Monday, September 03, 2012


In less than 30 days from now, the Dublin International Comics Show (DICE) will take place in Dundrum. I'm really looking forward to it; some of my favourite people will be there and I include myself in that. For one, I live extremely close to Dundrum Shopping centre so it will by far be the most convenient comics show I'll ever attend. Also, it will be the first  Dublin show I'll have attended since I broke into mainstream comics. The DICE organisers have had Dublin shows in the past that I attended as a wannabe artist and this will be my first as an established professional, so it's going to be a special show for me personally.

As one of the few Irish guys working on more mainstream titles, I thought I might impart a little advice to artists attending the show (as well as show some OLD art, so you can see what I have had in my own portfolio in the past). I've been to Comic Conventions in Ireland, the UK, the States, etc, and I reckon I've learned a lot from all those experiences.

 There are FIVE editors attending DICE from the States. That is the most US editors I have ever seen attend a show on this side of the Atlantic. It's a huge opportunity to get your work in front of the big US companies. Make the most of it you bastards as I and the Micks had to spend a lot of time and money and air-miles over the years to get such an opportunity! So, consider the following...


As I said; five US editors. If you are showing a superhero publisher your horror story, you may not get the response you're looking for. There's no reason you can't show them your horror story; but if they publish superheroes then show them some superheroes too. Otherwise, they can always say to you 'It's nice work, but I don't see any superheroes'. Don't give them that option, besides, they're totally right to say that. They might see you are talented, but they wouldn't be able to see how you work within their specific genre. I was considering naming the books that each editor attending works on, but to be fair, you can look it up yourself; in this Google Age we live in it's not that hard and if you're not willing to go to that little bit of effort, then what's the point?

I'm not suggesting you tailor your portfolio to each editor; just that you need to make sure you're not wasting your (or the editor's) time. Helpful suggestion; There will be Marvel (superhero) editors and a Vertigo (mature readers) editor at DICE. You could kill two birds with one stone and have a Marvel superhero in some kind of real-world drama. That way, it could suit both editors. That's what I would do, at least.


My first piece of advice would be to display your work in an actual portfolio. Doesn't have to be expensive, just something to keep your work presentable. DO NOT hand up sketchbooks for portfolio reviews. Sketchbooks are for sketches; keep them for yourself. This is essentially a job interview; don't hand in essentially a CV with doodles scribbled on the end. Also, have panel borders around the edge of your pages, that is, don't draw all the way off the page; no actual comics artist does that and it makes your pages look more amateurish because of it.


The amount of work you show is important In my opinion; no less than 6 pages is satisfactory for a portfolio review. Any less than that looks lacklustre. On the other side, no more than 12 pages is acceptable. When a portfolio has more than that, the editor will just get tired on page one and not give any of the other pages the proper attention. If you agreed to read someones poem and they gave you a novel; that's how they'll feel. 12 pages gives you enough space to show a range of characters and genres without exhausting the editors. To be honest, it's probably best to have 8 or 10 pages, but no more than 12!


Always start your portfolio with your BEST page. You want to grab an editors attention straight away. That way, they will take the time to properly look at the rest of the portfolio. Generally, you would want to have your most recent work at the front for the same reason. On top of that, I find it helpful to save a really good piece until the very end. If you can punctuate your portfolio with an impressive piece, I found that editors will actually look through the portfolio in reverse, as if the last piece is the first piece, giving them a reason to look through your portfolio again with a somewhat fresher perspective.


As I said above, DICE is in less than 30 days. In that space of time I will have pencilled and inked an issue of VENOM. Ideally, I would have 5-6 weeks, but sometimes you have to buckle down and get the work done. To be frank, if you can't have a professional-looking portfolio prepared in this space of time, then you are simply not ready for working in mainstream comics. Take this as a challenge; get your portfolio together in time for the show!


Some of you want to pencil, some of you want to Ink. It's best to show your work in the medium you want to work in, if possible. I pencil and ink my own work, so that's worked to my advantage, but if you want to only pencil, then you should have pencilled pages in your portfolio. If you want to only ink; show your ink work on different pencillers. Same goes for colouring.


Much like knowing what medium you want to work in, it's best to know what type of work you want. if you want to be a cover artist, your portfolio should contain lots of covers. If you want to draw sequential stories, then have storytelling pages in your portfolio. I think you can get away with a cover piece to show off a little, but comics editors are generally looking for comics artists and that means storytelling pages are a must.


As helpful as editors have been to me in the past, some have been no help at all (though I'm positive all the editors at DICE will be GREAT). By showing your work to guests at the show, you are likely to get a LOT of valuable information from those who have built successfull careers in the freelance trenches. Most will be more than happy to impart vital nuggets of wisdom.


Realistically, it is very unlikely that an editor will see your work and snap you up with an exclusive contract. Probably won't happen. But if you show a solid portfolio and impress a couple of editors, you can build on that relationship that may lead to a career in the mainstream in the future. Think long-term. See this as a step in the right direction.


I'd like to think this is obvious, but it just doesn't look good. Don't do it. Be cool.


Guys, I know this is aimed at artists, but it's what I know. If your goal is to write for mainstream comics, then the best thing you can do is give the editors actual comics that you have already published. It shows that you can write a comic, and it also protects them from any later legal concerns. They simply cannot read your scripts. All you can do is buy them a pint and have a chat with them. If you're serious about writing comics, you should already be planning to come to DICE and network with artists.


Fairly obvious, right? Still though, worth saying.

I hope this is all helpful. Any questions, ask away in the comments. This is all just my opinion but at this stage I'd like to think it's a pretty well informed opinion.



Matt Horak said...

Great advice! I've had to learn some of this the hard way.

Declan Shalvey said...

Me too man, me too... :)

Mansloth said...

Great post mate.

Superhilbo! said...

Excellent information. Thank you Dec!

Declan Shalvey said...

Thanks guys! Hope it helps.

Deirdre de Barra said...

Nice one Dec, Thanks.

LuCa P. said...

That was just... great. Just the fact that you THOUGHT about posting this confirms how much you genuinely wanna help fellow artist, an impression I got from pretty much the first time we talked... Seriously, man, thanx a lot for that, I'll DEF see you there ;)

As far as you know, is it a "just queue in and show your stuff" kind of thing? Coz the at last Thought Bubble in Leeds you had to send a PDF of your portfolio to the convention guys beforehand to be granted an interview...

Anyway, dont wanna abuse your kindness,


Declan Shalvey said...

Thanks Deirdre!

To be honest Luca, I have no idea what the policy at DICE will be, but I think there's generally only one editor at a show so their time is limited. However, DICE has so many editors I'm quite confident you'll get some quality time with at least a couple of them.

YoJimbob said...

All good stuff, to which I'd add, make sure at least 5 of your sequential pages are consecutive and from the same story. Also, if presenting originals at above print size, have reduced print size copies to hand to show alongside. Obviously an editor worth their salt will know how you work will reproduce (or not), but print size examples will demonstrate that YOU have thought about too. It's also nice to be able to show a range of body types, ethnicity, ages etc, try and get some "real people" in your samples, an editor will expect you to be able to bollock out pumped up muscle men and insanely proportioned females (assuming super hero comics are your thing), but he/she will be mightily impressed if you can draw a baby or an OAP convincingly. Stuff it, chuck a couple of cats and dogs in for good measure. Background wise, a good mix of environments and locales is useful, contrast organic natural settings with your urban squalor and gleaming skyscrapers. If at all possible demonstrate that you have a good grasp of all the disciplines you need to master in order to produce commercially acceptable comic art (yeah, I know some pro's can't draw for toffee, but hey, they don't care, they working already), an editor will look for any reason to send you away saying "you need to work on.........." (fill in blank as applicable, perspective, anatomy, consistency what have you). Try and give them as few reasons as possible for them to find fault. NO easy task I know. Lastly, it goes without saying that drawing comics is a logical exercise in storytelling, not pretty picture making, if you prefer to make pretty pictures than to tell stories, then I'd consider pursuing a different art carer. Cheers. J

Mike Sudduth said...

Great post man! Definitely hear you on getting feedback from artists at the show. That's what you did for me at Heroes Con last year, and it has GREATLY helped me in my more recent endeavors at getting jobs and building relationships.