Long Beach Comic Con 2017: ‘Creating the Perfect Portfolio’ - Panel Coverage

Editor Barbara Randall Kesel led back-to-back valuable instructional panels Saturday afternoon, September 2, 2017, at the Long Beach Comic Con. Her first panel, “Pitch, Pitch, Pitch: How to Sell Your Story,” provided advice to writers who are trying to sell their stories, but what about artists who are looking to develop a portfolio to showcase their art to prospective editors? Not to worry; Kesel was joined by Eisner Award-winning artist Pia Guerra (Y: The Last Man) and freelance Photoshop production artist John Ercek (Executive Assistant Assassins series from Aspen Comics) to share their knowledge and answer questions from the audience in the follow-up panel, “Creating the Perfect Portfolio.”

Kesel started the hour by stating that the artist's portfolio needs to include original art, have the artist’s contact information on every page, and should lead with art that conveys the work you want to be doing. The artwork should show what you can do on a consistent basis; do not included unfinished art. Additionally, the portfolio should be around 10 pages in length. The images need to be clean and crisp.

Guerra said it is important to include a variety of shots from different angles, show proficiency with lighting sources, as well as showing story transitions. She said that a valuable tool that she used was Stan Lee and John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way; however, she said that taking a class on storyboarding can be very helpful, too. Kesel clarified that sequential art is different from the film medium; the characters' presence is larger than life on the page and are drawn proportionally different. Ercek expressed that the concept of the perfect portfolio was problematic in his mind and felt that artists should think about showcasing their strengths.

Aside from building the portfolio, artists looking to get into the industry need to develop relationships. Guerra said this requires patience, because it can take time for a job to be offered. She shared that between her initial interest in Y: The Last Man, series took about 3 – 4 years to secure. Hence, be patient, but be persistent. Kesel said that is often the case; however, once in a while, the timing might be right, your skills match with the project, and a job is secured fairly quickly. Ercek advised to not take rejection personally and always keep producing art. Often, the person reviewing the portfolio is looking to see that the artist really wants to work in the sequential art medium.

An audience member asked if age should dissuade a person. Kesel said that age is not as important for artists as it might be for writers. In fact, age is sometimes preferred, because it carries experience. Ercek added that social media presence can be helpful, because those followers are fans as well as representing potential sales. Hence, it is important that you can be found in Google searches.

Another person asked if there is ever an occasion to deviate from the prescribed expected examples in a portfolio. Kesel said no, not solely for the sake of doing something different, unless it showcases your talent/skill as an artist. Guerra added that the art should be unique, expressing the artist’s voice, so it is an aspect that the artist will want and need to define in their portfolio.

Returning to Ercek’s point about not taking rejection personally, all of the panelists agreed that feedback is one editor’s opinion; however, Kesel said if the same feedback is being given by several people, then listen to the feedback. Guerra said to listen to consistent feedback because it is a roadmap. And, by all means, try to get a lot of feedback, like at cons, where it is often the easiest way. Kesel said to find support locally. She mentioned The Comic Bug as having clubs to support local talent (writers and artists).

The panelists addressed the emotional investment of being an artist, as well as provided some technical advice. First, Guerra reminded the aspiring artists of the audience that showing the portfolio is exactly like going for an audition or interviewing for a job, so realize that you are not going to fit every opportunity. Ercek advised to not get angry even though there is an emotional attachment to the art. He said to try to detach yourself and think of the art in a purely mechanical mindset. As for technical advice, Kesel suggested turning over the art and putting it on a light box in order to identify composition issues that arise from being either left or right-handed. Guerra added to turn the paper so the top becomes the bottom. This technique allows the artist to see perspective issues caused by not using a tilt table; a tilt table allows the artist to work perpendicular to the art minimizing a skewed appearance to the art.

If the artist is not also a writer, then seek out sample scripts online. Kesel suggests picking a script that matches up with the publisher you want to work for and pick a script that is open or vague on detail. For example, a script that only mentions a “mount” for the character might obviously cause a person to think the mount is a “horse.” This provides an opportunity to be creative and think outside of the box. She did advise to consider the script that will promote the “wow” factor in your art.

As the hour was coming to a close, Guerra pulled out her portfolio. She stated she keeps the plain black, 8.5" x 11" portfolio in her bag. In hers, she includes a set of pencil drawings and a separate set of inks, since that is her proficiency. Kesel thumbed through and noted Guerra has at least five different examples for ink and pencils, for instance, and that she also had her contact information on the pages. Ercek asked the audience how many in the audience had their portfolio on their phone or mobile device and some raised their hands and/or nodded they did. Each panelist was in agreement that they still would want to see the portfolio in a print format.

Panel photograph courtesy of Michele Brittany

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