So you want to impress the powers that be over at Marvel comics by showing them you’re the next great Michael Turner? It takes more than talent alone to attain a dream job working for the house that Stan & Jack built. You’ll need a killer portfolio, the right attitude, and someone to hand deliver you to the editorial board.
Luckily, Marvel “Scout” Jim McCann braved the horrors of driving alongside 70-mph death machines piloted by oblivious soccer moms (a.k.a. Nashville Traffic) to share his advice for aspiring creators this weekend at the Nashville Horror Convention. He’s also there talking to fans, answering questions, and reviewing portfolios that could end up on the desks of Marvel editors.
It’s not hard to see why McCann knows what editors are seeking in an artist. He has over four years experience in the sales, marketing, and communications side of Marvel, 20 years of dedication as a Marvel fanboy, and will soon debut his first full-length comic What If? House of M co-authored by Brian Reed. And while McCann can’t reconcile the fan reaction to Spider-Man‘s marital situation, he can offer plenty of tips for aspiring creators trying to break into the industry.
Killer Portfolio Checklist
“What people should bring for portfolio reviews — and this is for everywhere they do portfolio reviews or send them in — is always bring photocopies with your name and contact information at the top or on the back,” McCann said. Photocopies can be either 8 by 11 inch or the larger 11 by 17 inch size standard of most art boards.
The artwork itself should demonstrate a variety of skill sets, according to McCann, who adds that he’ll be looking for examples of pin ups, sequential art, backgrounds, and use of perspective.
“A lot of people can draw [pin ups]…but, you pretty much don’t break in as a cover artist,” he said. “You will break in as a penciler so you need to be able to show your sequentials.”
Sequential art, which is the practice of telling a story from one point to another using sequential images, came from Will Eisner, inventor of the graphic novel. But being familiar with this concept isn’t essential if you can show examples of good storytelling in your portfolio.
“If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, at least know modern storytellers. Know the basics…basic anatomy. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know basic anatomy.
Keep It Professional
Aspiring creators should not be scared to ask questions, according to McCann. People who have never had their portfolio reviewed have used the critiques to learn more about what editors are looking for in a good story, portfolio, or whatever position may be.
“Just showcase what you’ve got. Don’t be afraid to come and get pointers,” he said. “I had a couple of people who were just students — I’m talking, they were kids. Their parents brought them up and obviously a 12-year-old is not going to get published… (usually).”
If you have the confidence to get your portfolio reviewed, be prepared for criticism that shouldn’t be taken personally. The risk of coming off as arrogant is the last thing that will bring someone closer to their dream of making comics, according to McCann.
“People should be professional and open to what is being said,” said McCann, — even if what’s being said is harsh and unpleasant. You can be professional when you hear critiques but when you’re arrogant it shows right away. It’s a very unattractive quality.
“Its not even like you’ve got to earn your right to be arrogant, because no one likes working with arrogant people. This is too small of an industry to be that much of a dick.”
Smaller Con Means Better Odds
Any opportunity to get your portfolio reviewed is going to improve the odds that it will end up sitting on an editor’s desk.
“For people who I think would actually get some traction, I’ll bring their full portfolio back with me to the office,” McCann said.
McCann estimates taking about 10 to 15 portfolios with him back to Marvel’s editorial office but that at the end of the day that number could change.
“That’s a really high estimate to be honest,” he said, explaining that at larger conventions like Wizard World Chicago or San Diego Comic Con, there are hundreds of portfolios submitted and only 10 to 15 per day that get reviewed.
“Because this is not the same size as the San Diego Comic Con I’m going to look at everybody’s and then I’m going to bring back the best of those. So, I’m thinking 10 to 15 but I’m going to bring back as many good ones as there are. If five people show up then that’s still five I didn’t have before,” he said.