout the column. With tons of data on old comics, over 80,000 covers scanned, and several different search methods, it's one of the best sources of comics information and fun on the web.
Finally, congratulations to Alan David Doane for starting up another ambitious incarnation of Comic Book Galaxy, which, among other things, is home to my current favorite comics critic, Chris Allen. I think I like it fine, so far.
"'Fraid I've gotta majorly disagree with you on your dismal review of THE COMEBACK. I watched this show with very low expectations, and I found it intelligent, clever, and downright hilarious. It's also a great look at the desperation behind the entertainment industry, and Kudrow is charming as usual, even poking fun at herself as being a formerly-major star. This show is already three times funnier than any episode of the last season of FRIENDS, that's for damn sure. ENTOURAGE? Obnoxious, self-important pretty boys enjoying the decadent spoils of Hollywood? Snore. No thanks."
Sorry, I found THE COMEBACK dirt dull and devoid of laughs. But both shows tanked in the ratings, even given HBO's standards, so odds are we don't get to fight about this for more than another 11 weeks. I doubt either will be back for another season.
"in your most recent column, you answered this letter: "Re: Denny O'Neil receiving compensation for Ra's Al Ghul in BATMAN BEGINS. I was wondering if you knew offhand whether Denny, Steve Englehart, Frank Miller, or any other comic book creators received any compensation when their works were adapted--in some instances word for word--in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES in episodes like "Daughter of the Demon," "The Laughing Fish," "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" and "Legends of the Dark Knight." Frank Miller hasn't mentioned getting any residuals for the episode of BATMAN:TAS that used his DKR story, but he did give an interview with the Onion AV club a few years back and he mentioned it.
O: Were you happy with the episode of Batman: The Animated Series that used your Dark Knight character designs?
FM: Oh, that was wonderful! [Laughs.] It was hilarious, yeah. Bruce Timm called me up, the animator, and asked if it was okay if he did a little bit of Dark Knight in the show. And I said, "Absolutely, you're Bruce Timm!" He said, "Do you want to see a script?" I said, "No, you're Bruce Timm! I just want a videotape." The videotape came, and I watched it about three times in a row, laughing out loud. It's spot-on. He even got my Robin right. The episode itself, "Legends of the Dark Knight," was an excellent one and probably one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. It spoofed a few different Batman styles, from DRK to the campy stuff from the 60s. Hope this was a little enlightening for you."
It was, thanks, and thanks for the link. But I'm not sure a videotape counts as compensation...
"Love reading your reactions to the 'Deep Throat' unveiling and the scant attention Watergate was given during the newscast. But listening to the news, you'd be shocked to think a third-rate burglary was the only crime Nixon perpetrated upon the citizenry. Now, I could recall the illegal bombing of Cambodia or the continuation of the Vietnam quagmire (after everyone had deemed it a total disaster), but I'd rather tell the story of Conrad Arnholt Smith. Granted, local scandals in San Diego are so de rigueur and lack the sex appeal of a New York scandal, but the hijinks of Smith in the late 1960s and 70s had roots all the way out to the Nixon White House. C. Arnholt Smith was a developer and tuna maven who started gaming the San Diego political machine (developers and businessmen are eternally more important in SD than the mayor or city council). He made so much off the tuna boats (which have gone away from San Diego in recent years) that he began developing San Diego, started the Padres franchise (and got the a stadium built for them about three times) finally consolidating into something called the Westgate corporation, which also owned one of the biggest local banks, US National Bank. Things went as well as they could for someone who owned city council after city council and, because of his unchallenged authority, eventually he started laundering all the money the Mob made in Las Vegas (the characters from the movie CASINO made regular visits to San Diego). In 1965, Smith married a newscaster from Tulsa and simultaneously developed a taste for expensive items and the color beige. Not yellow or purple or black or something else on the visible spectrum, but beige. He would soon be known as the Beige King. But having a new wife that likes to spend your money on Beige junk means you need money. That's not a problem if you control a bank (Westgate and US Nat Bank were publicly held). You simply borrow money. And then you borrow some more money. Oh don't worry about the IRS, if you think you might be "borrowing" too much money, simply set up assorted front companies with you as the silent backer and recipient of loaned funds so that all the loans go through the Front company first before hitting you Beige Pockets. At its height, USNB has loaned about 575% of its worth to Smith. Yes, this is illegal and it should sound familiar: this is essentially how Enron managed to inflate its stock and earnings. Well, sooner or later, various law enforcement officials began to notice certain irregularities in Smith's holdings and began to send auditors in for investigations. And evidence accumulated. Of course, Smith also started gaming the land office to acquire the Del Mar race tracks and attracted the attention of one of the era's biggest racing fans, J. Edgar Hoover. That might have been a bad idea as law enforcement (federal level, San Diego PD was long considered mob owned) soon had enough to nail Smith for a very long time. But there were other elements at work...
Smith was a big Republican booster. He'd raised millions for Republicans all over the state and in 1968, it paid off: he raised a million dollars for Richard Nixon and was invited to sit with him on Election night as the returns rolled in. Days before an indictment was to be issued for thirty years of crime and malfeasance, the Nixon White House effectively killed any prosecution that would have occurred. Federal Officials ranging from FBI investigators to the IRS commissioner were removed, demoted, or fired for daring to prosecute. No one knows why exactly, but a little trip Smith took to Washington to meet Nixon might have played a role.
And so, in an effort to pay back Smith for all his hard work, the Republicans offered to host their 1972 convention in San Diego. They were two years too late. After prosecution stalled out thanks to Nixon's interference, numerous reports about the crimes of Smith hit the city papers. The Wall Street Journal published a report condemning Smith and his activities. A new mayor was elected by promising to take away power from Smith's cronies and the citizenry of San Diego became irate! Public protests forced the Republicans to relocate their convention to Miami and investigations against Smith began anew. He was finally tried and indicted in 1974 and most of his businesses subsequently collapsed when facts about USNB came out (among the more interesting schemes was the construction of the Westgate Hotel at the cost of $150K per room). He was eventually convicted, but the judge (a Nixon appointee) reduced the sentence to a $30K fine to be paid at $100 a month over 25 years (with no interest allowed to accumulate).
I know most of this has little to do with Nixon but nothing passes the time like a good corruption story. And the Westgate is seven blocks away from the SD Convention Center if you want to get away from the Floor this year."
Oh, I've stayed at the Westgate; there was a time when it was the official Comic-Con hotel. But, c'mon, you're not holding it against Nixon just because he used undue influence and fired a few dedicated public servants to protect a fundraiser, are you? The Smith story sounds like the working model for the SNL scandals of the late '80s, and that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of some of the crazy corrupt dealings of the Nixon White House.
"Nothing hard about admitting to girls that you read comics, but I think there's a fairly common belief that comics, if they're to be accepted (by girls, let's say) have to become, in essence, poor man's cinema. Nothing wrong with cinema, but I think if such a situation were to arrive, it would just make people wonder why they wanted to read films on paper when they could see them done properly on a two-storey screen. I'd like to think that people realize comics could become successful and respected on their own terms if the work were only good enough, but we'll see.
Girls probably wouldn't like CEREBUS or WARLOCK, you're right (especially CEREBUS). They were just examples. CEREBUS is one of my favorites and WARLOCK s just well done superheroes. What can I say? There's more to me than that, ladies."
You heard him, girls! He's a catch!
Seems to me there was a time when the audience for CEREBUS was mostly women...
Just heard the Dick on TV discussing the rising number of calls to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. You may recall recently the Admin suffered the rebuke of being called a gulag by Amnesty International, which was not impressed by Admin claims that feeding prisoners negated that term; AI chose to focus on it being a prison camp where men are taken against their wills and without any actual charges being leveled against them, and interminably incarcerated, interrogated and tortured at all hours without recourse or expectation of release. Cheney stated "some of these men are living in the best conditions they've ever known in their lives," which I guess means the facility should be reclassified as a spa (perhaps an "involuntary spa"), and dismissed Guantamano opponents as "people who don't agree with our policies." Gee, Dick, y'think? (Do these people ever actually listen to what they're saying?) Interestingly, the largest rising tide of opposition to Guantanamo seems to be coming from Republicans, not Democrats. So I guess it's Republicans who don't agree with Admin policies. (Similarly, the Hand Puppet dismissed the now infamous "Downing St. memo" - already verified by the British, and outlining plans of the US and UK administrations almost immediately after 9-11 to "create the conditions" to justify the invasion of Iraq a couple years later - as not worth paying attention to because it was released as Blair was seeking re-election, and that people are trying to make a big deal of it only because the discussions took place before they went to the UN; the big deal is hardly surprising considering the UN visit was on the pretext of exhausting all other options to war when war had secretly already been decided on by the Hand Puppet and Tony The Tiger, and it explains perfectly why the US finally resorted to unilateral action when the UN's "exhausting of other possibilities" steadfastly eliminated rationales for war one after another. The Hand Puppet's ghost writer while HP was still governor of Texas, Mickey Herskowitz, has since revealed that HP wanted to invade Iraq as early as 1999, and one of his stated goals if he should become president.)
Just one of a steady stream of lies. Did you know the USDA recently admitted that a cow declared "free" of mad cow disease last year had the disease? They used the wrong test on it - no one has said whether it was intentional, to protect the powerful meat industry - and when they used the right test, it turned up a positive. In the meantime, both neo-con literature and Congressional lobbying are pushing for an "expansion" of military rosters, despite last year's denials that anyone wants a draft, though, as registration plunges and new recruits become desperately needed in the face of the mire and bloodshed of Iraq, that's the only expansion option available. (Recruitment is currently down 25% over expectations; the reported critical point for a draft is 40%.) Kids who two years ago were enticed by the military's offer to pay for college after a couple years of military service now decide they'd rather find other tuition options and keep their lives and all their limbs. From reports, the only thing stopping Congress from initiating a new draft is word from the Hand Puppet - they want him to take the political fall for it, and he'll probably be willing to as the need to new recruits becomes overwhelming, despite whatever he has said on the matter in the past. Finally, it looks like the boys have agreed that the Patriot Act is coming back, bigger and better, for good, because, as the Hand Puppet put it, "if it's working, why get rid of it?" Working for whom? New studies show it effective in fewer than 10% of cases, not the 50+% HP cites in his policy stumping. To silence debate on the Patriot Act in the House Judiciary committee, Chairman Sensenbrenner, a staunch supporter of the act, took the unusual action of shutting off all microphones and walking off with the gavel.
Over on TNT, Stephen Spielberg's INTO THE WEST (Fri 8P) is trying really hard to be both LONESOME DOVE and DANCES WITH WOLVES rolled into one, but mostly it's just boring, so far. Focal character Matthew Settle, who was a revelation in BAND OF BROTHERS, comes off as painfully callow here, and looks at most moment like he's riding with a burr in his pants. I love westerns, and I'll give this one another week, but I'm having trouble staying awake during it.
A couple rerun notes: fans of AMERICAN CASINO will be disappointed to learn it's apparently out of production, but it has moved to the Travel Channel (Wed 8P) where it's running from the opening episode. The unaired episodes should show up in October and November, and who knows if it continues after that. And the Game Show Network has picked up rerun rights on THE AMAZING RACE, and will be showing them every weeknight from July 11 on (presumably 8P, but check schedules), starting with the first race. I wasn't watching during the first season, except for the last couple episodes, and the second season was so good I wouldn't mind seeing it again, so this is one rerun I'll be happy to watch for awhile. If you've never seen the show, it's some of the best fun you can find on the tube, guaranteed.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.