21 February 2020

Tips For Your Comic Book Colorist Portfolio

In January, I posted on my social media accounts that I’d help out anyone working on a comic book colorist portfolio with feedback (that still stands if you’d like to send me stuff and want to be a colorist. Happy to hand out general advice too to any up and comers). I got quite a few responses. Advice ranged from general comic colorist stuff to nitty gritty things. There were some things that came up repeatedly. What follows are some tips I’ve put together for anyone putting together a comic book colorist portfolio. Whether it’s primarily for handing in at comic cons to hopefully sit down with an editor (to get feedback or get hired) or even if it’s just for your online presence which could be for writer/artist teams looking for somebody and editors again too, I think these will apply.

1) Use Sequential Pages: This might seem obvious to many but it’s something I keep seeing a lot and I’m sure a lot of editors do too. If you want to colour comic books then your portfolio should mainly (mainly, if not totally) be actual comic page art. Not covers or splash pages. One or two is fine if you are particularly fond of them and think they showcase you well. If I or anyone goes to your blog or opens your portfolio and there isn’t a single sequential art page then you simply aren’t ready. How you handle multiple scenes and guide a reader from panel to panel is going to say a lot more than how cool a Batman pin-up looks. Remember, you’ll be hired on the basis of your storytelling ability as much as other factors.

2) Use Good/Great Art: If you haven’t been hired for many (or any) gigs and haven’t been working with a good enough artist then chances are you shouldn’t use those not-so-great artist’s pages that you might have coloured already for your own portfolio. I see many samples where the line artist might not be very developed which will not help you, the colorist, stand out much. Find some samples online from good artists or maybe even ask some for a couple of pages. Don’t leave room for excuses and let the attention be on the colours. People want to see how you handle art from somebody at industry standard. Use that to your advantage.

3) How Many Pages Should I Have in My Comic Book Colorist Portfolio? Good question. Back when I did the rounds with my portfolios I got a different answer from every single editor or comic pro I asked. In the end they all want to see a bit of range and what you’re all about. Some said I had too much one time but couldn’t tell me anything to take out. Another wanted more. Use your own judgement.

My advice if you’re starting out would be to have 3 different scenes from different artists/stories. These could be 2-3 pages long each I would say.

4) Range: Try and show some range in your pages. Night scene, day scene. Superhero, Horror, drama, etc. Fantastically detailed artist, minimalist or cartoony artist. A note on this though, do stuff you like doing. Don’t try and force something out that you’d probably hate doing on a regular basis. You’ll be hired on what you are showing.

5) If Possible, Tailor Your Portfolio: If you know for sure that you are going to be meeting or showing your colours to a superhero editor or a horror one, it would be great to have specific examples for that. In general though I think a wider ranging catch all portfolio is fine. Same goes for if you are going for a young readers gig, don’t have tons of dark desaturated sci-fi horror for example. You couldn’t be hired no matter how good you are in that example.

6) Be Professional, Be Business-like: If you are advertising your social media/website, etc, make it look good. Often you will see responses to job postings online and the profile pages for people have zero of their comic book art (if that’s where you are directing people to check out) or it’s way down a feed of gifs/selfies, etc. If that’s the account you are using to highlight your work make it look professional but also easy for someone that is looking for a comic colorist to navigate.

I don’t mean be a robot however. Use your accounts however you see fit. People can want to work with someone by getting a nice impression of them online too. Use your common sense basically.

7) Show Your Skills: Each of these could be their own posts but I’ll briefly give examples here. How you use colour palettes. What’s your colour theory sense like? Do you have a good sense of values? How’s you rendering? What’s your lighting like. How are you using shadows, etc, etc. These are all things you can learn and improve on your own but just be mindful of them. You don’t want to be showing a lack of understanding in many (any) of these areas too much. I’m still learning things myself. These are areas to be conscious of in what you are presenting in your portfolio.

Hope these help someone. Good luck out there.

Chris O'Halloran is a comic book colorist. You can follow him on twitter and instagram.

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