One of the most frequent questions I get from aspiring artists is, “How do I find work at Marvel and DC comics?” It’s a fair question because it’s something I myself asked many years ago when I wanted to start drawing comics. Having worked in the industry now for almost 20 years, and having worked for both Marvel and DC, I would like to share what that experience has been like, and how a young (or old) Philippine artist based here in the Philippines can break into American comics.
Before I start, a word of advice. Some of those who sent me inquiries wrote messages in text speak. I say grow up and learn to communicate properly. You’ll get nowhere in the professional world speaking like that. Specially if you intend on breaking into comics internationally.
And a personal advice which I think may well be the most important of all: Search your feelings and try to figure out if comics is what you really want to do in your life. Are you serious in your ambition to work in comics? Why are you going into comics in the first place? Is it because you think it’s something that pays well? Is it because you think it will make you famous? I have received many inquiries in the past saying the same things. They tell me things like:
“How much will I make when I work in comics?”
“I would like to be in comics I would like to sign comics like you!”
“I want fangirls!”
Well, you can want what you want, that’s all right. But let me say right here that creating comics is a very difficult job. It’s not only very difficult, but also very time consuming. Comics is more than just drawing figures with muscles throwing punches at each other. It’s about telling stories. It’s about drawing well, and drawing EVERYTHING well and on time. Just because you can draw a nice figure wielding a sword or a giant gun right now doesn’t mean you can do comics. It doesn’t work that way. All artists need to have rigid training in all aspects of comic book drawing (perspective, human and even animal anatomy, light and shade, drafting, sequential storytelling).
How long this training takes depends on the artist. Some artists take YEARS before they achieve that standard of professionalism acceptable for Marvel or DC. For me, it took at least 3 years of intensive training before I reached that level good enough for inking. Leinil Yu took around a year perhaps? Ask all the other artists like Carlo Pagulayan, Harvey Tolibao, Philip Tan, Mico Suayan or Steven Segovia (all active artists working in Marvel or DC right now), and they will tell you the same thing. It took years of hard work, study and training before they became good enough to achieve that level.
Other artists are continuing to try to break in even after so many years. In a way, *I’m* still trying to break in myself because there are still more aspects of comic books I want to achieve like more writing and more drawing. Every single project I do is always me trying to prove that I can still do it, and that I’m still good enough for the next project. I never let my guard down and be complacent. I could just as easily be knocked out of my job just like that by someone who does a better job than me.
There are only a few ones, among hundreds who aspire to be in comics who actually make it. And none of them, NONE of them broke into comics because they thought of money first, or fame first, or the glory or whatever. We all did it because we love comics. We love drawing comics. We love it with a burning passion. That is the kind of motivation that you will need if you ever want to surpass all the years of hardship and difficulty. Because if you are not doing it for the love of it, you will quit because you will find the job a little too hard. I guarantee you that.
And while we do it for the love of it, I myself never forget that ultimately, it’s also a job. And a job comes with responsibilities. You cannot do comics today and not do them tomorrow because you feel lazy or you “don’t feel like it.” There is no room for moods in creating comics. You can’t afford to wait until inspiration strikes you before you work. You have to sit at that table and draw, whether you like it or not. And yes, even for us who love comics, sometimes it can get tedious, specially after working 18 hour days for months on end. That’s why we welcome things like signings and conventions, because they are the few times we manage to take a break.
You are in a very tight competition for a limited amount of jobs. Remember, you are not only competing with fellow Filipinos, you are competing with every single talented aspiring artist all over the freakin’ world. South Americans, Europeans, other Asians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc. And they’re all amazing artists. You can’t have half-assed submissions with wonky figures and screwed up perspective and crappy drafting. You have to give editors a reason why they should get YOU instead of that amazingly talented South American guy. Or that stunningly fantastic European guy. You must strive not to be just good, you have to be very good, even great.
Check out previews of upcoming American comics here. You need to bring your work up to this standard, and perhaps even surpass it. You think this happens overnight? You have a LOT of work in front of you and be prepared to take years out of your life of constant practice. This is the comic book Olympics. You’re fighting to be one of the best among the best.
Ok, what if now you have managed to reach a certain level of professionalism in your work. What do you do? How do you get in touch with Marvel or DC?
Unfortunately, these companies no longer accept unsolicited submissions (artwork that you send to them through the mail or email) like the used to. Here is Marvel’s current submission policy:
Marvel does not accept or consider any ideas, creative suggestions, artwork, designs, game proposals, scripts, manuscripts, or similar material unless we have specifically requested it from you. Marvel is continuously developing and creating its own ideas and materials, and we don’t have the resources to review or respond to unsolicited material. Unfortunately, any unsolicited material you send will not be read or shared. It will be destroyed, and it will not be returned.
While we can’t accept your unsolicited submissions, please know that Marvel is always looking for new comic book artists and writers. We constantly read and review indie, self-published, creator-owned, and web-comics, review popular online art communities, ask other artists for opinions and recommendations, and host portfolio reviews at conventions from time to time. If you are an aspiring comic book artist or writer, we suggest you publish or publicly post your material, continue to create, and if you have the right stuff…we’ll find you.
Submissions By Mail and Email
At this time, DC Comics does not accept unsolicited artwork or writing submissions.
What Is The DC Talent Search?
Like many creative fields, breaking into the comic book business as an artist can be an exciting but challenging process. It takes proper training, a ton of practice, making the right contacts, learning to sell your talents, building a strong portfolio and much patience. However, time and time again, the best advice we can offer aspiring artists is: Go to a Comics Convention!
There’s more info at the DC site so just go there to see what other options are open to you.
It seems pretty clear what needs to be done if ever you want to work for them. Marvel seems to be saying that you need to prove yourself first via other publications at other smaller companies. What other companies are there? There’s Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Boom! Studios, IDW, APE Entertainment, Dynamite!, Radical, etc. Not only that, Marvel also seems willing to look at comics you yourself publish whether in print or on the web. See there? If you have a story, and if you draw it, you can just find someplace to upload it online and if it’s any good, it will get attention. If you do a good job, you prove what a talented creator you are, and that your work manages to get a following, Marvel will come knocking on YOUR DOOR.
That is how a lot of professionals in comics managed to break into comics at the big companies. They worked for independent companies first or did their work online. They proved themselves elsewhere first, and proved how good they are at what they do. How do you do this? Many of these companies, specially Image and Dark Horse, have their own set of submission guidelines. Unlike Marvel and DC, they do accept unsolicited submissions. Here’s your chance to send them your stuff directly, but make sure you follow their guidelines carefully. Go here for Image Comics Submission Guidelines. Go here for Dark Horse Submission Guidelines. As for the other companies, feel free to just Google it.
You can also try to submit stories to anthologies. More often than not, they don’t pay, but it’s a chance to get your work exposed. How to find out about those projects? Networking online is very important. Participate in comic book forums and communities on the web. Be active at places like Deviant Art, and other places where artists, writers and other comic book people gather online. That way you can find out about various projects and comic books you can submit your work to.
And when you find a project, don’t accept it right away. Study up on who you are working with. Google their names and their company name. See if they’re reliable or if they have a bad rep online. If they seem to be in good standing, proceed with caution nevertheless. Always try and protect yourself. I know, based on experience, that new artists get so giddy at the thought of working for companies abroad that they’re willing to work for free or for little. Pick your projects wisely. There are projects worth doing for free if in exchange you will get some exposure, specially as I said, on anthologies. But if you’re working on a book solo, a measure of compensation should come your way. Be warned that more often than not, you will be promised a “cut” of the profits as your share, but I’m sorry, hardly any independently made comic book makes money so you’re basically working for free.
DC Comics has another advice: attend a comic book convention. Now that is easier said than done for Filipinos living in the Philippines. How to attend a US convention where all the Marvel and DC editors are? Simple. You just have to raise the money. There’s really no getting around it. I loaned money from my parents back in 1997 just so I can attend the San Diego Convention for the first time. I spent months creating the most kick ass submission I could muster and passed it around. It put me in touch with an editor who eventually gave me a job. I’d like to think that I did very well at that job that it led to other jobs, which eventually led to working for Marvel and then DC.
Filipinos in the Philippines have another option: Get a comic book agent. Locally, there’s Glass House Graphics. This is the entry point to many successful Filipino comic book creators locally including Wilson Tortosa and Carlo Pagulayan. Go to their site and follow their submission guidelines.
Not only must you be good, but you must also be “accessible”. And what I mean by that is that you are easy to get in touch with. Since English is a second language to Filipinos, the language barrier is really no longer a problem, unless you insist on half-assed text speaking. Accessible means they have easy means to send you messages, and easy means for you to respond in a very timely manner. This means you need a computer, and you need a scanner, preferably an A3 scanner (which can scan 11″x17″ pages in one go). If you’re an inker, you’re going to need an A3 printer as well. And yes, you will be needing a stable and fast Internet connection. Those tools are now essential for any Philippine based artist wanting to work for US companies.
And as I previously mentioned, this is a job and it comes with responsibilities. When you apply for that job, remember you are now representing not only yourself, but the Philippines. If they get in touch with you, respond in a timely manner and communicate properly. Don’t hide from editors. Don’t lie to editors. And don’t make excuses. Do the job and do it well. Show them that you are easy to get in touch with (or else they’ll just hire the guy living next door to them. Why bother with the hassle of hiring this uncommunicative guy from across the world?), and that you can be depended on to do the job right and on time.
Don’t forget, the “submissions” process never truly ends. There is a saying among comic book professionals: You’re only as good as your last job. And that seems to bear out. Don’t be complacent. Treat each project as your last and always try to keep proving yourself. Just because you manage to draw ONE comic book means your comic book career is ensured for life. Not so. You just have to keep working at it, and keep getting better at it.
That said, the best of luck to you. It’s a difficult field to get into, but it’s always possible, as long as you have the right motivation, determination and talent.