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.