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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 FlashGordon.com.
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.
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.
Remember your bedrock is a good contract, as the following video will attest. Mike Monteiro – F*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.
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.
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.
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