First course. Ouch.

March 8, 2010

Even during my years in college I was showing my work at comic shows, firstly for input, but always in the hope of getting work. Luckily, I was in Atlanta, and Gaijin studios was in the area where Brian Stelfreeze, Cully Hamner, and Adam Hughes, were extremely helpful to me. Brain taught me more about perspective in an afternoon, than I learned all the years in school, and the guys gave me points on how to build a portfolio of work. From the start I thought I was ahead of the rest because other amateurs were still showing endless pin-ups of Wolverine, while I was showing sequential pages. Regardless, I was nervous, and if not for a friend named Micah, I’d have given up on showing my work. On the trip to my first con, Charlotte’s Heroescon, I was wavering about showing my work, but with Micah’s encouragement (basically saying “Shut up you wimp and show your stuff”) I dragged my portfolio from review to review. Lets take a walk down memory lane- this ought to open up some old wounds.

These samples were late in my college career, and obviously they didn’t score me any work. This first one was a Blue Beetle sample page I did after the fantastic run Adam Hughes had on Justice League. The inspiration from him is obvious in this, but matching his skill wasn’t. I believe one review ended with- “What’s all this stuff? Cotton Candy?” No- dust clouds.

There's this thing called anatomy- look into it

I fooled myself into thinking I could do decent likenesses, and after seeing Adam’s work on Star Trek, I thought I’d give that a shot. I was so pleased with myself on these until the great Brian Bolland gave me his opinion. He summed it up with “Wow, you really captured the boredom of the series”

Talking heads, MORE talking heads!

From there I went back to basics and tried to do some straight hero samples. Keep in mind that this was all during the domination of the Image style, so I tried to bring in a bit more dynamic flair. With that my attention to the basics seemed to waiver, something pointed out by the legend Dick Giordano when he told me “All your characters’ fingers look like bananas”

When in doubt- add a bunch of lines

So when did I get any good responses? The first was this set of Valor samples for DC. The late Neal Pozner seemed to like these and passed them along to editors, which lead to my first work on Showcase.

From there I did work for Dark Horse on Cross, Jonny Quest, and the movie adaptation of Solo. As I mentioned in my last post, I thought I was on the road to success and a life in comics. There was even a brief discussion that DH might be doing a Wallace & Gromit comic, a cartoon series I love, so I cranked out these samples.

To the Wallace mobile ole chum!

This was about the time the comic industry tanked from the down turn in collector purchases. Companies folded and the work available disappeared. On the way out I had smaller gigs with secondary companies like Malibu, and although I thought I was improving, it wasn’t enough to keep me working in comics.

This page didn't appear in the book, but I always liked the street shot

For the next few years I would still do samples based on scripts that the big two were handing out to anyone still trying to get work. The idea they had was to streamline the process by having everyone draw the same story, then it would be easier to see if artists did it well or not.

Deadpool Sample script splash page

The problem for me was that I would burn through those scripts faster than they came out. There’s never been a reason in my head for redrawing the same set of pages again. I never saw any benefit from it, and the energy level always seemed to drop no matter how much improvement there was on the overall page design. There was still the occasional job from a small company, but not often, and usually for no pay- if any.

Sometimes the paper costs more than what you make

I was working, and earning a living by drawing, but not in comics. So I kept cranking out samples, and around this time I changed cities. With more time to myself I tried working up extra samples, and posting on comic boards for feedback. Seeing what other artists were doing with the same sample scripts really helped me to see what I was doing wrong and doing right.

Another sample script based on Spiderman

It was when I moved that things started to change. I was drawing on my own a lot more, but having run out of samples scripts I started to make up excuses to draw what I wanted to. I think this brought a new energy to my work, and started getting me a bit more of attention. Next time, I’ll show how I started to get a stronger sense of where I was going with my work, and stopped trying to have a “style” to impress editors.

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4 Responses to “First course. Ouch.”

  1. Brian said

    And that Wallace & Gromit page is what made me fall in love with you.

  2. the micah lowery said

    I remember that stuff–Shannon, we were in Charlotte when OJ was laying in the back of that bronco–you remember?lol Anyway I always knew you’d make it in comics. Get me a writing gig!

  3. slgallant said

    I’m glad ONE of us thought so! I sure as hell didn’t. If the time marker on this is correct Micah- GET SOME SLEEP! Crazy man!

  4. Diane Low said

    Shannon, Love your site! Love your work! Love your insight! Will send e-mail privately,
    Diane

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