What’s in that Portfolio? Do’s and Don’ts For Comic Artists

Here’s some guidance on what you should – and shouldn’t – include in your art portfolio when you’re showing it around at comic conventions. You might also like to take a look at my Editor’s View on what we like to see in Portfolios and there is some advice from independent comic creator Pete Ashton here about presenting yourself to an editor; and more advice here from Marcia Allas and Matt Brooker.

More than anything else – DON’T stuff your portfolio with artwork

Be ruthless about your portfolio. Evaluate the work you plan to show an editor, then cut it down. Think about the number of people who will want to show off their art and may be queuing behind you.

This sound harsh, but any editor worth their salt is going to make a judgement about your art after seeing the first page, not the last of 20, so make sure everything in your portfolio is the very BEST you’re capable of. If you aren’t happy with the art, don’t include it.

DON’T include splash pages, cover illustrations or if you do, keep it to the very minimum.

What editors want to see is that you can draw comic strip, not pretty pictures. Have both pencils and inks of those pencils to show editors. Present pencils on the left, inks on the right. (Copy your pencils before you ink them if you’re used to inking your own work). If you’re looking for inking work and have inked some samples, show editors copies of the pencils you’ve inked.

Consecutive pages is a good idea, as suggested by others. I don’t think size is important, an A4 ringbinder/portfolio is probably a damm sight easier to carry to a convention than an A2 folio.

Less is More

Less is more. You’ll have ten minutes at most with an editor. Be ready to have your very best work on the opening pages of your portfolio and be ready to change those pages to suit different editors (see above about drawing samples for specific publishers)

Present a good script

Find some professional scripts and work from those if you can. I’ve encountered many a determined comics artist has been let down by with their portfolio by trying to draw a badly written script.

If an editor likes your samples, be ready with a set of photocopies of your work for him to take away.

Follow up a positive response with a letter of thanks as soon as you can when you get home, and send the same set of copies. There’s always a chance the one you gave them got lost on route, or your address got separated from the samples (so make sure you put your name and address on them.

If you’re after advice from editors, then please, please don’t start arguing the toss if they don’t like what they see.

A comics convention is a good opportunity to meet several editors, and if one editor doesn’t like what you’ve done then another sure as heck may do. Thank them for their time and move on.

If a professional editor offers advice about your work, listen: even if you don’t agree, if you argue, that will be remembered. Editors will be looking for specific things in a portfolio. If your portfolio doesn’t offer what they’re looking for, they’ll say so. Accept it and try somewhere else, or take note of what’s said and you’ll be better prepared for the next time. (That, by the way, isn’t to detract from the quality of anyone’s art. The professionals will be looking for work they can publish that fits their corporate needs, not just good art).

By the same token, I don’t consider it appropriate for editors to be rude about someone’s work, but that doesn’t stop them from being honest.

Fanzines sell your work!

I cannot emphasise enough how great it is for an artist or a writer to give an editor a fanzine they’ve had a part in. For one thing, all editors like freebies. For another, it shows that you, as a creator, have the commitment and belief in what you’re doing to get right down to it and draw a strip people want to see. Plus, publishing a fanzine and selling it at a convention might just cover your bar tab (but there are no guarantees).

“I think they work pretty well as business cards to complement a portfolio,” says Pete Ashton from bugpowder.com on taking fanzines to conventions: plus if you make them A6 they fit in pockets better. It’s a good way to stick in the editor’s mind when they find your mini in their jacket pocket a few days later and read it on the train. About 12 pages A6 should do it.

“Make sure your address/email/site is clearly on it though.”

Tailor your work for the target publisher

Have pages for DC with Batman, Superman etc, Marvel heroes for Marvel, 2000AD characters for Rebellion. The editors for DC and Marvel will want to see their own characters, not yours. Also, before you go to the event, see who’s announced they will be there and plan your pitches accordingly. Check the event’s web site if they have one.

That of course may not apply to smaller publishers at the event looking for new strips and concepts to publish.

Be honest

Be ready to answer, honestly, “How long did it take you to draw this?” That kind of question is a good sign, it means they might be thinking of trying you, unless it took you a week to do just one page (a comics professional will as a general rule draw a page of pencils in one, one and a half days if they want to get a 22 page book done every month, that is!)

Best of Luck!

You’ll be competing with hundreds of determined creators. If you think those wannabe TV Pop Idol contestants have it bad, you’ve never presented a portfolio. But if the work you sweat over to present at the event gets you a job, it will be worth it.


• Portfolio Advice: A View From the Editor’s Chair

• Independent comic creator Pete Ashton here about presenting yourself to an editor

• Advice here from Marcia Allas 

• Portfolio tips from Matt Brooker

 Elsewhere on the Web

Artist Bryan Talbot’s advice for new comic creators


Categories: Creating Comics, Features

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