I’ve decided to dig up some old material and embarrass myself in the process. For the first time, I’m posting some of the comic book samples I created in hopes of becoming a professional cartoonist well over a decade ago. Just thinking about the process makes me cringe but in retrospect, these crude examples yield amusing results.
I had just graduated High School in 1997 and wanted to get out of Miami, FL badly. I wanted to escape by any means necessary and I figured one of the ways was to try and become a comic book artist. At that point, I had created a bunch of characters and stories that were just for fun but never thought about seriously submitting to Marvel and DC Comics.
My plan was to become a mainstream artist, develop my abilities, and then break off and do my own thing. I had no grand illusion that I was going to draw the Hulk for 30 years and then comfortably retire, but I did see working for the Big Two as a natural stepping stone for what I wanted to do: write and draw my own comics.
While I was formulating this plan, I kept drawing as usual. It was the end of the summer and I kept doodling away. I’m not quite sure what inspired this first 12 x 14 “pin-up”, but I liked the idea of a worn out, scruffy Batman, so I penciled the hell out of it (something I never did or do, actually).
I then decided to make a narrative from that first image. I liked the idea of Two-Face crying blood, so I drew it. Batman looks even more like a creep; I thought I was going in the right direction.
I figured that if drawing these pages was fun, putting together a sample package would be a breeze. The main step I took in was to take an already existing comic and redraw it in my own way. This was actually common advice for beginners. I hadn’t been to a comic shop in over a year. I very rarely bought the occasional graphic novel from bookstores (back when a place like Border’s had a minimal section of comics), but comic shops were kinda out of the way for me. I made the trek to a shop, though, and bought the most recent issues of titles that had stuff I wanted to draw… such as the Batman.
Detective Comics #717, January, 1998, written by Chuck Dixon, penciled by Graham Nolan and inked by Bob McLeod.
I’ll go page by page, showing my version first, some commentary, immediately followed by the respective page it was derived from. I felt comfortable drawing urban landscapes and gritty heroes, so I naturally chose DC’s prime vigilante. I hadn’t read Batman/Detective in years (Norm Breyfogle was my favorite Bat-artist from that time, then Batman’s back was broken and a collective “BUH” could be heard all throughout fandom). Anyway, I picked up the previous month’s issue, Detective #717, and thought I was off to a good start.
Something back then told me that pasting newspaper in the “gutters” was a cool idea. It serves no purpose. Maybe I was just trying to personalize it. Now, these pencils scans may be a little light in places, but I tried my best to make it as clear as possible. These old board are fading quickly (perhaps a good thing).
Here is where I thought I could get away with drawing skyscrapers (an urban landscape staple). Clearly, I had no concept of “dynamic shot”. I just wanted to draw some guy climbing the side of a building.
I didn’t like this original action sequence. Something about it left me a little cold. In redrawing this scene, though, I had a complete sample package to send to DC. It showed that I can do quiet scenes and action scenes, all with a personal touch. I started thinking about what part of New York I wanted to live in.
Preacher #34, February, 1998, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon.
I mentioned that I wasn’t too hip to what was going on in comics back in the mid to late 90s. I had no idea what the Vertigo imprint meant or what “Preacher” was but I flipped through it and saw that it had no superheroes… perfect! Little did I know that Preacher was a long running body or work primarily created my two specific creators. This was not a franchise, per se. I just saw it and liked it enough to think I could retool it.
Daredevil #371, January, 1998, written by Joe Kelly, penciled by Ariel Olivetti and inked by Pier Britto.
My other favorite superhero, aside from Batman, was Daredevil, whom I drew from time to time.
I had just finished reading the Ronin collection and was really into cross-hatching. Instead of using that technique to imply speed and movement, I used it pretty much as a pattern. Still, I was drawing the Man Without Fear… with a cast.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t into the art on the real comic. I have since come to appreciate and enjoy Mr. Olivetti’s work, but back then it just wasn’t my cuppa. I look back now and think this stuff is fantastic! Also, it didn’t help that I couldn’t draw women.
So there you go… a bunch of comics butchered by my mechanical pencil. I had diligently worked on these samples for about 3 weeks, toiling away at night after pushing carts all day at a supermarket. I loved the routine and the discipline it came with it… and I had tangible results! I mailed off all 3 separate packages, cover letter and all, and felt pretty optimistic about the entire experience.
I came home one afternoon from my day job to find a letter from Marvel, a Romita Spider-Man swinging by my address. It was a little thin, but I figured it wouldn’t take much paper to let me know I was now a Marvel artist. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents that I was leaving!
It was a fold out brochure on how to submit to Marvel properly. It had a Paul Smith Wolverine on the front.
DC/Vertigo never responded.
Gawd, this all sounds so overly sentimental! HA! Not my intention. For what it was worth, I worked my ass off for almost a month to try and (naively) compete professionally without knowing about the realities of the comic book system. I had no connections, no insider knowledge, no professional to steer me in the right direction. It was me and a page and a pencil and a few comic books. It taught me a sense of work ethic based on my desire to become a cartoonist and get the hell outta town.
I eventually made it to New York a couple of years later and have continued my struggle to become a better cartoonist. Some days, though, I still want to draw Homeless Vampire Batman.
Next: Is it still self-publishing when the Kinko’s clerk is trying to fix the copier? Service Deco was the comic, Alternative Comics was my brush with fame, and New York City kicked my ass. All this and more in part two of the Early Works!