Monday, July 21, 2014

"Breaking In" Part 2 of 2

THE FOOTSOLDIERS (series). 2000.
Acrylic on illustration board, various sizes.

In the previous installment, I detailed the series of events that led to meeting one of my favorite comic creators, Jim Krueger, while I was still in high school. After doing a piece of fan art for him, and finishing my freshman year at art school, he commissioned 3 more illustrations for his creator-owned book, The Footsoldiers.

Oil on illustration board, ~18 × 24″.

Throughout my sophomore year (2000-2001), I began working on a multi-tiered montage for his new web site. Each section represented one of his many creations, and I enlisted my friends as character models. (Always preferring to kill 2 birds with one stone, I managed to turn a few of these into class assignments.)

ALPHABET SUPES. 2001. Oil on illustration board, 24 × 10″.

Then came junior year. I had the insane privilege of spending the entire academic year in Rome as part of the European Honors Program. We had complete freedom — not a single class besides Italian and art history — and so I concentrated on making comics.

Oil on masonite, 16 × 24″.

Jim had given me a short, 6-page script called Children of the Left Hand that turned Frankenstein's monster into a lonely, little girl. This was intended as a pitch/poster that could be presented to potential publishers. Painted in oil on canvas, I finished most of the pieces in the first semester and assembled them all digitally.

When I returned to the states, Jim offered to personally take me to the Marvel offices. Nowadays, the place is in a constant state of lockdown, but back in 2002 you could sweet-talk your way in if you knew the right people. Luckily, I knew one "right" person, and he introduced me to 3 editors. The portfolio they reviewed consisted almost entirely of Jim's characters, which meant not many superheroes.

And then nothing happened. They said "nice work," but they had nothing to offer in the way of gigs. My art at the time was all painted, and so they didn't really have a place for me, or even know where my work would fit. Despite getting the opportunity of a lifetime, I left pretty disappointed.

And then everything happened. Jim gave me the email of Joe Quesada, the editor-in-chief at the time (and one of my favorite artists). I wrote to him that night with a jpeg of my work... and he got back to me the next day. Basically, I was hired. I completed my first cover for them shortly thereafter, an Iron Man painting that I still have, and I quit waiting tables. My parents came to the Olive Garden on my last day there, and happened to bring along my first check from Marvel.

IRON MAN #63 Cover. 2002.
Oil on illustration board, 20 x 30".

I still had my senior year left at RISD. I was yet to take David Mazzucchelli's comics class, which would turn out to be incredibly influential on my work. He actually critiqued one of my Marvel gigs as I was working on it during the semester, even though it was cutting into projects from his class. Of course, it helped that he had done the exact same thing when he was in school.

So start early. Make the best work you can and get it out there. You can't predict where your "big break" will come from, you just have to stack the deck in your favor so you're ready if and when it comes.


  1. Great post Paolo, my students always love the "breaking in" stories. Thanks.

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