Cartoon and Illustration

Your Portfolio and You: Part 5 Sequential

I’ve been warning you all along we were going to get to this point.  A “sequential” portfolio is very different from almost every other type of portfolio in that it’s about telling a story, not about how pretty the pictures are (though that can be part of it).

We’ve talked about delivery.  Sure, we can dicker about whether or not you’re going to be presenting the thing as a series of originals, printed pages, or digitally–but when it comes to sequential art all that becomes secondary (or maybe even tertiary).

What matters with sequential art is telling the story, and doing so quickly!  And I mean quickly.

I didn’t get this for a long time. The fact is, I have made a lot of mistakes along the way, and probably will continue to make mistakes in the future–but I’m learning.  Hopefully someone out there reading this may glean something from my mistakes.

And I’m not claiming I picked this all up on my own.  Got a lot of this advice from friends, and it finally started to sink in a few years ago.

So here we go:

Keep it short!  Three to five pages of continuity will do the trick.  If you put in more than that you’re wasting the time of the editor or art director (as well as wasting potential follow-up material that you’ll likely want to send them later.)

Be Dynamic!  For pete’s sake, this is comics.  The reason that super heroes, zombies, ninjas, and the like abound in comics is that they tend to look really good on the page.  There’s a place for “sitting room drama” but thus far that genre has not found a solid niche in the world of comics.

Keep it simple.  By this I mean that presenting just pencil samples (if that’s what you’re going for) is probably enough for most industry insiders.  If you feel you have to show them pencils, inks, and colors to convince them you’re capable then you probably aren’t that sure of your abilities.  (And if they’re asking you to demonstrate all three then they’re probably not that certain of your abilities either–or just killing time.  If they think you’re a great penciler then they aren’t going to ask you to jump through hoops, but rather are going to be doing their best to sign you up.)

Keep it neat.  Actually we dealt with this one before in all those other posts I wrote.  It should go without saying, but if you can’t present a neat portfolio to the buyer you’re just saying (without words) that you’re disorganized and probably incapable of staying focused, meeting deadlines, sticking to scripts, turning in vouchers, and a world of other business practices that publishers are expecting freelancers to engage in–besides simply being able to draw.

Okay, that’s what you present.  As for how you get to that point–well, you don’t do it like I used to try to do it.  That is, you don’t set out to draw ONLY the 3-5 pages that will impress.

I used to try and either dream up a twenty+ page story and then think I could do a really good job if I spent all my time drawing only the best pages in the middle.  It doesn’t work that way.  It never did when I was starting out, and it still doesn’t work that way now, some thirty years later.

There is such a thing as “creative momentum”.  I find that if I draw the entire twenty+ page story that somewhere in the middle there will be a few rare gems.  Not that all the rest of the pages stink, but there’s always some little glitch on a page that I find in review. And it’s almost always something that I know will actually get worse if I keep fiddling with it.  So it’s a matter of finding the pages with the least glitches.

Then it’s a matter of finding 3-5 pages that work in a sequence from start to finish; a clear little bit of story that makes sense visually even though there are no word balloons or captions to indicate what’s going on within the story.

But the point is, I’d never have that 3-5 pages of “rare gems” if I hadn’t drawn the whole twenty+ pages to start with.  That’s the advantage of having assignments to work on in the first place.

I know, it’s a Catch-22 situation for the young artist.  How can you get assignments without good samples, and how can you get good samples without assignments?  I get that.  The trick is you have to create your own assignments.  Or work for peanuts–or for nothing–in order to have the experience under your belt that leads to good samples.

It’s a sliding scale too.  “Good samples” in the eyes of one editor may be barely passable (or worse, complete garbage) in the eyes of another.  But this is where we find ourselves in the world, and also how we find our voice in our chosen field.

The practical application I can explain to you:  3-5 pages of dynamic work, presented simply and neatly.

What the creative content of those pages will be like is left entirely up to you.

 

 

 

 

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Cartoon and Illustration

Your Portfolio and You (a political aside–you’ve been warned)

So during all this talk about portfolios I’ve kind of been wondering something that’s a bit of a hot button right now.  I try to avoid being political here in this blog, but my question (and believe me it’s rhetorical, no reason to respond–really) is why anyone who’s a freelance artist would be a socialist.

Yet I’ve got a lot of friends who make those sorts of noises.  They truly seem to think that’s the way they ought to vote.

With all due respect, I disagree.

As a freelance artist should be a capitalist in every sense of the word.

Though your capital is based on your talents and abilities as an artist, it is essentially no different than the person who’s capital is based on stocks, bonds, real estate or cash.  The very words, “portfolio”, “talents”, and “investment” are all used in both the financial world and the art world.

But perhaps I’d better put this in the form of analogies so we’re all on the same page.

I’ve been re-watching one of those “The Great Courses” series and several times the professor makes mention of the various rulers of Europe who took over, then seizing the art treasures of this or that country and taking them away for his own nation’s collection.  You know, various kings of France, England, Spain–then later Napoleon, even later guys like Stalin and Hitler.  When one mentions those last three almost all of my artist friends get really hot under the collar (as well they should).  How dare those men presume to seize the art treasures of other countries or persons just because they happened to have taken those countries by force?

How is that any different than some socialist administration seizing the 401(k) holdings of people who have been working to save those funds for their retirements?

I’m sure that Napoleon thought he was fully justified in “redistributing the wealth” of the countries he invaded for the good of France–at least at the time.  (He was later disabused of those notions.)

Getting back to my point.  You, the artist, were given an inheritance by your parents:  the collection of genes and chromosomes that make up your physical body; the encouragement you received (or didn’t receive as the case may be) caused you to pursue art as a vocation; the work ethic you were taught; the training you were given to make your work better, etc.

And you have invested time to build your skills and take that latent talent to new heights that did not previously exist.  For years you have presented your work to the public, to art buyers, editors, art directors, etc.  Facing the criticism all of those had to give and bouncing back from all the negatives and building on the positives.  You finally reach the point where you are able to sell your work at a decent rate to publishers and receive a compensation for commission work that will support you and your family in a decent manner.

Now, imagine some no-talent hack comes along and insists that he should be paid the same rate you have struggled the past 30 years to achieve.  “It’s only fair,” he says, “after all I put marks on paper too!  Why shouldn’t I be paid the same rate?  What makes you morally superior to me?”

Do you see the error in the logic there?  It’s not an issue of moral superiority, but an issue of the quality of the work.  It’s an issue of the hours spent doing the work, of learning the skills and applying them to good and upkeep of your family.

It’s at this point that at least one of my friends will argue that I’m being selfish and not following the example of Christ in showing charity.  To which I have to point out their fallacy.  Socialism is not charity.  Socialism forces everyone to pay into the system–and the moment you force someone to pay into something it is no longer charity, it is coercion.

Again, capitalism is the better system.  It allows each person to decide for himself what causes to give to.  Admittedly, many people will decide to give to terrible causes, many will give to no cause at all.  But better that an individual be given that right to decide on their own than have some commissar make a terrible decision on the part of many people who are being forced to comply unwillingly–or (the more likely scenario if history is any indicator) hoarding the money for his own benefit.

Now before anyone accuses me of campaigning for Donald Trump, please get this straight–I am not in favor of conspicuous consumption.  So that leaves “the Donald” out right there.  But neither do I see any wisdom in Bernie Sanders (nor any other Socialist in sheep’s clothing).  Capitalism is not about, “he who dies with the most toys wins.”  It never was.  It should be about responsible stewardship of the resources that we each have as individuals–and we can’t be responsible by abdicating our individual responsibilities to the State.  That was the point of the Constitution.

As for those who claim that the Constitution is dead–well, then why am I still here talking about it?

 

 

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