Monday, March 04, 2013

FEBTOR 2013 - Part 2: C.B. Cebulski, Disney-Marvel

Time to share some more of my notes and reflections from Autodesk SketchBook Pro's FEBTOR 2013.
My introduction and presentation notes from Pixar story artist, Alex Woo, are available in Part 1.

FEBTOR 2013: C.B. Cebulski (Marvel/Disney)

Senior Vice President Marvel/Disney
“a.k.a. Talent Scout”

C.B. Cebulski was an encore presenter from last year's SketchBook Toronto Event.  Last year, he focussed primarily on comic book portfolio in's and out's--specifically, what he looks for as talent scout for Marvel & Disney.  And so, with this year's presentations themed on "storytelling," it was great to hear him speak again.

C.B. began his presentation by noting how comics are "a perfect global medium."  To him, there are no language barriers in comics because the art speaks to everyone.  Comics are a visual storytelling medium.

In his talent scout role, C.B. meets aspiring and professional comic artists from all around the world.  Even though he may not speak the native-tongue, if the cartoonist has done their job well, all of a story’s action and emotion will be understandable without the speech balloons.

With a nod to Marvel Comics history, C.B. then talked a little about the inner creative and marketing debates between “storytelling covers” (those that hint of the story events within a comic book) vs. “pin-up covers” (those that just look great hanging on a wall).  For C.B., there is no debate.  A great comic book cover can be both.

Next, C.B. Cebulski described how storytelling is everywhere, even in food.  Referring to world-renown chef, Susur Lee (the opening speaker from last year’s SketchBook Toronto Event), Cebulski noted how the different courses of a meal take you on a journey -- a story written by the chef.

Another medium where C.B. sees great storytelling is in television commercials, especially SuperBowl ads.  The two examples he used were Volkswagen’s 2012 ad featuring a kid dressed as Darth Vader using the Force, and Budweiser’s 2013 clydesdales horses.  One humorous, one an emotional tear-jerker, but both great short stories...

“Heart First, Powers Second.”

Speaking more specifically about storytelling at Marvel Comics, C.B. Cebulski described how the creative teams take annual story retreats together, where they determine each Marvel character’s story arc for the entire year.  They outline where a character will be at the start of their journey (or publishing year), and where they will be at the end.  The exact events and specific details are not as evident, but by the end of the retreat, everyone knows what direction each character is headed.

As to the exact events and specific details of each character’s story, C.B. notes that the best comic stories are more about a character’s alter-ego than their costume/powers.  C.B. summarized this nicely as “Heart first, Powers second.”  Interestingly, C.B. used Peter Parker vs. Spider-Man as an example here, then followed-up by saying it’s important to not be afraid to sacrifice in order to tell a good story.  Readers need to feel they get their monies worth.

*ahem* ... R.I.P. Peter Parker.

COVER ART: Amazing Spider-Man #700 - Death of Peter Parker

Breaking into Comics vs. Staying in Comics

C.B. Cebulski concluded his presentation with some "storytelling" portfolio suggestions for aspiring comic book artists.  Before doing so, he noted how the Internet has busted down many of the gates that prevented younger talent from getting noticed before.  Today, some seasoned comic artists feel it's almost more difficult to retain work (or "stay in comics") because it seems there's that many more new talents finding work with the big name publishers like Marvel & Disney.

On backgrounds... In Marvel stories, New York City is a character as much as any other.  Something frequently being suggested to artists is to “pull back” the camera and show more background details.  You want readers to feel like they are in that world.

On body language and facial expressions... This goes back to what C.B. said at the start about comics being a visual storytelling medium.  One particular critique was on the often seen “gritting teeth” expression -- you know, that copy-and-paste face that’s used whether a character is happy, sad, or angry -- Don’t do that!!

On YOUR own story... C.B. Cebulski suggests focussing on telling your own story.  This not only applies to the art that you put in your portfolio, but also how you present yourself as an artist.  Use social media, tell your own stories.  For example, if you enjoy photography, don’t be afraid to share it.  Yes, you can draw cool pictures, but who are you as a person?  A key ingredient to the story is the personality you bring as an artist.
And so intrepid cartoonists, don't be afraid to share your work with the world.  Let potential clients know who you are.  Build a nice online portfolio and presence.

For as C.B. said (with a nod to the movie Field of Dreams), “If you build it, they will come.” 

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

UP NEXT:  Notes from FEBTOR 2013 presentations by members of The RAID Studio.

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