Friday, July 29, 2011


I had a ridiculously great Comic-Con, I received amazing feedback and interest from ridiculously huge companies, and I was even covered by the Onion's AV Club! This was my "first" year showing, since I only had my best college work to show last year (making me still a student-artist) but even so, last year's work fortunately garnered auspicious, however humble, reviews. This year I was surprised at how much I'd grown and how much I had to share, actually, so I'm going to do some posts collecting my thoughts on how I made the convention go as smoothly as it went, starting with the portfolio strategy. The core ingredient is having strong material to show, but beyond that, a good bit of strategy helps, too. This was my 2011 portfolio strategy.

First, I had a three part portfolio, starting with Part One: my Magic: the Gathering sequential pages (the first five pages starting here, since the most universal requirement for sequential review is that they be five consecutive non-splash pages). While making these pages, I knew draftsmanship and storytelling would be crucial, but that writing was only of secondary importance (at an art review). So I focused on drawing well-designed, dynamic characters, detailed backgrounds, and making it all flow even if you ignored the dialog. The number one compliment was about my expressions. The number one criticism was that my handwriting sucked professionalism from the work! For the critics who did read the text, I got smiles, and even loud laughs from lapsed-Magic players and the Magic-playing Magic painter Chris "Jitte" Moeller!

When deciding on a story for my sequentials, I thought, rather than do a revamp of old, "proven" work to my modern standards as I'd initially planned, instead I'd put old ZLM characters in an original story created by using random Magic cards as a writing prompt. I thought this might capitalize on the "old nostalgic thing in a new refurbished context is so awepic" fad that's consuming today's society, and indeed I succeeded: pretty much everyone at Comic-Con played or knew of Magic when they were younger so they were delighted to see a comic based on it, without having to know Magic to "get" the comic; all you need to know, if anything at all, is that Magic = swords and sorcery, and you're set. My comics showcased my passion for Magic, all-ages storytelling without being child-exclusive entertainment a la Batman: the Animated Series, and it showed my artistic abilities (humans, creatures; talking, combat; props, environments) along with my versatility to write and draw (many people are quite impressed when you drop the bomb that "Yes, I created absolutely everything you see on this page: character design, prop design, pencils, inks, tones/colors, and writing." Bam. Business card.

Part Two of my portfolio was three digital illustrations: "Tony Tony Tony," "Phantom Me," and "America's Suitehearts." Earlier this year, I decided to create strategic illustrations that would demonstrate my digital coloring and painting capacities, each to feature carefully chosen subjects (with more on the way!). "Tony Tony Tony" was based on the drummer Tony Thaxton from Motion City Soundtrack combined with Tony Tony Chopper, a character from one of my favorite comics/shows, One Piece. This illo was designed to show not only my ability to draw a real person in "my" style, but also my reinterpreting a popular character, making him my own by re-contextualizing him with a real person and an original setting. It was also an experiment to see if it was possible to break into the suffocatingly popular mash-up culture by pairing unrelated things into a natural fit. It was. This piece was a hit for showing I could draw stuff that appeals to older teens and twenty-somethings.

"Phantom Me" was based on a desire to interpret the harsh Butch Hartman style through my generally-softer style, meanwhile also being an experiment to see if any old Danny Phantom piece could blindly generate a lot of hits with people who refuse to let DP go. It does. This piece got great feedback for inadvertently showing that I could do superheroes, although as I explained to the editor, Danny Phantom isn't really a superhero per se.

The final piece, "America's Suitehearts," based on the Doonesbury character, Alex Doonesbury, was a bit of a gamble to see if I could drastically re-interpret a character from an under-represented fan art culture from an arguably less prevalent (yet still relevant) area of pop culture, newspaper comic strips. This has some of my favorite background painting, but I'd say the piece was a popular flop online, even though it was critically successful at Comic-Con reviews. This got great reception for its perspective and sky, the latter of which I love as well.

The final, Third Part of my portfolio was select color comic strips, printed two strips to a page. Page 1: zlm142 zlm144, p2: zlm145 zlm149, p3: zlm151 zlm153, 4: zlm156 zlm158, 5: zlm160 zlm161, 6: zlm162 zlm163. These were picked first as my best-drawn strips (either for character or architecture, ideally both), then for what the art can showcase, then for the humor of the pieces. The Gmail spoof was a great example of "architecture" in the loose sense in that I got to mimic a quite familiar design, but I also got compliments on my costuming, when taking architecture to mean clothing. I was thrilled to get some smiles and laughs for the work, too. And while my biggest criticism last year was my figures, I got plenty of compliments on my figurework this year, particular of the feminine sort!

So that's what I was packing for Comic-Con portfolio reviews. In addition to the work itself, I made sure to have plenty of business cards on me (down to my last two!) as well as printed copies of everything displayed, ready to leave behind with the reviewer. After the review, as they begin to return your samples to you, if they ask for leave-behinds, nothing makes you feel more like a baller than holding up your hands against the mid-returned samplers as you go, "Oh, yes, that's all yours to keep. Business card?"

Cool. Next week: how to do a portfolio review. Like a baller. A patient, patient baller.


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