Showing your best side: the art of preparing a portfolio

  • 4th May 2020
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Not surprisingly, I get emails from a lot of artists, introducing themselves with the hope that I might have a project for them.[1] I’m always amazed at the talent I see in my Inbox.

Entirely too often, though, I despair at the portfolio presentation. Because I don’t know what they’re offering to do for me.

I don’t have to tell you this (but I’m going to anyway): comic art is pencilling, inking, lettering and colouring. If I can’t tell what skill you’re asking me to look at, then you’ve blown your best chance to make an impression.

Your portfolio should show me two things: the before-and-after and your best stuff.


This is so I can see what you bring to the table. What you were given and what you did with it.

If you’re a penciller, I want to see the script you were handed. Same if you’re a letterer. If you’re an inker, I want to see the pencilled pages. If you’re a colourist, I want to see the inked pages without colour.

Get what I mean?

Now, some of you are saying, “I can do it all! I can pencil, ink, letter and colour! I’m an all-star, baby!”

Good for you.

First of all, I don’t believe you.[2] But for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s true. I’ll still want to see the entire process. Put it this way: you get a call that Jim Lee needs an inker. Everyone they’d normally call is sick or has too much on. Can you demonstrate that you’re up for it? Can you point to a set of inked pages that shows them that they made the right call?[3]

Working in groups

Now, I’m going to make this a bit harder for you. What I’d really like to see is your work over someone else’s. That is, whatever you’ve been handed to work on has come from someone else.

The reason for this is that you’re already familiar with your own work. You know that that squiggle you’re inking is a nose, or that the background of this panel is supposed to be a gradient from green to dark blue. You made that decision a while ago.

Working on someone else’s work is harder. But it shows me how good you are at artistic decisions. How you handle this can reassure me that you’re capable of bringing your A Game when I need you to.

Your best stuff

Porfolios don’t have to be big to make a good impression. They just have to be, well, good. Most of you are pretty good at winnowing out the “meh” stuff from your portfolio. However, I still get portfolios containing everything committed to paper since grade school. [4]

I really don’t need to see that much to make a decision. Four or five decent pieces of work are enough to tell me you’re capable. More than that is fine, although you’re forcing me to find new ways to say, “This is nice”.

If you don’t have that many decent pieces, and all you’re hoping for is some direction, that’s fine. Please let me know first. I would suggest, however, that you really need to be out of ideas before you show your work to an editor or publisher for guidance.


Those steps, one more time:

Determine what specific artistic skill you want to display
Put together before-and-after sets of work
Being only your best work

You get one shot at making a first impression. Make it a good ‘un.


[1] I may not. Most projects that are submitted already have a creator or creative team attached. But introduce yourself anyway. I sometimes get calls from other editors or publishers for creators; and I can’t pass your name on if I don’t have it.

[2] Artists who can do it all are few and far between. Most of the rest of you might be good at one thing and competent at the rest. Do you really want to be compentent at something for the rest of your life? Be honest with yourself.

[3] Unless you’re a colourist. In which case, I guess they didn’t.

[4] Unless you’re in grade school. In which case, fair enough.