column_breakout.gifPrima D’s Con Diary — Day One

… Stood in line to impress Somebig Artist with my portfolio, and it was horrible. These guys in front of me just kept talking and talking and talking the whole time we were in the line. They even started showing each other their portfolios. But the big thing is…they wouldn’t shut up! The others even stood around and watched and asked more questions as he reviewed each portfolio. After my review, I encountered them down the hall a ways as they talked about their portfolios even more. I wanted to take a baseball bat and pummel some silence out of them. It was probably because of them that Somebig Artist slammed my portfolio.

… What’s up with these so-called professional artists? I got 3 reviews in before lunch, and they’re all picking on my perspective and page layouts. I bet they saw the commercial potential of my style and got scared that they might lose their jobs. I’m obviously doing something right.

… Well, my lunch was ruined. Those “artists” (using that term really loosely) from Somebig Artist’s line were at the same restaurant as me. And they brought friends…about six of them all together. They had their portfolios, and they kept talking about all the bad things the artists had to say when they got feedback. They’d even point out specific pieces of work and let everyone else know what each artist thought about it. One of them even told another that he should go see Penciller Elite and ask him if there’s any good practice techniques for getting figures to look right in his backgrounds. Losers. Like he’s gonna share his secrets with them. Stupid wannabes are driving me crazy…they think they’re in art class or something. Well, I bet they’ll wanna go back to art class when I walk out of here with a job, and they don’t.

… Stupid editor’s gonna be sorry he didn’t offer me work. I didn’t want to work on his small-time crap books anyway. When I’m cranking out books for the big two and selling millions of copies, he’ll be crying in his beer cause he had his chance.

… Hahahahaha. Some dumbasses were getting their portfolios reviewed at some small press booth…by a writer! What the hell would a writer know about art? Man, if this is my competition for breaking in, I’m so gonna own this industry.

… Wow, I must really have these pros scared cause it looks like they’re all talking to each other. I guess they figure if they all tell me close to the same thing that I’ll change my style, and then I wouldn’t be a threat to them anymore. I bet they even threatened some of the editors that they’d miss deadlines if they don’t tell me the same old crap. These conventions are just a big conspiracy to keep the kick ass artists down so these jokers can keep their damn jobs. I can outdraw at least half these jerks anyways. Well, I’ll show them!

With an attitude like that, there’s not much point in bringing a portfolio to a convention, is there? As I mentioned in the previous article, there are benefits to conventions for up-and-coming creators–learning something new, meeting new people, and getting word out about your work. Let’s look at how to use the portfolio to maximize those benefits.

Learning something new. This one’s easy. Take the portfolio up to a professional creator that happens to be doing portfolio reviews and let them have at it. If you pay attention, you’ll probably learn something new. But there’s more you could do…especially with a little preparation.

You could go over your work before the convention and write down your weaknesses (and be honest with yourself). From that list, you could whittle it down to the top three problems you struggle with the most. With those three weaknesses in mind, take a look at the guests for the convention and find the artists that are really strong in those areas. This gives you a focused set of professionals to start with to help learn how to strengthen these aspects. When you get to these portfolio reviews, ask the guest about those specific things. And then listen carefully to what they have to say and see if the guests have any specific drills or tips for practicing and improving on these weak points. Be sure to bring a notebook with you and write down what they said when your portfolio review is over. This makes it easier to focus all your attention on the next review (and have something to refresh your memory on what that creator said later on).

Plus, you don’t have to stop there. Plenty of other artists will be there with their portfolios. Every time a guest comments on a portfolio, you have the potential to learn something new. With their comments and a physical example you can actually see, you can learn about things you might not run into with the few samples in your portfolio. I notice a number of people tend to stick to just what’s in their portfolio and what the guests have to say about just their work…but if you think about it, a convention is like a big open classroom with people handing out lessons all over the place. Just listen in on a few and see what helpful tips you can pick up.

Meeting new people. You’re walking through the convention with your portfolio, and you see someone else there with a portfolio…think there’s a common connection you could both chat about? You could take a look at each other’s portfolio. You could discuss what kind of feedback you’ve been getting from the different guests. And you can even discuss artwork in general. That portfolio opens up a lot of different possibilities for meeting people and possibly making new friends.

Now, if you did your research for speaking, you have an opportunity for double bonus time. In storytelling, it’s effective to get the audience’s attention early and pull them into the story. You can do the same thing with your portfolio…especially if you managed to find out about some of the likes and hobbies for the creators that will be there. If an artist really enjoyed surfing and your portfolio starts out with two or three sequential pages dealing with the beach and surfing, do you think they’ll have a little more fun reviewing your work? Think it might get them talking about the subject? Think it will give them a nice change of pace from the common comic book characters they might be going through all day long? Think it will help them remember you after the con’s over? And all it takes is two or three sequential pages that you can add to your portfolio as examples of everyday people doing everyday things (and just swap those pages to the front before you meet that guest).

And don’t forget the small press publishers/creators in Artist’s Alley. Showing your portfolio around there will definitely help you meet new people…and you might even learn something in the process. Some small press creators know a lot about creating comics. As with any endeavor, not every bit of feedback will be helpful though…some might be bad or way out there, and you’ll just need to trust your instincts to know which is which. Of course, if the same comment occurs over and over, then there’s a good chance it’s something you need to look into. Overall, the small press area is a good place to meet and chat with other creators. It’s also the place where people might contact you later on about small jobs or where you could find a great story to work on with someone to try to get published (and possibly have a comic book sitting in your portfolio the next time you attend this convention).

Your portfolio also presents a good chance to meet writers. Surprisingly enough, some writers actually know a lot about the artwork side of things as well…from working with a variety of artists and small press people on different projects or from studying to be an editor (because comic book editors also need to have a good eye for art as well as handling the writing side of things). Even without an in-depth knowledge of perspective, anatomy, shading, and other artistic basics, a number of writers can still judge how well sequentials flow from a storytelling perspective. New artists to the realm of comics also get the chance to discuss comic creation with writers and learn about some expectations writers have when dealing with artists. Better to discover those kinds of things before jumping into a project and finding yourself overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Getting the word out. Got a new project coming up or a submission getting ready to go out to publishers? Include some pages from the project in your portfolio. This let’s people get a preview of the book and meet one of the creators, so they have more than just a name to associate with the work. It can also get people asking questions about it and talking about it. In fact, you could work with the writer to develop a small pitch, so when people ask you about it, you can give them the quick “hook” for the storyline.

And if you have work already published, put some sample pages from that project in your portfolio along with a copy of the book. Let them see the story and see how much effort you’ve put into creating comics. Let the other small press people know about the book as well (especially if you have more issues on the way). Advertising works, and a portfolio is a great way to advertise your book at a convention.

… Remember, that portfolio of yours carries some advantages. It gives you opportunities for education, networking, and advertising all in one fell swoop. And you can get so much more out of it if you take a little extra time to prepare and focus your efforts.

Now, I know the writers out there might feel a little neglected in the realm of portfolios. There are ways to put together a decent portfolio to showcase a writer’s work, but that’ll require a future article of its own. Right now, my best recommendation for writers in lieu of a portfolio is to work on those speaking skills and know your stories inside and out (with pitches ready to go)…because convincing storytellers should be able to work in any medium (with a little practice).