General feedback on applications

General feedback to applicants: pilot project for Applied Comics Collaborations, March 2020

I received 10 applications from comics artist-writers for this project, and chose one of those to work with. Though I don’t have time to comment on individual applications I am sharing this general feedback to applicants. I am well aware that freelance work can be tough at the best of times, so this feedback is offered in the spirit of sharing experience, being constructive, and encouraging future applicants.

As a reminder, the application process was to email me with (A) a link to your online comics portfolio (or state the project title if we’ve worked together before), and (B) up to 150 words about why this project interests you.

Strong responses typically included:

  • an email of approx. 150 words that included a reason for why this project interests you. No need to flatter me, just tell me your reason for why this sort of thing interests you
  • a link to your online comics portfolio. Ideally with finished full pages of work, not only drafts/sketches, not only illustrations/character drawings.
  • clarity about what it is you do. If you write the words and draw the pictures and do the lettering and colouring and finishing, great. If you subcontract some of those tasks to a trusted collaborator, great. Either way it needs to be clear to me which bits you do, and that overall you are responsible for delivering a complete piece of work.
  • a sustained high quality of work. Whatever your art/writing style is, show me you can do it consistently. I don’t mind if this is work for other publishers or self-published work, so long as there are multiple examples of it. I don’t mind what style you work in so long as it’s clearly drawn/written, well-presented, and broadly suitable for all ages.

Things that made me hesitate included:

  • an email of way over 150 words. A few words over is fine. But the reason for a word count limit is to show that you can communicate in a focused and concise way.
  • large files attached to the application email. This clogs up my email account. It takes more time for me to download, save, virus check, open, and read – rather than clicking to read online. I didn’t download the attachments. Your online comics portfolio is what I want to see.
  • a lack of new work. Making comics takes time, and showcasing your older work can show you have a good track record. But a lack of new work makes me wonder if you’re still active as a comics creator. If your work is under contract to another publisher, agree with them that you can share an extract. If you’ve had a career break and are now aiming to return to comics-based work that’s fine, recent self-published work is just as good as work for other publishers
  • violence, sexual content, and swearing in your public portfolio of comics work. Personally, I don’t mind it. Professionally, I need to be risk averse. If this is among the first things I see in your portfolio, it’ll also be one of the first things the children and young people and teachers and parents I work with find when they look for more of your work. That makes my working life more stressful than it needs to be. Even when I’m recruiting for a project aimed at adults the work must be family-friendly (film ratings as a guide: PG-13 is ok, 15/18/R/X is not).
  • question marks around representations of diversity. It’s great to see a diverse range of characters in your portfolio as a normal part of depicting the world we live in. But like I said, I need to be risk averse. I’m looking for enough context to reassure me that you know the difference between playing around with culturally-significant symbols because they look cool (this is not ok), and meaningful engagement with cultural heritage ideally as part of a collaborative process (this can be very good indeed).

General feedback to applicants: Freedom City Comics 2017

There’s been a fantastic amount of interest in our new ‘Tyneside Radicals’ [early working title for ‘Freedom City Comics’] project, with applications from 38 potential contributors for only 6 spaces in the comics anthology. This meant making tough decisions based on the space available.

Here is a list of general points intended to help future applications avoid obvious concerns. There’s no single perfect model application but in some cases there’s been a clear cut-off between stronger and weaker applications. Time is tight so I’m not able to comment on individual applications, but hope these pointers are useful.

As a reminder, applications asked for two things: A) a link to examples of your comics work (website or file sharing) and (B) a brief (maximum 150 words) covering email telling me why you’re interested in this project.

A) a link to examples of your comics work (website or file sharing)

Strong responses typically included:

  • examples of comics, not only illustration or single-image artwork.
  • sending one link that shows multiple examples, without requiring a login. Minimise the amount of clicking I need to do to read examples of your comics work.
  • high production values, whatever your choice of style or art media.
  • clear lettering, and not too much of it. Legible text, whether hand-lettered or done digitally. A good balance between words and pictures.
  • differentiation between characters in your work. Some of this is about strong character design, some of it is about representation of diverse characters. If you’re already producing work with diverse characters (ethnicity, gender, age, dis/ability, sexuality…), that’s one less editorial conversation I need to have.

Things that indicated problems for me included:

  • little or no finished work. Pencil sketches are useful, but shouldn’t be all you send: I need to see examples of full colour finished artwork to get a realistic idea of your art style.
  • little or no colour artwork. Black and white line art or finished artwork is great, but if the project info I sent specifies full colour artwork then that’s what I’m looking for.
  • violent or sexual content (art and writing). If this is the first and only thing on the link you sent me as part of your application for a comic for children, or one of the top Google search results for your name, that’s a problem for me. It puts me in a difficult position later down the line when I’m promoting this comic and its creators, for example when young readers and their families want to see more of your work.
  • technical difficulties: low resolution images, problems at your end with file transfer, needing multiple clicks to get to a page on your website that shows comics (not just writing about comics), and other issues. For this project I need people who can provide drafts and print-ready artwork files electronically, with all the technical know-how needed to make that work.
  • only using a pseudonym, or first name but no last name. I respect that some comics creators choose to use a pen name and keep this separate from their real name in their published work. I need to fill out paperwork throughout this project and ultimately pay contributors, so need to know your name.

(B) a brief (maximum 150 words) covering email telling me why you’re interested in this project.

Strong responses typically included:

  • clear reason(s) for wanting to be involved in this project. These might or might not overlap with my own and other members of the project team’s reasons for being involved in the project, but will help me understand where you’re coming from so I’m able to put together a balanced team.
  • reasons that show you’ve read the PDF information sheet. For example, making reference to specifics about the project without just repeating what I’d written.
  • recognising that this is a collaborative project. Experience of past collaborative projects is great – this won’t necessarily be in comics, but something that shows me you have experience of working in a team.
  • 150 words or less, with few or no typing errors.

Things that indicated problems for me included:

  • no reference to this project. For example, only sending a link to your work with no covering email, or a very generic email about your work.
  • no reference to why you’re interested in this project – there’s no right or wrong response, I’m genuinely curious about why you’re interested in this specific project. If you have no particular interest in it I’ll pass in favour of someone who does.
  • reasons that show misunderstandings of what this project is about (as set out in PDF information sheet).
  • emails noticeably over the 150 word limit; multiple typos or mistakes in your email. The occasional typo or a couple of extra words isn’t a major concern here, but too much of this makes me worry about your writing and proofreading.
  • mismatch between text and examples: if your covering email tells me you’re passionate about equality but your portfolio includes a lot of violent and sexualised work, I’ll not know which one to believe.

For this project I’ve been in the wonderful-and-horrible position of having plenty of strong applications to choose from. In this situation even small concerns with one application – things that can easily be worked on – become reasons to prioritise a different application without those concerns.

To repeat: this is a list of general points intended to help future applications avoid obvious concerns. This list isn’t a recipe for a guaranteed win. Other projects, and other editors, may well be different.

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Lydia Wysocki, June 2017