Last week I focused on preparing the portfoolio for review: what to include and why. This week we'll examine how to go about the reviews themselves, including how to handle the individual critiques downstairs on the convention floor, and how to manage your time.
First, the bare essentials for port revs are pictured above: if you bring nothing else, bring your convention badge, your handsomely-displayed portfoolishness, and the unusually under-estimated business card. I got my business cards from OvernightPrints, which allows you to pick from some templates or design your own. If you don't have business cards, don't sleep on it. Get them now so you're not faced with the last minute "I need them tomorrow!" crunch; it is a completely avoidable, preventable problem. Like disappointment at an M. Night Shyamalan movie. You will hand out a surprising ton of cards, most importantly to the editors and key contacts you make, unlike not bringing an umbrella to New England, there'll always be another rainstorm to stay dry in, but no guarantee you'll ever connect one on one with certain Comic-Con VIPs. Include art on your card if possible to help associate your art with your name, but above all include your name, site, and email. Phone numbers are not as mandatory, but as I learned from some colleagues, you can always just have a set of cards with your number to hand to editors, publishers, and pros, and a non-number card to hand to fans and random contacts. A tip from Emily Warren: put five or so cards in your badge holder so you can instantly and effortlessly whip one out on demand (make sure not to stretch the plastic of the holder as you're placing cards, though, as your stuff might fly out if it given enough torque).
After the essentials, try to include prints, postcards, or pamphlets of your portfolio as leave-behinds. All of my stuff is finished digitally so it is not too difficult to just up the print count, but if you have traditional stuff, just hit up your local copy machine. If you can't print at home, there's a Kinkos at the Convention Center towards the professional registration entrance around Hall D or so; black and white copies are 20 cents a page, color is $1.30, all plus tax. You can use a flash drive in their computer cluster, but computer use is 40 cents a minute and printing is ~50 cents a page. The printer prints dark, so lighten about two clicks left and print one test copy to check before starting your bulk printing and consult the remarkably-cool staff if you have any questions (show the front desk your credit card to print receipts).
Before heading into a review, have your leave-behinds at the ready but clearly distinguished from your portfolio so all movement is as graceful and coordinated as possible. The same way you want to be able to drop your business card at a moment's notice easily, you also want to be able to hand over your leave-behinds for them to take home. You might even staple or paperclip your business card on top of the leave-behind packet. Or if you really want to feel like a "baller" you can just let them keep the stuff they're reviewing. I did this once and had a little rockstar moment of "yeah, take it, whatevs." It's expensive to make all these copies, but it's an investment. As an artist, you've got to sacrifice a normal lifestyle, at least at first, so just lay off the booze and movies and fun and just blow your money on stuff that truly matters. To help print with more foresight, you can find the portfolio-reviewing companies listed online and printed in the Comic-Con guidebook at least the day before the convention officially opens, so look at the reviewing companies you're pretty sure you'll be shooting for, and print a leave-behind set for them. Do this for convention-floor companies and artists you want to meet with. You can save money on tickets by volunteering (free admission, but you must work for CCI three consecutive hours) or registering as a pro, (also free, but you must have three published works).
So while going through te convention guidebook's exhibitor/Artist Alley list, circle the doods you want to visit, while making a list of them on a separate paper, including booth numbers. The paper list serves as a condensed hit list, so when you're not on call for port revs, you can stalk the convention floor as efficiently as possible for better odds at encountering someone who's free for a review. As you're en route to a booth, you can keep an eye on your paper for closely-numbered booths to hit if the one you're heading to is tied up (smart phone users can probably do this more easily with a note-pad app, but paper still works). This constant contingency plan is key because often artists will be extremely busy and won't be able to review you, but will let you know when to come back. So if you don't get reviewed, you can note on your paper when they'll be free, and if they're not reviewing, you can just scratch them off the list.
Particularly with individual artists, be sure to check out their blogs and/or tweets leading up to the show to make a more immediate and positive interaction (don't just pull the Chiarello-maligned move of throwing your stuff in front of the reviewer and saying "look at my sh**.") Linking of which, the outstanding, unsung hero of my Comic-Con '11 experience was SiDEBAR Podcast. SiDEBAR Podcast has over one and a half hundred hours of incredibly insightful conversations with so many great artists (while drawing the hours away, you might as well listen to interviews so you can research and learn while you draw, rather than rock out to music). And when you meet an artist, nothing gets them smiling faster than saying, "Hey, I heard your interview on SiDEBAR Podcast." Some great, wonderful, and inspiring conversations grew from the knowledge they routinely drop on SiDEBAR, not to mention one ridiculously HILARIOUS five minute chat.
I've only ever met a couple artists who can't and/or don't do reviews, but for the most part, if they even have a preference at all, most seem to prefer reviewing towards the end of the day or late Sunday, although I discovered one early bird. Even so, just be patient and be sure to check with the artist because they may slip you in right then or give you a better time to return. If the latter's true, then you at least get to build some positive association with them for being patient, understanding, and diligent.
Speaking of positive association, the way I go about all reviews is always being as humble yet confident as possible (nervousness will leave as you talk to more and more strangers about your work). My mantra is "expect the worst, but hope for the best." Even if I don't particularly dig the artist or company's work there's a clear distinction as to which side of the table the pro is on and which side I'm on. Show respect, never argue, and never make excuses for your work. Show them what's meant to be seen, and nothing else; even if showing pages of your sketchbook, cut to the pages relevant to them; try to waste as little of their time as possible, because as long as they're talking to you, they are not making money (Comic-Con is a huge business weekend for them, as it should be for you). If they ask you questions, answer them, but don't be defensive or didactic. Expect to get brutally torn apart and to watch helplessly as the paper avatars of hours and hours of your very life get massacred by someone you respect and probably admire, likely before a congress of their curious fans lining up to watch the carnage. If you aren't torn apart, then great. But if you are, then you probably deserved it. Loser.
You're not a loser. But consider yourself one. In fact, you are a piece of scum not worth anyone's time. You do not deserve to be given any reviewer's time, let alone their respect, and it's a wonder you were even allowed to set foot in the convention hall. It's true. You know it's true. Not really, but you get the idea: if you have no ego, then you can't be hurt by anything they say. They are just words. Even so, reviewers aren't Internet trolls. Professionalism is defined by respect. Expect the worst, but hope for the best. If anything, you'll get the equally useless opposite of trollage: "Yeah, that all looks great, man, don't change a thing," but I would be very interested to learn of any pro who gives vitriolic, substance-less reviews for kicks. I did get a couple "harsh" reviews, but even those had substance, and none felt like it was anything against me personally (well...*cough*)
Ok, so you've got your gear and you're ready to go. Here's how to do streamlined reviews at the Portfolio Reviews at the Sails Pavilion of the San Diego Convention Center (Ballroom 20; look at the ceiling, if you see canvas sails, then you're in the Sails Pavilion, just pass the Freebie Table and head to the back, under and to the left of the sign that directs you to rooms 21-33).
Get into the convention as early as possible (arrive at the doors around 9am) so you can grab your port rev lottery tickets at the main table facing the seating area (skip the port rev information table). Grab your lotto tickets before they run out and sort them later if it even makes a difference--try to look up the companies the night before in the CCI guidebook, or at least if you have time before the ticket drop deadline (9:30am for the morning shift, 1:30pm [USUALLY] for afternoon). Again check the earliest company you're submitting for (particularly for afternoon drawing, since it's more varied) and drop your ticket no later than 30min prior to the earliest drawing. Don't fill out a ticket for the companies you're clearly not a good fit for (hyper realistic CG isn't my bag) or have already seen, but don't be afraid to go for companies you're on the fence for, go for big air.
They'll post the review list on each of the review tables' sandwich boards 15min before the morning and afternoon shifts begin (9:45am; usually 12:45-1:45pm). Once everyone's posted and the swarm dies down, take a lap around the booths and make a map of the review area and once you see you've been listed, compile a cheat sheet of the booth's Area Number (the guidebook lists letters, but the boards use numbers, so A=1, B=2, etc.), your list position, as well as the company name and their review schedule. So if you're #60 and the company's only there for two hours, you're probably not getting seen, but if you're #30 and they're there all day, you will probably make it later in the day. Watch the first few reviews to get a feel for how long reviews take for that company, and if it's evident there's going to be a wait, don't be afraid to head downstairs to the convention floor to get some individual artist reviews (note the time and the current wait number they're up to), but keep an eye on your cheat sheet's schedule. Sometimes you'll be able to budget an hour away from the review area, typically two hours between morning and afternoon shifts, in which case, maybe take in an important panel.
But make sure to set a clear "call time" or three on your cell phone's alarm system to tell you to be back at the review area no later than 10 minutes before you think you should return because invariable "traffic" and other distractions will slow you down. If you miss your name, they will skip you forever. However, they will slip you in next if you tell them, "I was at another review," if you were tied up at another booth, but if you really need the review and missed it, you stretch that description to indicate you were getting reviewed downstairs or something. Don't be dirtbag and use this maneuver if you were in Hall H waiting for the cast of something involving vampires to spontaneously agree to autograph your vintage Lucky Charms t-shirt, though.
Above all, never forget that this is work, not fun so only go to a panel if you truly find value in it, such as connecting with a panelist afterward (lesser known people are usually super willing to linger and chat) and/or having real interest in the subject matter. For the most part, skip business-type panels since you can learn most of that from podcasts and reasonably art-centric common sense, and don't overvalue preview-type panels since, be real, you'll see that material eventually if not on TV or in theaters, then on Youchoob. Maybe you really want to see the panelists live and in person, but again, seriously ask yourself: is it worth missing my shot with Company X or Artist Z to view a celebrity live, interact with them for perhaps 15 seconds if you can make it to the Q&A mic, or see upcoming material "first"? Sometimes they give away free stuff, sure, but I mean, come on. Prioritize carefully and always try to get back to reviews as soon as possible. And for pete's sake, skip Hall H, you freaking valueless, space-consuming tourist (unless you have a hook-up, in which case you are probably something of a celebrity and don't need my advice on anything, believe me).
But do use your breaks wisely: recharge. I pack about two boxes of granola bars and three bottles of water (refilled daily) in my computerless computer-satchel/man-purse so during the show there's never, ever any hunger or thirst (thirst in particular is absolutely killer), so chow down conservatively during your downtime if you must and you'll never have to blow money or time on food or drink all week. The trick is to survive on little sleep and limited food for four days: eat big dinners and go to the bathroom at night so all you have to do each morning is shower, cereal, brush, supply-check, then head out the show, and not have to worry about time-consuming bodily functions. As for sleep, the earlier you prepare your stuff, the less prep time you need during the show so you can sleep longer, but I've found going on 4 hours' sleep a night isn't that difficult when you've got all that adrenaline going, believe me.
Back to the reviews, though, don't give up on being seen by a company unless it is painfully obvious they won't get to you. Check your guidebook to see if they'll be returning another day and then check with the lotto ticket wranglers to see if they'll be rolling over names (sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they say they do but then they don't!). But when you're on deck for a review, prepare for battle.
I am by no means a social person, nor am I good at talking to people. But when it's do or die, I slug it out. While I'm waiting to be called, I have my portfolio ready, with leave-behinds underneath if they request them, and business cards behind my CCI badge ready to go. I have a paper for notes just below the portfolio (complete with the company name clearly indicated, possibly including the review's name, so I don't forget when reviewing notes later). In one fluid motion, I can hand the reviewer the work to review meanwhile dropping the notepaper for instant note-taking readiness. When walking up to them, I keep my right arm free to shake, but I first drop my baggage stuff next to my seat (skip the giant novelty convention bags, those are for the tourists; pack as lightly as possible). Make eye contact, smile, shake, and greet them with "Hi, my name is [i.e. chicka-chicka Slim Shady]." Figure out as fast as possible if they want to talk first or jump into the review and act accordingly. I always open with "I have some sequentials for you today as well as some illustrations and even some color comic strips," as I ready my portfolio for their review. If they go for them, then that means they want to review, if they nod and look interested, they might take the initiative and start talking to you without looking at the work, so then it's conversation time. Stay on your toes.
It helps to have bullet points or an "elevator pitch" of yourself--my name is Reuxben, I have degree in literature from Yale University, but I want to draw all-ages work without being exclusively for kids, like how you can enjoy Batman: the Animated Series as a kid and years later revisit the work and glean greater value from it as an adult. But I'll go one further: have a uniform. Don't go in costume, as that reeks of unprofessionalism, but rather go as an aspiring professional. My uniform is the same every year: black cargo pants to hold my stuff, black T shirt with a simple design to show I'm unique while not going overboard and always keeping my clothing as non-intrusive as possible, and my Yale Y hat, and I shave mah face to look as young as possible, because I feel it's always better to look like a prodigy than a veteran. I always wear my Yale Y hat so I can encounter keen-eyed roaming Yalies (met a few!), break ice with people who are interested in Yale (I can always talk at length about Yale regardless of how new the acquaintance), and because it helps build my personal brand. I'm the "Yale comics artist guy," how many people on earth can use that, period, let alone from my generation?) The deep blue of the hat contrasts and softens my otherwise all-black get-up and it also helps define me in the memory of the flurry of introductions that these companies and artists make each year. And if you're only seeing someone once a year, it helps to remember, "Oh yeah, the guy with the blue Y hat, right..."
So you've completed the review, you have your notes and the names and/or business cards of the people down. Congratulations, you're kinda done. Take what time you have left to roam the floor for the artists you're still vying to talk to, hit some panels if you can, scrounge for free stuff and gape at all the stuff you can't afford and get recharged by taking it all in and thinking, I will earn my right to belong here. But remember, if you see someone you want to talk to, dude, just go up to them and try to talk to them. At worse, they'll turn you away, at best, you'll get an excellent review, a warm conversation, and their personal email address and an invitation to keep in touch. Be sure to spend time talking to the artist about their work, their biographies, their company, and all that, and you'd be surprised how well things can go. And don't forget to send out thank you notes after the show to those people kind enough to grant you their time and/or business cards, and as always, assume they've completely forgotten you, so include a brief recap of what you talked about.
All right. I hope this guide has been helpful or at least overly long. In any case, I hope you enjoyed it. And if not, screw you, it's free.