Sunday Mailbag- Portfolio Review?

March 1st, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: You did a lot of comic book conventions in 2014. Have there been any people coming to you, showing you their drawings and asking for your professional opinion? Could you give them some kind of advice? Did you like it to do? 

A: Yes, that happens a lot.

This can be an uncomfortable situation, especially when the work being shown is not very good. You hate to crush people’s dreams, but you also don’t want to give someone who is years (or maybe never) away from doing anything that might get them work in an industry they clearly love the idea they are “almost there”.

I’ve found over the years that very few people are really looking for an honest critique of their work. 95% of the time all they really want is simple encouragement. Sometimes they just want a little attention from a working cartoonist… someone to say “very nice, keep on working hard!”. For the people who show me clearly amateur work, I give them the encouragement they are looking for, but I also am honest enough to say “you have a lot of work and learning ahead of you”. I always temper that with a little lecture on how great artists are a result of a dash of talent and a truckload of hard work. I advise them to forget about superheroes with big thighs and impossibly long capes and learn to draw trees and cars and ordinary objects. They usually dismiss that but it’s good advice. Even if you eventually get good at drawing pin-up shots of mightily muscled superheroes, they will look terrible when the building they are leaping over looks like it’s made of legos and the trees in front of it look like scrambled eggs on a stick. That advice applies to the vast majority of the work I get shown in that kind of situation. There are only so many ways you can say “you have to learn to draw better”, and with very amateur work that’s really the only advice you can give. I just try and do it in a way that encourages them to keep drawing. Whatever I say will not change whether they ever get good enough to make a living in comics or not, but encouraging an aspiring artist to keep drawing never hurt anyone.

Very occasionally I get someone who shows me work that really has something going. If I get the sense that the person showing it to me really wants a real critique, I will take a good look and try to come up with some things for them to work on. I will still point out what I think they are good at, but with decent work you can usually see some specific things that an artist needs to work on. It might be their composition, figure work, etc. I make sure they know I really see something in their work, and encourage them to pursue art as a career if I think they have the chops for it.

This isn’t my favorite thing to do. That said, if someone thinks enough of my work that they take the time to come to a comic con and show me some of their art asking for advice, I always try my best to give them something real to say to them.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger¬¨‚Ć for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Isaiah Shipp says:

    I’ve had you critique my work at one point or another and it was a very positive experience. Looking back on it, the work I had with me was embarrassingly terrible but I non the less felt genuinely encouraged! I think you told me to work on hands.


Sketch o'the Week- Natalia Dyer! @strangerthingstv #strangerthings #nataliadyer @mad.magazine

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