Pia Guerra on getting work in the comics industry

A student of mine tipped me off to great advice from @piaguerra, the artist responsible for Y: the Last Man. I hadn’t been following her, but @bielero thought her advice so good, he’d compiled it into a document, which he passed on to me (and then, of course, I followed her). Note that Guerra is speaking specifically about trying to get work in mainstream comics (i.e. DC, Marvel), but a lot of her advice holds across the board.

Here are Pia Guerra‘s November 8 tweets. Organization, and emphasis, courtesy Jose Molestina.


Basics of submitting samples: show range, consistency, clarity, technical proficiency, and ability to produce.

Range: Show you have knowledge of storytelling elements, use diverse camera angles, transition from panel to panel well, lighting.

Consistency: Show you can maintain character likenesses, tone of setting, and technical ability from panel to panel.

Clarity: Show you can tell a story CLEARLY. No fancy gimmicks, stick to the grid, lead the eye through the page smoothly.

Technical proficiency: perspective, anatomy, and architecture, drawing believable objects. Show you know what your ruler is actually for.

Ability to produce: This one is important. Send samples regularly, every 2 months to your contact. 3-5 Xeroxed pages. Your best work ONLY.

Don’t send samples en masse to every editor you can find. Develop key contacts at cons, pay attention to feedback. Don’t pester.

If you get a script sample from that editor, don’t sit on it. Get on those pages immediately so they stay fresh.

Probably the hardest thing: avoid perfectionism. Yes, you want kick ass pages, but getting bogged down can kill the dynamism. If something isn’t working, move on to the next panel or page. Always keep the flow going.

Above all, you’re proving you’re a professional who can produce work regularly in a timely manner without drama or surprises.

We all have issues that come up; the key to getting through them is maintaining contact, doing the best you can, admit when you need help.

Comics are a business and everyone is just trying to get the product out. Don’t make it personal.

Pia Guerra

Two items stood out from this list as particularly important for students to absorb: ability to produce, and the idea that things come up—we’re human—but that maintaining contact, and admitting when you need help, is key. Both of these ideas are so hard for students to understand. You can be the flashiest anatomist in your class, but if you disappear, or don’t turn in work on time, or don’t utilize critique to work out the kinks in your story, you’re going to fail. Just showing up with whatever work you have, and communicating fully about what’s going on and what you’re struggling with counts for more than anyone realizes, even when you get to be a professional.

Of course, you also have to finish the work. But if your teacher/editor knows what’s going on, the anxiety level on all sides can be kept to a minimum, help can be found when it’s needed, and many problems can be avoided.


5 Comments to Pia Guerra on getting work in the comics industry

  • by Garry Hardman

    On January 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Pretty solid advice. I wish when I was younger that I could have had access to such words of wisdom.

  • by J T Guerrero

    On January 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    This is good advice for most any professional field! Thanks for sharing!

  • by Mark

    On January 20, 2011 at 1:19 am

    Comics are a business and everyone is just trying to get the product out. Don’t make it personal.

    This is completely true. Sadly I am not one of those people who can boil down my comics to just a product. I have tried but I just take things too personally.

    Be prepared if you get into the business to lose your hobby. It will become work.

  • by David Hopkins

    On February 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Very helpful.

  • by Jessica

    On February 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it. The real thanks go to Ms. Guerra, of course!

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