In the past a number of outlets have supported my effluvia, from Tripwire magazine through the oft-mentioned Borderline to Comics International and even, a lifetime ago, the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation. The only change is that these days there’s no editor breathing down my neck, no deadline except the self-imposed ones and they can whoosh past any time they like.
It seems to me that in this long, seemingly unending and unendable series of positions as a media commentator, regardless of where the noise is being made, there always has to be a replay of what I’m about to do here. The words may differ but the sentiment remains, enduring like Ayers Rock or maybe Blue Peter.
This chapter would have lead off with the not-at-all-cliched phrase “It’s getting near to Convention Season”, but every day is convention day in this non-stop no-brakes no-filter modern world. Here in the jolly old U of K we’re about to embark on the annual festival of slightly shabby disappointment that is the Bristol Comic Con (which isn’t its actual name. Its actual name is something which I forgot at exactly the same moment I left for home after the last one I attended). Any second now we shall see the inaugural Kapow!, which I’d lay good money on also being the valedictory Kapow!, for there is only a limited amount of time during which the public will swallow Mark Millar’s self-promotion. In the Colonies there’s a convention nearly every weekend and it wouldn’t surprise if some blighter was planning something for alternate Wednesdays just in case there's someone somewhere who isn't sucking on Geoff Johns' teat.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending many of these conventions, starting with - logically - my first, way back in the heady days when UKCAC was a major event, bringing top names from all over the place and gathering them in a dingy hall just off London’s top open-air gay hook-up spot, to my last, a grey and dismal weekend in a half-full railway engine shed where the only fun to be had that didn’t involve guessing either the weight of the panel moderator or how many years since the star showbiz guest last worked was in getting blind drunk and brandishing the award one had just won out of the hotel bedroom window at the losers down on the street below.
I’ll admit that I’ve never attended a convention at street level, as a civilian. I’ve always been a retailer or a creative or a publisher, my badge has always been a different colour from those worn by hoi polloi, I have always had at least a little access to the rarified air in the professional areas. Yay me.
One thing that goes hand-in-hand with standing behind a table with a slightly smug air, as opposed to shuffling along in front of a table with a slightly malodorous fug, is that those among the shuffling humanity who hold artistic pretensions see you as their ticket to a finer life.
As a result, you’re continually bombarded with portfolios. Every other Herbert is slinging a black leather zip-up with many many plastic sleeves inside, and each of those plastic sleeves will contain something which in any civilised society should be banned from ever seeing daylight.
I make a point of asking people’s names when they show a portfolio; it’s only polite and when you’re getting around to asking questions, like ‘I am a retailer and have no publishing interests, so why are you showing me this… Dave?’ or ‘You do understand that this portfolio shows less talent than my dog, and he’s been dead these last three years… Harry?’, it’s good to add that personal touch.
Or, rather: I do this because I have yet to see a decent portfolio. I’ve seen some absolute friggin’ stinkers and I’ve seen a few that didn’t actively make me retch, but I’ve never seen one that made me blink, rub my eyes in amazement and offer the artist any form of work. If you’re offering constructive criticism, and even if you’re enough of a sadist to enjoy taking a fellow’s dreams and stomping them to death as you would a sick kitten, it’s a right and good thing to ameliorate the medicine with the notion that you’re on the artist’s side even if he’s quite obviously incapable of telling which end of a pencil is the sharp one. Using their name, preferably using it without simultaneously projectile-vomiting, is a form of contact, a metaphorical hand to cling to in this Sargasso of destruction.
If you’re planning a convention visit soon, and you’re planning to unleash your talent upon the world, do me a favour first. Take a long, hard, cold look at your work and ask yourself: is this any good? You’ll be biased, of course, as you should be. You’ll need an ego the size of a living planet if you’re going to get anywhere in this game. But put that aside and really critique your work. First question: is your grasp of anatomy as good as it possibly can be? Do your figures have ridiculously over-length legs (the most common flaw in portfolio work)? Have you got any sequential work in your portfolio, or is it mostly pin-up shots? If the latter, remember Rob Liefeld’s influence isn’t as great as it once was, but editors will always want decent storytellers.
And if you can’t see anything wrong with your ‘folio, ask someone else. Not your mates, not your Mum. An art teacher, perhaps. Or someone with a professional interest. Ideally, ask a professional artist, and not necessarily a comicbook artist. In fact, most definitely not a comicbook artist.
Listen to what they have to say. Take on board their advice. And if their advice is ‘please don’t ever draw again’, even if their advice is ‘please chop off your hands and your feet and possibly even seal up your own mouth with molten lead so you can’t hold a pencil even between your teeth because if you do I will hunt you down and kill you’, then listen to them.
I ask you to do this because there are far, far too many underskilled creatives around at present. And next time, we’re going to see what happens when a lack of ability meets an excess of ambition.
I can’t wait!