Please Don’t Have Any of This in Your Comic Book Portfolio

by Jim Zubkavich

This bi-weekly column is meant to give advice from me and eventually other people in the industry about how to break in as an artist. This will include tricks for the formal submission routes as well as a bunch of informal elements you may not have realized.

Although I’d given critiques to students at an art college in Calgary where I worked from 1999-2002, nothing could really prepare me for giving feedback to hopeful comic book artists as a Project Manager at Udon.

Once my boss realized that I could do some pretty sharp critique of people’s portfolios he enthusiastically handed the reins of looking over submissions to me. At first I was honoured to be given such responsibility. That happy glow quickly faded. Now I have so much more respect for patient and polite editors at conventions because I have a clearer sense of what they’re going through.

Okay, here we go. Your portfolio should NOT include:

Scary Anime: I think I’ve seen every terrible anime-style portfolio imaginable. Pictures of giant breasted devil women or ridiculously submissive innocent girls who look like they’d blow over in a stiff breeze, designs traced from famous Japanese artists, over-sexed anthropomorphic anime animal people – the works. After an exhausting convention day I sometimes go back to my hotel and utter a silent curse at every Japanese artist who influenced these people.

I had a lady show me smeary crayon drawings on lined paper that she’d done of Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Scouts. This wasn’t some 13 year old looking for artistic encouragement; this was a woman in her late twenties genuinely wanting to know if she could leave her current career to find work as an artist.

Porn: Unless you’re showing a porn comic publisher your work, you should keep the porn out. Opening up a portfolio and seeing (almost always terribly drawn) huffing and puffing between characters does not inspire or titillate. Here’s another hint sort of connected to that- if you’ve never actually had sex before you probably won’t be able to draw the act convincingly.

As if regular porn wasn’t bad enough, Udon’s reputation for sexy anime-centric art means I get to see the portfolio of every terrifying anime porn artist in North America. Trust me when I tell you that it’s not edgy or impressive, it’s actually just sad. I wish they could change the ‘Adult’ category that people use to define porn to something more fitting like ‘Juvenile and Incredibly Annoying’.

Demons and Angels: Okay maybe it’s just me, but no matter what combination of horns, wings, claws, hooves, tails, fire, auras of energy, flaming weapons and fangs you’ve come up with – it’s probably not as cool or ingenious as you think it is. Just leave the demon and angel stuff alone. 99% of those pieces come across as derivative and lame. Even if it’s well drawn it tends to come across as “been there, done that”. I’m tempted to add “Wolverine wannabe claws” to this category as well.

Ego: Having confidence is good. Being an egotistical prick is not. If I’m taking time to look over your work while our booth is hopping and we’re moving product and making money, it’s probably not a good time to act like it’s my privilege to see your artwork. Negative bonus points if you interrupt other conversations I’m having to thrust your portfolio in my face. Extra bad points if you come around the table at a con without being asked and proceed to use one of our boxes full of inventory as a seat.

Giving negative feedback and critique is stressful for both sides of the evaluation equation. Getting angry, scowling or pointing out flaws in work we’ve published isn’t going to bring me to your side. Practically crying when I point out problems in your work also makes things pretty darn awkward.

Promotion Whoring: Tying in to the ego thing above is ridiculous self promotion. I know you have your own story and character ideas; Many of us do. Having 30+ drawings of your “cool” character’s many, many costumes comes across more obsessive than useful. Insisting that your creations are the great new heroes of this emerging millennium also doesn’t have the impact you think it does. Neither does a Power Point presentation outlining the movie, video game, toy and merchandizing opportunities for Cool Character X or whatever his name is. The fact that these characters invariably involve demons, angels and badly done anime art to boot is really just icing on the cake.

If you want to make an even scarier impression, make sure you dress up like Cool Character X while presenting your portfolio.

Glaring Weaknesses: Making sure every character in your portfolio pages is wearing a mask because you have trouble drawing faces and expressions doesn’t instil me with confidence that you can be a reliable comic artist. Doing 5 pages of sequentials without a single background other than a starry sky also tends to jump out at me as a problem.

Photos: Your comic art portfolio should contain artwork, not photos – I know this comes as a tremendous shock to you all.

Photographs of your fine arts installation exhibit is not useful to me. Photographs of horror make up you’ve applied to actors in B-Movies is not useful to me. Photographs of your graffiti art is not useful to me. Photographs of tattoo designs you created are not useful to me. Photographs of you standing next to famous people is not useful to me. Photographs of you looking cool wearing sunglasses and a trenchcoat is not useful to me.

Out In Left Field Material: If you’ve come to a comic convention and are showing around your portfolio, expect an editor to want to see the kinds of material they publish in your submission.

I had a guy bring up a portfolio full of movie star caricatures all done in pastel. Some were good, some were middling, but I still had no use for any of the stuff he brought up. When I explained to him that Udon publishes comics and that many of our books have an anime flare to them, he sealed his fate with “Oh man, I totally hate that Japanimation crap.”

Art doesn’t have to be your job at all. It can be just fun doodling your favorite things, 100%. But if you’re going to make it your job and your life then it’s going to be judged compared to your peers. The fact that so many would think the above stuff is what an editor would want to see, let alone the basis of an art career, amazes me.



  1. I just read your article on what not to bring to a portfolio review and I must say that I had a sigh of relief when I finished it. However, since I am wanting to take part, this coming year, in the portfolio review, what are the things that YOU want to see in a portfolio? Also, I am an artist that has a story that I would like to publish, although, i would want to do as much of the work as possible. Please don’t stereotype me so soon. how would i go about getting exposure for both sides of my project (writing and drawing) at a review. Looking forward to your response. thank you.

    Joel Quinn

    • My advice is DON’T DO IT! Run away and enjoy your life. I know that you will most likely ignore that advice, every artist with the urge to create comics ignores it. As far as creating your own comic and getting exposure goes I think the first thing you will need is a website. In fact these days many independent comics are starting out as web comics. Web comics make sense. They are inexpensive, you can publish in full color, you have complete control, and you not only build an audience, you also are building a resume that comic companies are interested in seeing. Check out these web comics for inspiration:

      There are so many posts on the net regarding what to have in your portfolio, I never bothered writing one for this blog. But I can lead you in the right direction.

      Good luck with your comic. If you need anything please let me know. You can also visit me at We post art on the site and showcase artists quite a bit.

      Shawn Swanson

  2. WOW. Thanks for pointing to us (Arctos Comics — as inspiration for how to do webcomics. We certainly hope we’re doing some things right, It’s nice when somebody else notices.

    Cliff VanMeter

  3. Porn out of the portfolio,, as if there wasn’t alot of sex in comics today, Iron Man having sex all the time, I have seen Starfire and Robin waste a lot of Condoms, and I have seen Batgirl and Catgirl running nude through an orgy!
    No demons and angels? please! most mainstream comics have one in their teams.

    • You may disagree with this article and you absolutely have that right. I don’t know if you are an artist or not, but if you are, do you really want to include material in your portfolio that will most likely turn off the people that you are trying to impress?

      This article isn’t about porn in comics, it’s about putting together a professional portfolio and not looking like a novice, or even worse, a wannabe.

  4. So let’s say a person did not start getting into comics until recently what would be your advice on where to start learning?

    • Well the first question is, are you writing comics or are you wanting to illustrate?

      If your writing only, then you will need to find an artist to work with.

      If you are illustrating only, then you will need to find a writer.

      If you plan on doing both then you can start right now.

      My advice is to start with a web comic. Web comics are self published, resonably inexpensive to maintain, and are a great way to cut your teeth and make a name for yourself when you are starting out.

      • oh wow, ok is there a book you would recomend? so far i have scot mcclouds book for making comics but i have a huge problem with flow.

  5. I want to enter Interlochen Summer Art Camp in Advanced High School drawing but it says a portfolio is required and i’m a mostly-Anime artist that has a decent deal of quality in his works (I’m not saying i’m the cake of the cake but i’m not some 20-something year old drawing Anime Fanart on smeared crayons)…if you could take a quick look at my dA Gallery and tell me what should and shouldn’t be in a portfolio? Please, i just want to grow as an artist and that Summer Art Camp seems great for learning things such as perspective, texture…etc.

    • Hi Pedro,

      I checked out your Facebook. I think you are on the right track. Pick out what you feel is your best and add it to your portfolio. To become a great artist you really need practice, practice, practice, and no matter what anyone else says, take art classes and never stop learning. People love to tell you how they are self taught artists as if that were somthing to be proud of, and to some extent it is, and maybe they even become succesful, look at Rob Leifeld for example, he is a terrible artist. To know how not to be check this link out

      I think that a drawing camp is a great idea, and with your natural talent I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t succeed as an artist.

  6. Haha, wow. Never really thought that people would do that stuff….

  7. Kind of a late reply but I discovered this website on portfolio advice, I’ve been drawing for years (still young though) but only now am I about to dive into all this pro stuff. I think that while some of the cliches mentioned here are utilized in comics, it is nice to avoid them in order to IMPRESS and to push yourself harder in your thought process and abilities. Im going to comicon tomorrow, but I think I’ll refrain from the portfolio review until next year, Im working with a writer on some works and by then I could have some sequential art ready, I’m mostly a cover and design guy. If you could do what you did for Pedro and take a glance at my artwork I would be very grateful, a lot of help in order to be prepared a quick look and critique never hurts!. Thanks in advance, and if not thanks for the column:

  8. Considering webcomics, what hosting site/format do you recommend? I’m not a fan of the “web comic” hosting sites for one reason: people who read webcomics are often, like I can be, prone to ADD. A shiny ad pops up for another interesting looking comic and….an hour ago you were reading about a young girl who falls from the sky and now your reading about a man with a bionic arm being attacked by zombies.

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