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To hear Jon Reed tell it, legendary X-Men artist Neal Adams is a bit of a dick.
Last February, Reed trekked to Manhattan for the New York Comic Con and showed his portfolio to any artist or editor willing to look at his work. Reed, 28, waited patiently as Adams finished up with someone else’s portfolio.
“[Adams] just looked up [from Reed’s work], and he said, ‘Why?’” says Reed. “He just snatched off my balls in one second, and my God, I wanted to leave.”
Mega-conventions like the New York Comic Con, complete with security guards dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers and promotions for big-name Hollywood comic adaptations, can be emasculating for aspiring artists. But when Reed heads back again in April, the Alexandria artist will get the red-carpet treatment as the winner of this year’s Comic Book Idol competition.
Comic Book Idol, like the amateur singing show from which it swipes its name, is a nearly annual competition that started four years ago. (It didn’t happen last year, due to scheduling snafus.) Ten aspiring artists are selected from close to 300 entrants by a panel of artists who’ve won previous contests. They then compete in weekly art assignments that are judged by comic pros like Marc Silvestri and voted on by fans.
“These are guys on the verge of launching into professional careers,” says Jonah Weiland, the executive producer of Concord, Calif.–based comicbookresources.com, which sponsors the competition. “This year’s entries were by far the largest group of really talented artists we’ve ever seen. Very few real stinkers were in the mix.” Every Thursday for five weeks, Reed would get an assignment, due at noon the following Monday. At first, he was given short scripts to illustrate, but as participants were eliminated, the assignments grew to five pages. It’s difficult for many professional artists to produce even one page per day.
“They displayed it like a frickin’ horse race,” says Reed. “I barely even made it through each round. It was all about the votes.”
He did, however, have a little help from his friends—Reed wasn’t above sending out a mass e-mail in the midst of the contest, begging for support. But his work, influenced by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, was strong enough by its own merits.
“You didn’t need to read any words to understand what the art in his story was telling,” says Jay Vargas, who worked with Reed at the now-defunct startup Ny-Lon Comics. “His storyboard angles were also very well-placed. He can make a story flow effortlessly. There are too many artists out there today that don’t accomplish that feat.”
Reed will have his flight, hotel, and meals covered when he heads to the 2008 New York Comic Con. More important, he’ll get introductions to various publishers in the hope of landing his first professional gig. If history is any guide, the odds are in his favor: Weiland says that previous Comic Book Idol winners (and runners-up) have gone on to do work for publishers like Marvel and Image. So Reed is betting big. In January he’ll quit his part-time job as an accounting assistant in Rosslyn to devote his energies to preparing for the convention. Once he knows which editors he’ll be meeting, Reed says he plans on looking at their comics and redrawing some pages in his style.
“My only strategy right now is coming up with a kickass portfolio,” he says.