Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peddling "Where's"

Q: So what does a cartoonist wear to a job interview anyways? A casual clown suit, or just stick with the basics like a simple Groucho Marx glasses & nose? 
Maybe a better question would be if a cartoonist (or any artist for that matter) even needs a "job interview" to begin with. 
(more mullings below the fold)
On the one hand, your work should in theory speak for itself, without any embellishment or editorializing. On the other hand, nothing beats the value of a putting in an appearance on your own behalf. A personal pitch, as opposed to an impassioned email (though follow-ups are a must) can be at least a contributing, if not decisive factor in a client deciding whether or not to support an artist - you - or enlist your creative services.
As with any paying gig, looking and acting professional includes not acting like a schmuck, egomaniac or slacker, which brings up a most important point about showing up on time: is a crucial indicator of your future dependability. Proper pronunciation of people’s names runs a close second, along with doing some background research on the organization in question.
At the moment of truth, while peddling wares to another person, I'll try and shut up to let the work do the job. Nothing’s lamer than trying to be funny in person, at least for a sit-down comedian, and cartoons don’t need a laugh-track: if you find yourself translating it, you’re pretty much doomed anyways at that point. At the other extreme is the slow death of putting on a dog & pony show for someone who never, ever even cracks a smile.
But this in turn brings up a meta-point about performing for the humor-impaired: it is a literal test to see if you can in fact demonstrate your relevance to a prospective and/or hostile audience that just might not care a single bit about how much the world could use a laugh, or how truly hilarious you really really are. Would that it was a couple hundred years back in the day again when newspapers ran 12-16 pages of cartoons. A literal selling point is the audacity to suggest cartoons will not only retain readership but entice new subscribers. This might be interpreted as impinging on the journalistic cred of a publication, but at least it isn’t Murdoch-caliber whoring. The value of offering unique content, custom-made for a local market is a strong selling point. Or to put it another way, I often recast the question by asking folks and fans alike “I’m worth a buck a week ain’t I?”

The drive (literally, as in many a road-trip) to do the requisite footwork demonstrates a determination, and it does take a measure of self-confidence to promote your work, or at the least a willful blindness to persevere against all odds. And I do mean odds. “Expect nothing: be ready for anything” is a good mantra that has served me better than most.
Perseverance is rewarded when being tenacious is seen as a virtue, as opposed to being a pain in the ass that can’t take a hint. That said, it reflects poorly when an editor can’t reject you material out of hand instead of stringing you along in limbo – any answer is better than nothing at all. But I'll keep calling and sending emails with attached samples anyways, just to maintain a presence on the periphery.

Given the rate of submissions to syndicates, it’s a rare, distinct honor to score some face-time with an actual editor. Factor in the overworked nature of most newsrooms you truly are lucky to get anything positive back from a cold-call. So I always try to leave them with a little something in return, usually in the form of a mini-comic showcasing all my recent works. This brings up the nitty-gritty: what and how much do I show during the opening pitch? I come backed up with an additional "director's cut" portfolio that doubles as an extended introduction, should the opportunity present itself during the course of the interview – but first and foremost comes the handout packet. This is comprised of approximately a dozen of the absolute best, a sampling of subject matter and skill, mixing breadth and depth. If time and inclination allows for more cards to be laid upon the table, then the portfolio is brought out. Incidentally, this particular poignant moment always makes me thankful I’ve endured both grading and making all those required portfolios at the end of every semester in countless drawing classes. The skill in editing down one's work to a manageable amount and giving a clean, tight presentation is crucial. Nobody cares about your ideas, lofty ambition or what you did in grade school (save that for the damn blog): just keep it simple and straightforward, offering up only the very best that you have to offer. That more than anything else has proven to take off the burr of rejection - at least you know it wasn't for lack of trying, and it removes any trace of doubt as to why you need to slouch back home and hunch over the drawing board some more.
Lastly, the above-mentioned follow-up email is a capstone opportunity to include linkage to an on-line portfolio. It's also another opening to hawk the blog - a venue that isn’t “giving work away free” in that it’s essentially old news by the time it rotates up for posting, plus it can be an effective, invaluable marketing tool to provide potential clients with a bigger picture, warts & all. Not to mention it's a platform by which to also promote products - for example tshirts and mugs. Just the other day I was assisting and observing an artist in residence, and overheard them being solicited by someone who was pitching a website that hosted images for artists, and the target had no idea until I spoke with her later that there are many options available for no cost to display your artwork on-line (Facebook, Picasa, Deviant Art, Flicker etc.).

Face-to-face sit-downs like interviews are good practice for engaging directly with readers too, which is important because for the most part, barring any show & tells, exhibitions or signings there isn’t much interaction with the general public. Hence these meetings are a chance to touch base with folks outside of the normal circle, though the network of friends and family are important supports that build part of the foundation for casting a wider net into the general public.

It's rare to get asked to provide an actual resume/CV – but there are always exceptions, and being able to back up the work with demonstrated track-record is good. At the core of that is documenting not only a consistent body of work but also showing that you have experience in the field (with meeting those deadlines) and putting/getting work out. For example, citing years of experience in the industry and the circulation numbers can be a plus.

As of late I've been still consistently peddling my creative wares to people every chance I get, whether it's formal meetings or random handouts. Funny how nervous I still can get over an interview or even a public presentation, and usually depend on a ritual of psyching up, though the only drugs I ever need are Rolaids, Altoids and lotsa coffee (not necessarily in that order).  En-route to such gigs I'll turn on the soundtrack that never fails to get me pumped up, and as of late my favorite would be singing along to Split Enz's "Sandy Allen"...

"Hope you're happy Sandy Allen
Hope your garden is blooming
We're all staring at the mirror
Tryin' to put our faces on
Appearance never held you back
Must be when you're number one
You don't have to try so hard" - Split Enz

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