How to Become a Comic Strip, Comic Book and Graphic Novel Artist


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Okay, you have your tools and the terminology down; now let’s take a look at your goal. It’s good to know where you are heading during this journey. Your goal is a portfolio that is going to get you work at the company of your choice. Of course if you want to self-publish, then this obviously isn’t for you.

Your entire physical and online sequential art portfolio should be no more than 12 to 15 pages. Any more and you’re just boring the person. The physical portfolio should be the original 11″ x17″ art.  Target your portfolio to the publisher you are submitting to; which means don’t show Marvel characters to DC Comics and vice-versa.  Present a complete scene within 3 or 4 pages. Each scene should showcase a different mood – action, normal, romantic, quiet, horror, humor, whatever will showcase your range whether with superheroes or not.  Show that you can draw normal people as well as muscular. People in costumes, uniforms and regular clothing. Different backgrounds and realistic city or fantasy city. Show variety in your characters; different type of people; ethnic and physical builds.

No pin-ups or covers are needed right now. If they like your sequential pages you’ll get your chance soon enough after being hired.  Also the portfolio should include only samples you’ve done in the past six months. Anything beyond six months tends to make your art look weak and inconsistent, since you should have improved in that time.  Inkers should also include the photocopies of pencils with their inks in their portfolio.

Never mail original art pages to companies. Only mail full size photocopies of your art with your contact information on each page.
Important: At conventions or an office visit always have a leave behind. The leave behind are letter size photocopies of your portfolio suitable for filing by the editor to remind them of you. Put your contact information on every page. So when they go looking through their files for someone, they know how to reach you.

There is no requirement to draw in someone else’s style when submitting your portfolio.  If you don’t have your own style, then there’ s nothing wrong with doing someone else’s style, but the risk is it may only hurt you. Use the style, but don’t copy them line for line.  Many people have started using someone else’s style. Steranko and Barry-Windsor-Smith used Kirby’s. Bill Sienkiewicz used Neal Adams. Travis Charest used Jim Lee. Bryan Hitch used Alan Davis.  So it’s okay to start out with someone’s style, but it’s important not to stay there. It should just be a jumping off point for your growth into your own style, as each of the aforementioned artist’s have done.  Others have stayed stuck and are always compared the person they copy. They may get some initial buzz, but it doesn’t last long. People who have stayed in that phase too long are tagged as clones in the industry. Cant afford George Perez or Jim Lee? Send in the clones!

But, if you already draw a certain way, don’t waste the time trying to copy someone’s style. Comic book companies which have a stable of non-creator owned characters could care less about seeing your original characters (if they are not published). The companies want to see what you can do for them with the characters they own. You don’t need to find any scripts. Just take 3 or 4 consecutive pages from the printed comic you’re interested in drawing and redraw the pages. That should be 3 or 4 pages in a row that are a complete scene. Tell the story in your own way. Don’t copy anything that was already done.

You don’t need official scripts to submit portfolio samples. There are no ideal scripts. You can find scripts on-line if you don’t want to use a printed comic. Keep in mind these are samples and the editor is not not going to read the script side by side with your art. You are not being judged on how you translate the script, but on the pages you put in front of the editor. You don’t have to follow the script verbatim. Your responsibility is to tell a good story with drawings. Also if you are drawing the script of an amateur writer then you may be doomed to to repeat their mistakes visually. Even pro writers make mistakes. Sometimes they ask for the impossible like, “Draw the character standing with their back to reader, smiling ironically.”  It’s okay to go off script.

What are editors looking at?

  • Solid drawing skills
  • Draftsmanship
  • Consistent faces from panel to panel
  • Form
  • Light and shadow
  • Composition
  • Perspective
  • Anatomy
  • Clothing and drapery
  • Animals
  • Acting
  • How you tell a story visually and with panel to panel continuity
  • Pacing
  • Create a convincing reality (backgrounds and environment are characters also)
  • Allow space for word balloons (usually the upper third of panel)

If you are submitting online to a company, then follow their guidelines EXACTLY. When you submit in person, don’t say a word. Don’t talk unless you are asked a question. Any question you answer should not be an excuse. If you have to make an excuse for anything in your portfolio then that art should not be in your portfolio! Don’t get defensive and feel the need to explain yourself or say you are better than who they have working now. Keep your mouth shut! Accept any and all critiques graciously and thank the editor when you leave.

*Tip: Put your second best drawn scene first. Put your best drawn scene last, because the portfolio is usually left open on those pages while the person responds. You leave a stronger impression in their minds.

Howard Simpson
My Free Web Comic –
My ebook – Tangent City
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