Sunday, 26 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Providing A Sample

The promised new practice packs will be along shortly -- having slain the Deadline Beast with a day or so to spare, a plumbing catastrophe has struck Campbell Towers, bringing further disruption to the festive season!

However, I do just have time to follow up on the following question from Robert Kurthy.

(I have no idea why you couldn't leave this in the comments, Bob -- it doesn't even seem to have been caught up in the spam filter… my apologies!)

"Can you elaborate on the contents of a typical 'sample pack?'

I can't imagine a letterer would be given enough (free) sample copies of an actual printed issue to mail out all over the place.

So what do you send: color printouts? How many total pages? How many pages from any individual book? From how many different books?

Also, anything else one might send, including important things to put (or avoid putting) in a cover letter, etc. etc."

The first thing to keep in mind here is that I'm hardly a towering example of lettering success! I mean, seriously, how many of you have actually bought a physical comic that I've lettered? Very few of you, I suspect! Once you've considered that fact, treat all advice that follows with the suspicion it so richly deserves!

The most important piece of advice is that anything I say here is automatically over-ruled by anything a company's own submission guidelines say. 

Quite a few companies have submission agreements on their websites so make sure that you've checked for this before you submit and that you've included a signed copy if this is something they expect. Otherwise, you're wasting a stamp.

In addition, always do your research. The recent advert by DC Comics for an in-house letterer and subsequent discussion on Digital Webbing strongly suggests that there is little or no point making a cold submission to DC. Similarly, I believe that Marvel have abandoned the slush pile some time ago and no longer even look at cold submissions, so that's another stamp saved. Top Cow have an exclusive agreement with their letterer, who does all their books; IDW have (I believe) all of their lettering done in-house… 

As you can see, the list of target companies for submission can be whittled down quite quickly!

So… with all those caveats out of the way:

My sample pack consists of colour printouts of my most recent work. On an A4 sheet, a US comic page leaves some space, so I try to include a small amount of text, identifying that publisher and the title, and a single brief paragraph talking about any design decisions that were made for the project. I also put my e-mail address on every page.

I mention the extra text because a couple of editors have said that they found this added interest to the samples above a plain batch of sample pages. Artists are often advised to keep their portfolios for initial showing to the five or six strongest pages they have, and that's what I try to follow here. I additionally include an FAQ page at the back, with a brief run-down of my project history; telephone and postal contact details; and a couple of brief sound-bite testimonials.

Given that all this information is included in the sample pack, I try to keep the covering letter as short as possible, pretty much doing nothing more than introduce myself (if you're following up a contact you made at a convention, this is the place to remind the editor of that) and inviting them to contact me for further information if the sample pack doesn't answer all their questions.

There may, occasionally, be something specific to a submission that's worth also putting in the cover letter. Dark Horse specify, for example, that they prefer to see black and white lettering samples. I don't have any, so I thought it was worth putting a brief paragraph in the cover letter explaining this and apologizing, so they at least knew that I'd read the submission guidelines!

One seemingly trivial thing that's also worth mentioning: I always fasten my sample packs together with paperclips and not staples. If you're sending your samples to an office which recycles its paper, then removing the staples is a pain for the editor. Use a paperclip and, even if they throw your sample pack away, you've made their life a tiny fraction easier, plus they've gained a paperclip! It may not sound like much, but it might be enough to fix your name in their mind the next time one of your submissions comes across their desk, or if they see your work in print somewhere.

For what it's worth, that's the best advice I have.



PS: Belated Festive Best Wishes to all of you who celebrate Christmas. I hope you had a splendid day and I wish everyone a prosperous New Year into the bargain!


  1. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the holiday weekend surgery! Since I last wrote, I've read literally every page of the Digital Webbing Lettering Forum you recommended (many great hours of learning).

    There’s two questions that it would be great if you could help me out with (the first takes a bit to explain, and might appear esoteric to some, but I think the concept beneath may be helpful to others as well):

    1. The first is (I fear) resolution dependent once again. A quick recap of where I'm at. I scanned a page of a store bought comic at 300 dpi with an actual ruler in the scan as well - so I could be certain when my computer was displaying the comic at actual size (by holding up a ruler to the screen and measuring my scanned ruler). For a different comic I didn't have, I found a page on the internet and went to the bookstore and with a ruler measured a few panels so I could likewise match the page size in Illustrator. As an aside, the purpose of this exercise is to get a sense of precise font sizes used for two specific fonts I plan on getting next week during the Comicraft sale (which touches on my second question...) - and that I know were used in the comics in question. So in Illustrator, the 300 dpi comic I scanned when viewed at 131% matched both the Illustrator ruler guide and my scanned ruler (and hence the actual comic page size). For this one, I assume I can just type in the font I buy and line them up with the comic page to get a very accurate idea of the font size used in the actual comic. With the page I got off the net, on the other hand, I wasn't able to get the Illustrator rulers and actual page size to match at the same time (I assume it was scanned originally by someone at much less than 300 dpi, perhaps 72 dpi). When the comic book page appears on my screen to match the published size version in Illustrator, it was at 66% view (but the ruler guides were such that one screen inch matched only half a real inch). When I doubled the view size to 132%, the ruler guides matched real world, but the comic was now hugely blown up. In this second case, how can I accurately figure out the font size used? If I go with the 66% view (where the comic "looks" right on the screen), a 6.5 point font setting looks microscopically small against the actual size of the scan. So to match the font size on-screen would mean selecting a point size I know could not have been used for the comic (since it would be way too big – even though on screen, the comic page appears “actual size”). When I go to 132%, inversely, the scan is huge but a 6.5 point font shows accurately on screen as a printed 6.5 point. It seems on a real job, a low res tiff might mess you up in determining font size (since when it is displayed to “look” like actual printed size, the corresponding font you get is microscopically small). And if you adjust by making the Illustrator guides match a true world inch, the page is hugely blown up (and you’d still be using a font too big to compensate). I’m sure this is related to my previous surgery question where you explained point sizes are dpi dependent – and it seems there are multiple size adjustment issues going on here at the same time – but I got to believe I must be missing something, and there’s a way to make both high dpi scans and low dpi scans “match” in Illustrator what a true font point size would look like relative to the scan. I hope all this makes sense. The more I typed, I felt my summary of what was happening might’ve gotten a bit confusing …

  2. 2. The second question is shorter and sweeter. Since next week is Comicraft’s yearly sale where every font is about $20 (not trying to be an advertisement for them, I’m also looking into a bunch of Blambot fonts), which ones would you recommend because even at sale price they can quickly add up (i.e. Tim Sale’s font is divided into 3 separate packs – standard, lower case and brush – so those alone would run $60). Also, which Blambot fonts are equal and worthy substitutes to popular Comicraft fonts (as Blambot fonts are year-round $20 - $30 and are often of equal or better quality)? I know for instance, on Digital Webbing you mentioned you use Blambot’s Hometown Hero when Comicraft’s Joe Kubert might be used – because it has a similar feel but better auto-ligatures. Do you have any other Blambot font suggestions that can be used as Comicraft replacements – i.e. like instead of buying Comicraft’s Biff Bam Boom one might use Blambot’s Suckerpunch to get a similar effect – not sure if that’s the case, just a for instance … (this way, I don’t have to hoard too many Comicraft fonts, and I can spread my font dollars to Blambot too – which is a super cool company for giving free fonts year round).

    Thanks again for all the help.

    Kyle Jones