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MoCCA 2019, Part Four

They mostly weren’t art directors, actually.

That is to say, the most interesting panel from the perspective of creators that happened at MoCCA was at the end of Saturday, when Viktor Koen (in association with SVA’s Continuing Education program) spoke with Emma Allen of The New Yorker (she says she’s more on an editor), Matt Lubchansky of The Nib (artist and editor), Will Varner of formerly Buzzfeed (and illustration editor), and Alexandra Zsigmond (actually an art director, formerly full time and now part time with New York Times).

Regardless of what they might call themselves on their business cards, their job is to find creators to make pictures (maybe with words, maybe not) for money. You want to know what they’re looking for, so that you become what they’re looking for, and they want to give you money. So many of you wanted to know what they’re looking for, the room was SRO with possibly more people standing in the margins than sitting.

  • Starting from the very broad What are you looking for?, the answers were extremely varied. Allen started off with maybe the one piece of common advice: Be really good at what you do and then we’ll buy it, but there was a lilting, jokey tone to her voice. It’s not enough to be really good if you don’t have a unique way to express it; don’t bother emulating Roz Chast down to the molecular level, since she’s already got Roz Chast.

    Zsigmond isn’t looking for cartoons at all — she wants single images that capture the concept of a potentially long story. Lubchansky is looking for everything from gag panels to pure political cartoons to satire and longform reporting, but in each case it has to be a comic for a reason. Varner was more likely to look for visual essays for longform, but short pieces and humor comics were chosen as much for virality potential as anything.

  • Where they find creators is likewise all over the place, but all would agree that having a findable portfolio with your name and email on it, showing enough of your work to get an idea of what you can execute, is key. Social media presence is helpful (Varner, Lubchansky), but your personal audience there won’t substitute for art chops. Zsigmond spends a lot of time trawling sites and print anthologies on art and design, and looking for who artists link to — having a network of people whose work you enjoy/talk about is a good indication of worth.

    Allen is in the unique position of inheriting a job from somebody that had it for 20+ years, in a magazine with a very set style for 90. Her goal of preserving the traditions can run up against finding new voices, but she’s managed to move into longform comics. Her most important question is Who are you excited about?, using creators to find creators.

  • Getting the job is just the first task; if you don’t ever get brought back, you don’t have a career. Lubchansky emphasized that people who do good work and are easy to work with (good communication, accepting feedback and direction) will be reused over mad geniuses that disappear at random. Got problems with the gig? Talk to your editor, don’t let it be a surprise.

    Allen countered that overcommunication is also an issue — don’t bury your editor’s email, don’t require handholding every half-step. Zsigmond added that it’s a bad idea to drop surprises — you’ve been through sketch approval with your editor/AD, don’t produce a final piece just before press deadline that’s radically different than what was agreed upon. Varner just doesn’t want you to save all your problems and questions for 6:30 on Friday evening. Space ’em out!

  • Asked what makes somebody ready to turn pro, the answers were pretty uniform: be organized, consistent, and able to ask for money with a straight face (Varner). Have confidence in your work, as shown by a body of good work (Lubchansky). Be able to deal with people in a professional manner as you make connections (Zsigmond). Have enough ego and hustle to get out there and sell yourself, be able to deal with rejection and silence, but keep all the ego in check (Allen). Or, as she elaborated, A small group of neurotic sociopaths are really good at it, and I’m lucky to work with them!
  • The counter is when does an artist not get work, what are the sins that will keep you in the reject pile? Lubchansky needs to see consistency in your portfolio, that it indicates you can execute on the kind of work you’re pitching. Varner needs to see what you’re good at and doesn’t care where/what form that is (countering the narrative that You Have To Be On Instagram).

    Zsigmond wants to see a dozen or more completed pieces to get a feel for what you do. Allen repeated her emphasis on tone, originality, culture fit. Failing to meet these requirements, or running counter to them, is what keeps you from getting the call back.

Getting the idea that there’s no one path or way to success, and you have to apply yourself to the job you want? That you have to decide how much time you spend on the business of being a working artist, and how much on the creative end? As Allen says, If you’re not making any money, your taxes are easy!, but money comes in handy for those of you that want to pay for things like food and shelter.

Some of the panel are, or have been freelancers, they know that not everybody has the metabolism for that life, but no one part of your career¹ is better or more noble than another. So pay attention to the key takeaways — don’t make people you want to hire you have to Google you; read the guidelines and pitch for things the venue will actually publish; keep your communications (especially follow-ups) professional and brief; buddy up, start an anthology, work your craft and be visible. Or, as moderator Koen concluded: Less bitching, more pitching.

Go get ’em.


Spam of the day:

I Will Promote Your Business Very Efficiently All Over The World And In All Niches for your fleen.com

Only somebody that hates spam as much as me would buy the services of a spammer, is that it? Get lost.

_______________
¹ And keep in mind that your career is not going to be that of the ’60s cartoonist, who showed up in the city on Tuesday with a portfolio of comics, starting at the outlet with the best rates, then the one with the best donuts, and by the end of the day had sold everything and got on the train home to Bridgeport.

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