Serious Critique

I received an intense two screen long message sent to me last night from someone who wants to work at the UDON studio. I thought about sending back a typical “we’re not looking for anyone right now” response but that didn’t feel right based on the length of their message and expectations.

I wrote this all up and figured I’d repost it here because it’s advice quite a few applicants and students could stand to hear:

You obviously spent some serious time typing this all up. I appreciate that you are driven and are working hard to build your portfolio and contacts.

You are correct that we receive dozens and dozens of portfolio submissions from people of varying skill levels. You’ve asked for serious feedback/advice so I’m not going to pull any punches. Instead I’ll just tell you straight about some industry stuff you may not know and my thoughts on your work at this time.

UDON is not hiring. Not just because the portfolios sent to us aren’t good, the majority are very weak, but also because we’re at a point where we have more than enough artists on hand to take care of the work that comes in. I have some artists who I’d love to give more work to that I can’t keep employed full time because there aren’t enough projects coming in and out to keep them busy that whole time. These are people who have stellar quality, great work ethic and deliver on time.

We keep our core crew as busy as possible and then, beyond that, we have another tier of artists who I send freelance work to when the main gang is overwhelmed or we need a specific style. That’s it. There’s no point in us bringing on even more people if we can’t keep them employed. No matter what else I say about your work, the reality of that situation doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

Your artwork is not as good as you think it is.

I know that’s incredibly hard to hear. Like many portfolios I look at, you are focused almost entirely on drawing cool characters and pin-ups instead of rounding out your skills with strong storytelling and more variety.

Your background/environmental drawing is a glaring weakness. Many of your pages lack a solid sense of perspective and, even when it is there, it looks rushed, sloppy and is clearly not something you enjoy or spend time with. Even when your character work looks professional, the environments they’re placed in usually look quite amateur in comparison.

I think your figure drawing is focused on a singular semi-cartoony comic style that is hurting your ability to get work. It’s too cartoony for most publishers but isn’t confidently stylized enough for them to appreciate either. It’s not ‘American’ comic style and it’s not anime, which is a really hard sell in this market. Instead of having a solid understanding of drawing the figure from life and then building a style on that base, your work looks like a copy of a copy of other artists who understand the figure and solid form more fully. Your work doesn’t have the finish of Mark Brooks, Joe Madureira or Humberto Ramos, just some similar stylistic aspects that are under developed and derivative. Simple line work can be elegant and look great, but it has to be built off of core drawing basics you’re not showing. It’s all frosting without any cake.

Your sequential pages lack adequate space for word balloons and sound effects, leaving them feeling claustrophobic. Almost every panel jams the characters in to them as large as possible because that’s all you seem to want to draw.

Your colours hurt the majority of the pieces you’ve put together. The light sources are unclear, the colour choices are garishly saturated and the majority of rendering and effects you have look like they’re all done with a soft airbrush tool regardless of what the surface is or particular lighting conditions are. You are lacking an understanding of basic colour theory – what colours get used together and why. Your colours, by and large, are very weak compared to what we expect from our artists.

Your work doesn’t look like anything being published by UDON. Look carefully at the work in our gallery. You’re a fan of our books so you must realize that stylistically your work doesn’t fit with typical Capcom products or what we do. If that’s not clear then you need to be much more careful in your analysis. Yes, there is a range of stuff we do but, within that range, there is a look that people have come to recognize as UDON. Your artwork doesn’t exhibit that.

Even if you submitted a pin-up for the upcoming Tribute book, there’s no guarantee you’d even get in, let alone grab our attention enough for us to think about asking you to submit other work for the company, if we were looking for new people, which unfortunately we’re not. Your assumption that the Tribute book is not a good way to showcase your skills to us is mistaken. Even in one quality pin-up it’s easy to tell if someone has a solid understanding of the basics and if their gallery is worth digging in to further.

Your message is not professional. Attitude-wise it’s a bad idea to talk about how other people who are doing the work you want to do are weaker than yourself. Even if that’s how you feel, all it does is leave a really bad impression that you’re cocky and going to be a pain in the ass to work with. Do I think there’s published work out there that looks like crap? Absolutely, but I try to keep my mouth shut and focus on making sure my own work, and the work of our studio, is as strong as possible.

You have no idea what each of those artists that you think suck have done to get where they are. Was it their contacts? Maybe, but it could be all sorts of other things and maybe they’ve pitched in to help when shit hit the fan and they’re working their butt off to get better just like you are. Assuming that you’re superior or that a lucky break is all you need is the wrong attitude.

You stressed that you were sending a very serious e-mail and, in turn, I’m giving you a serious response. From the standards we look for in artists you are not ready and, even if you were, we are not looking for more artists to add to our roster.

I know reading the above must feel like a punch to the gut. I really do. When I left college I sent a few desperate e-mails out to professionals asking for critique/help and any replies I got back slammed my work because I had an inflated sense of where my skills were at. Even now, I am fully aware that my strengths lie more with organizing and managing projects over doing artwork day in and day out. That’s reality.

I don’t know you. I know the above critique may feel like a personal judgment on you, but it’s not. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person who wants this more than anything else. Just remember that it’s the same for every person who brings their portfolio up to us at a con or sends a submission e-mail. Maybe it will all click within a year and you’ll be rocking your way in to big name comics and can tell me to screw off when you see me in person. Maybe you’ll take the above as the final straw and give up drawing. I’m not here to tell you what you can be or where you will be, just what I see right now and the work currently in your gallery.

In any case I honestly bear you no malice and wish you all the best with your creative pursuits. I mean that.


This isn’t the first time I’ve done this kind of critique… check out these older posts:

How to Really Break In to Comics:

Everyone’s Got Ideas:

Portfolio Desperation:

Convention Advice:

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