Business of Cartooning

Getting a Portfolio Review

I was recently asked the following question through Facebook Messenger:

“I want someone to review my work so I can get feedback on what I’m doing right or wrong. I have no idea how to initiate that kind of conversation or who to turn to. What do you recommend I do?”

Quick thoughts: Sending your art unsolicited to a professional cartoonist for a critique is usually a bad idea.

It’s like wanting your car fixed, and instead of making an appointment, just driving it into an auto repair shop and parking your car on a mechanic’s lift – then expecting them to get to work.

Not good.

Posting it online on social media for a critique can be hit or miss. There’s simply no way of knowing the experience and/or professionalism of those giving their two cents worth.

From personal experience I find Artists Alleys at comic cons to be a good bet. The reason being that the artists on hand are specifically there taking the time to touch base with readers and fans. This one-on-one from an artist you respect can be invaluable.

Just make sure to ask if they’re open to doing a portfolio review. They may not depending on time constraints/sketch requests, and that’s perfectly understandable.

Also a heads up that the critique you get can be instructive and/or eviscerating depending on the artist’s demeanor. Be prepared for either.

A surefire way to get a critique is to take a class or correspondence course in cartooning. Heads up that the Minneapolis College of Art and Design has an online portfolio review for potential students.

I would also recommend the Joe Kubert School Correspondence Course (and no, I don’t get paid for this endorsement). In this case it’s a matter of getting what you pay for.

You can check out the Kubert School at Comic Cons they’re scheduled to appear at as well. The above pic is Kubert School Alum Brigid Allanson and Angie Fernot at C2E2 from a few years back.

Hope the preceding was of assistance and wishing you all the best in your artistic ventures!

-Jim Keefe

Artists - Cartoonists Business of Cartooning

Graphic Novels

This post was an addendum to Jim Keefe’s lecture for the Graphic Novel Illustration class at the University of Minnesota.
Class Instructors: Rowan and Bly Pope

To preface these links & resources, here’s my favorite definition of what a Graphic Novel is by Eddie Campbell.


Graphic Novels: Resources/Links

Calista Brill interview
Senior editor at First Second Books.

Calista Brill
Calista Brill

The Path to Becoming a Bestselling Graphic Novel
By John Shableski

John Shableski ©Library Journal
John Shableski
©Library Journal

The Comic Publishing Landscape 1.0
Designed by Fiona Ho and Jason Thibault

Click on to see larger.

Reading List:

Making Comics
by Scott McCloud

Analysis of the art form.


Drawing Words and Writing Pictures
by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Provides solid instruction for people interested in making their own comics.
Check out their new book as well, Mastering Comics.


Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life
by Paul Gravett

Illustrated guide spotlighting the different genres of contemporary comics.


500 Essential Graphic Novels
by Gene Kannenberg

With more than 350 authors and 400 artists, a thorough guide to the medium.


Alec: How to be an Artist
by Eddie Campbell

The rise and fall of the graphic novel in the 20th century.


Leaping Tall Buildings
by Christopher Irving

The story of the comic’s birth and evolution in America told through its creators.
Starting with Siegel and Shuster in the 1930s all the way up to today.


For convenience the book links are to Amazon, but I’d recommend checking out your local comic retailer or book store. If they’re out of your price range/budget, you can always check ’em out at your local library.

For many more resources and links, check out the Business of Cartooning.

Business of Cartooning Joe Kubert Ramblings & Reviews

Lettering – Part of the Layout

I’ve seen the top version posted here and there on social media (don’t know the artist).

The bottom version is my variation using my experience working on syndicated comic strips (Flash Gordon/Sally Forth). For Sally Forth I’m the penciller, letterer, inker, and colorist for the Sunday page (the dailies are colored in-house at King).

My variation puts the letterer before the inker in the assembly line of making comics. Putting lettering last can make for some badly placed type (in my humble opinion).

Here’s Joe Kubert talking about how he lays out his lettering as part of the inital layout – and how he thought laying it in as an overlay as the last step was “a little nutty.”

For the full clip go to

It’s a sentiment I agree with 100%. It just makes for a better marriage of words and pictures.

A quick side note: Lettering is the “invisible art” of a comic page when done well. If done horribly it stands apart from the page like a sore thumb.

Check out the Todd Klein Facebook page for examples of lettering done right.

And last but not least, a top notch production staff is ESSENTIAL and are the unsung heroes of this business. Any kink in the chain, and no matter how outstanding particular individuals are, you’ll end up with a crappy product.

And that’s all for today – class dismissed…

-Jim Keefe

Business of Cartooning Ramblings & Reviews

Cartooning Classes Taught by Jim Keefe 2018

I’ll be teaching Cartooning and Comics classes this summer for kids and teens at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Here’s the info (with links for full details).

Comic Book Creation I
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: June 18 – July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The Comic Book Inside and Out

Summer Pre-College Classes Ages 15-18
Dates: June 18– July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.

Instructor Jim Keefe

A graduate of the Kubert School, Jim Keefe started his career as the head colorist in the King Features Syndicate comic art department, coloring such world-renowned strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible.

From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate – currently available online at


Teaching and speaking engagements include the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Malloy College and Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs in Long Island, New York, the University of Minnesota – and most recently as an Adjunct Teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Keefe currently is the artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, written by Francesco Marciuliano. Sally Forth is syndicated worldwide by King Features and appears in nearly 700 newspapers.



And for those interested, there’s also a follow-up class to Comic Book Creation I.

Comic Book Creation II
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: Jul. 16 – Aug. 8
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00-4:00 p.m.

This class is taught by critically acclaimed cartoonist and Xeric grant recipient Caitlin Skaalrud. Caitlin also runs the local comics micropress, Talk Weird Press.

Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud's Houses of the Holy.
Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy.

Business of Cartooning

Comics – Pricing your Work

Scrooge McDuck by Carl Barks

I get asked a lot what’s a decent page rate for comic book work.

First off, it’s hard for me to price a project blind without knowing the specifics. It’s like a building contractor making an estimate before coming out to see the work site, or figuring out a fair price on a used car without looking under the hood.

Generally, if it’s a small press publisher that is printing limited copies the page rate will be low. If it’s a bigger publisher with a larger circulation the page rate should reflect that. There is no standard in that regard.

To cut to the chase, here’s what the Graphic Artist Guild currently lists.

Writing (Plot & Script) $75-120
Painted Art $200-750
Pencil Art $100-400
Ink Art $75-300
Lettering $40-50
Coloring $100-150

There’s also a list that breaks it down to what the different publishers pay at

Then there’s this list from

CEO – high end
Isaac Perlmutter (Marvel Entertainment’s CEO) worth $3.9 billion
Diane Nelson (President of DC Entertainment) worth $16.6 million.

Comic Book Creator  – high end
Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) worth $40 million
Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead) worth $20 million

Associate Editor at Marvel Comics: $38,000-$41,000 a year.
A more senior editor at DC Comics can make up to $84,000 a year.

Salaried gig: $55,000
On a project basis:
Script outline $20 and $100 at the bigger publishers.
Script/dialogue $80 and $100 at the bigger publishers.

Comic Book Artist
The median comic book artist salary is $36,500

Starting rates at Marvel and DC: $160 to $260 per page.

$75 to $100 per page.

$20 and $121 per page

$10 and $25 per page

Now for the long answer…

The best way to move forward is to be as informed as possible.
A starting point is the Graphic Artist Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.

The Graphic Artists Guild also has a handy website with Tools & Resources that offer a wealth of valuable information, such as…

The Letter of Agreement
Writing Your Own Contract: Pre-Contract Checklist
Negotiate That Contract

Remember your bedrock is a good contract, as the following video will attest.
Mike MonteiroF*ck you, Pay me

Now… if you’re new to the business and just starting out, you’re chomping at the bit just to get published – Do not undervalue yourself. If you’re not careful you’ll set a precedent and never get paid what you’re worth.

Here’s some advice from the grumpy old man to a certain type of client…


Remember that part of negotiating a contract is breaking down for the client what the work entails and your worth and ability in providing this. You want to be in a position that the client knows he’s making a good investment for what he’s paying.

Tom Richmond (past NCS president and Mad Magazine artist) gave the following advice to an MCAD class I was teaching.

You’re not pricing your work based on the time you spent on it, but the rights you’re giving away. And if someone wants you to work for free claiming the work they are offering will be “good exposure” – remember, people die from exposure.

And from Nick Ubels: When to Say No to Unpaid Gigs

The balance between the value of exposure and compensation, experience and pay is contested in every creative field. For those of us who want to make it in journalism, we’re asked to commit time and energy to unpaid internships and supposedly career-advancing “opportunities” that are to our benefit. And frankly, unpaid labour is hugely beneficial to the companies providing said opportunities.

This is nothing new. To some extent, internships and volunteer experience have always been a part of these freelance-driven industries. But there comes a point at which an exchange of money for services needs to enter the equation.

What you always have in your corner when negotiating a contract is the power to decline and walk away – especially if the payment is inadequate. This should be done professionally with your “business hat” on so you don’t burn bridges – not your “artist hat” that wants to punch those bastards (who want something for nothing) in the face.

Recommended Link: 15 Ways to Negotiate Better Rates of Pay – by Jim Thacker.

Along those lines, here’s Harlan Ellison with a few choice words…

Work for Hire

A lot of comic book freelance is working on established characters under a Work for Hire contract where the artists rights are signed away and the client becomes the legal owner and author of the work.

Once again, Tom Richmond

Illustration groups like the Graphic Artists Guild and the Society of Illustrators rightly disdain WFH agreements and widely suggest illustrators refuse to work under WFH agreements. That makes sense in a perfect world, but sometimes in the real world a WFH agreement is a necessary evil.

I think you have to realistically assess the amount of risk you are taking in doing a WFH job compared to not doing it.

For much more info on Work for Hire, check out Work for Hire – The Fallout.

Back End Deals

Another popular tactic to pay the artist very little (or even get the work for free) is the bait of a possibility of money on the back end through royalties, licensing and merchandise.

From Colleen Doran in regards to “back end” deals.

You’re gambling that your work will be popular enough to pay for things the publisher does not pay up front. Most of the time, that’s a losing bet.

I have accepted work like this myself in the past and it has never panned out favorably. Looking back, I also feel I ended up producing less than stellar work – partly because I couldn’t devote the time I would have liked (as paying work had to take precedence) – but also because psychologically it ended up getting under my skin that my work was not valued enough by the client that he deemed it worth payment.

If you do decide to accept work like this, see it for the gamble it is. It’s never anything to bank on.

And keep the following in mind…


If you’re looking for more info and resources for cartoonists, check out my previous post, the Business of Cartooning

All for now – deadlines looming…