You remember walking into your local comic book shop and staring wide-eyed at the racks of vibrant book covers splashed with every conceivable color. You remember being dazzled by the finely rendered landscapes, the awe-inspiring superheroes and the dastardly villains. And you remember thinking, "I can do that!"

Guess what? You can. Provided you can handle a pencil, that is. You don't have to be Picasso, but if you have the drive (and the ability to draw circles and squares), we can guide you along the path to comic book celebrity status. It won't be easy. Breaking into the comic book biz is just like breaking into show biz - you're up against a whole field of aspiring wannabes who think they're the next Tom Cruise (or, in the case of comics, the next Jim Lee). You've got the talent, but how do you ensure that your work gets seen? Read and learn, baby.


Let's make one thing clear: this SYW will not teach you how to draw. This is the Internet, not an art class. But if you already know how to draw and you want to start a career at a comic book publishing house (such as Marvel), you're in the right place.

If you've ever applied for a job in graphics or design before, then you know the importance of a portfolio. It's more than just a glorified résumé with lots of pretty pictures. Ideally, your portfolio should showcase the range of skills a potential hiring editor will look for in an up-and-coming artist. There are 5 basic things you need to do to prepare a proper portfolio to really wow the publishing houses:

1. Know what comic book editors are looking for
2. Know your specialty
3. Gather your materials
4. Prepare your samples
5. Be original

1. Know what comic book editors are looking for

These days, any kid with a crayon and a sheet of loose-leaf paper can churn out a sketch of Superman in a flashy pose (known in the biz as a "pin-up"), but not every kid has a sense of pacing or an understanding of distance and perspective. Comic books are a visual storytelling medium (think of it as a page-by-page translation of a movie or TV show), so editors have no need for one-dimensional pin-up machines. Editors are looking for artists that:

  • Have a knack for sequential storytelling

  • Can draw convincing and realistic cityscapes

  • Can convey emotions and drama within the faces of your characters (instead of adorning them all with the same redundant scowl)

One last thing to keep in mind is that there are tons of comic books out there that have nothing to do with superheros. So if you don't want to spend your time drawing Super Goose (protector of fowl abroad), you still have plenty of options. Just draw what you like to draw.

2. Know your specialty

Comic book art production actually involves several distinct steps - penciling, inking, and coloring (obviously, this last step doesn't apply for black-and-white books). Each page of artwork begins with a penciler, who lays down the preliminary pencil lines to be traced over with ink by the inker. Only after the pencils are inked can color be applied by - who else? - thecolorist. So you should know in advance which area would be your strength.

3. Gather your materials

We're assuming that you're already an artist, so you already know something about the standard tools of the trade:

  • If you're a penciler, use 2H and HB pencils (a 2H contains harder lead that produces lighter lines, while an HB has softer lead that results in darker lines). Have examples that display both.

  • If you're an inker, use India ink.

  • For paper, we suggest you use 10" x 15" Bristol paper (this is the standard size for comic book art, which is later shrunk down to comic book size). You can use bigger paper if you want, but you don't want to go larger than 11" x 17".

4. Prepare your samples

  • Put together about 6 pages of sequential storytelling art- this shows potential employers that you're not one of those aforementioned pin-up machines, and that you're quite capable of telling a story through pictures.

  • We're now going to contradict ourselves: don't completely steer clear of pin-ups altogether. After all, they are useful for providing quick glimpses of your raw talent, and they can be very effective. In fact, in addition to your sequential art pages, throw in an assortment of pin-ups and splash pages to show off some of your artistic strengths.

  • Don't include too much. Editors are busy (and stressed-out) people, and having to sift through thirty pages of mediocre material can drive them insane. (Not that you'll ever submit mediocre work!)

  • Be smart in deciding which pieces to include. As a general rule, always choose your best and most recent work.

  • Be organized. Make sure your samples are arranged in an order that makes sense. Not only will your future editor be grateful, but he/she will be impressed by the professionalism and thoughtfulness of your presentation, an impression which they'll transfer onto you. Think of it as an indirect method of kissing up.

  • If you're just doing pencils, that's the whole shebang. If you decide to do inks, show samples of your inked work next to copies of the penciled originals so editors can compare the two - the same goes for colorists.

  • If you're worried about damaging your originals, make photocopies of your work.

  • After you've got what you need, throw everything into a folder of some sort. Most artists keep their work in a flat binder or portfolio case with perforated plastic pages - quite convenient for displaying your masterpieces.

5. Be original

  • Being the innovative and fundamentally sound artist that you are, your range of expertiseobviously includes more than the usual poses, bulging muscles, and outrageously disproportioned breasts - and you want editors to see that.

  • Show them that you're a master of the little things, like anatomy, perspective, and background details.

  • Stay away from swiping your favorite artist's style. Drawing like a Todd McFarlane clone may impress your friends and family, but editors are looking for fresh and innovative talent, not a rehash of something they've seen before. Follow the standard dating advice - be yourself.

If you need more information on portfolios in general, check out How to Prepare Your Portfolio: A Guide for Students and Professionals.