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Besides having a fun last name to say, Jim Calafiore is a guy every comic fan should recognize. He’s worked on nearly every Marvel character at some point and is now penciling Exiles. He took a moment out of his grind to talk to Comic Foundry about the simple answers to a comic artist’s big questions.
What are mistakes amateur artists make?
Not understanding basics, like the tools, professionalism, etc.
Where do you get your ideas?
If you mean other than something that comes as a plot/script, it’s just whatever comes out of my head.
How did you learn to draw?
By drawing. It’s something I’ve always done and always will do and learned only by doing. Like anybody with a passion for something, I just did it. I took some classes in high school and went to art school, which refined my drawing, but I learned by doing.
How do you know if something you draw is good? How is that different from someone who is bad but thinks they’re good?
They’re not different. Artists can never really be objective about their own work. I can’t always tell when something I’ve done is bad, and just because I think something is good doesn’t mean everybody (or anybody) will too. It’s all subjective. I just try to satisfy myself.
How did you get your break?
I mailed in samples to a small publisher who folded immediately but passed my stuff along to Caliber Press; after doing work for that small publisher for a bit, someone I met through it started working for Valiant. I got “in” through that association.
What type of practice would you recommend for both new and seasoned artists?
Just keep working. Most aspiring comic artists will spend a week on one page, a month on just a couple, to try and get them perfect for a con. (That’s not being fast enough to do a monthly book.) I found that the repetition forced on me by a monthly deadline helped my drawing. The more you do something, the better you get. Even if they look like crap, chuck them out and do more.
What pitfalls should new artists avoid?
Not working hard enough on their figure drawing; it’s the most important thing, and even if you’re doing something like ultra-cartoony manga, it’s still important.
What do you suggest for someone who is just stuck?
You mean like writer’s block? Take a break, but just a short one, and get right back at it, and keep at it until you’re unstuck.
If you had to give just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t give up.
What’s the editor-artist relationship in comics like?
It varies from editor to editor. Some just hand out assignments and are hands-off; others are very involved. Just depends on the editor.
What’s the best way for a new artist to break into the business?
Conventions are good for introducing yourself and your work to editors, following up with mailed samples. Otherwise, that only leaves the mail, which is dependent on sending stuff regularly to the same guy.
On average, what types of deadlines do you have to work with?
Monthly book, monthly deadlines. 22 pages a month.
For a new artist, how does the pay scale work?
It’s a page rate, and for starting artists it’s not the greatest. But we do this because we love it, right?
We know aspiring artists shouldn’t go to their moms for feedback, so who should they turn to instead?
Editors and artists, either at cons or through the mail. Just have thick skins; you may not be as ready as you think. If you ask for criticism, be prepared for it.
How does it work between a penciler and a colorist? Do you have things in mind when you start?
Like editors, it varies. Some artists and colorists work closely together; some never speak. If I have a particular color scheme in mind, I relay it to the editor and/or colorist and hope the suggestion is taken. Sometimes it’s not.
What do you say to someone who’s edited and re-edited and submitted his stuff everywhere yet still can’t break in?
Are they shooting too high? Try some smaller publishers, or think about self-publishing.
Is there any specific terminology people need to know, so they can at least talk like a pro?
If they can’t draw like a pro, then talking like a pro won’t get them much. Let the work do the talking: Is it clean and tight? Does it show knowledge of clear storytelling? Does it show understanding of need for room for balloon placements? Professional-looking work speaks volumes more than words can.
—Interview by Tim Leong