Not too long ago, a friend of mine said she was offering a new graphic novel class at her online school and asked me if I knew anyone she could interview for the class. I was more than happy to do it. Since I knew a lot of people on Facebook who had done graphic novels, I posted an open request. I soon got some responses, shortly followed by a private message from someone I’ll call M.
I’d had interactions with M before on Facebook. She seemed like a reasonably nice person. I remember she had said something about working in animation. At the time, this surprised me, because I’d checked out her portfolio, and the quality of work didn’t seem to reflect the level of skill she’d need to do what she claimed. I didn’t think much about it until I got her private message.
That’s when I decided to call bullshit.
M recommended a friend of hers for an interview, adding that my friend, the teacher, wouldn’t interview M because my friend didn’t consider M a “real artist.”
So of course I asked, “Why not?”
And then she said that she loved my friend to death, but that my friend had said that M “didn’t have a style that fit picture books” even though M had done 18 picture books and had worked in the animation field for years, and had done comics for Marvel.
Since I’m a big comics fan, I asked what titles she had worked on. This is where things got iffy.
“Daredevil and Spider-Man,” she said.
I asked what she did on these comics, and she said “penciling and inking” but she wasn’t very good at it and didn’t do much, and couldn’t remember the exact titles and it was from 2003 or 2004, she wasn’t sure, a long time ago. “We did it on bristol board. Do you know Alex Ross?”
I said I had heard of him. Ross is famous for doing comic book covers with very realistic renderings of superheroes. I said I wasn’t a huge fan. I thought maybe she was headed somewhere with this Alex Ross thing. Maybe she had worked with him or something, but before I could ask any more questions, she had to go.
So I decided to do a little research. A quick check on IMDB revealed that she worked in animation as she had said. She was credited as an inbetweener and a clean-up artist for a number of Disney movies. These are mostly technical, rather than creative, disciplines in animation, though they do take a particular amount of skill. They’re not easy, but don’t take the same level of draftsmanship required to be an animator. So “worked in animation” is an accurate description of what M did.
Then I looked up M’s books on Amazon. There were four, rather than 18. One was published through a digital publishing mill, and the rest looked to be self-published. Not all the books in the world are listed on Amazon, and she might have a few others floating around out there, but what I saw, like the work on her website, wasn’t professional.
That’s when I decided to call bullshit.
I know now that I shouldn’t have. But at the time, I rationalized that I was doing her a favor by calling her out on this. In the long run she’d thank me. But the truth was that I was doing it because I was pissed. I was pissed that she’d complained about my teacher friend, and that she’d misrepresented herself to both of us. She could have done this for any number of reasons. Maybe M felt inadequate. Maybe M was insecure about her accomplishments like I was. And trust me: I am in a state of constant self-doubt, so I can relate. But as modest as my accomplishments are, I don’t feel a need to invent things. And I just didn’t feel like humoring her. So I confronted her about some of the sketchier details of her claims.
What happened is what you’d expect. M said I was rude and that she was shocked and that she was “ALWAYS honest.” I said maybe she was, but I think she’d at least exaggerated a few of the details of her accomplishments, and then things got ugly fast, and I regretted the whole business.
But it really didn’t matter what I thought. She’d find out eventually. If you say you’ve done work you haven’t, people will figure it out. This is the internet. It’s not hard. If you say you’ve illustrated more books than you have, people can look this up as easily as I did. Even if it’s a small press book, it has a publisher. If you can’t tell me the publisher, this is a bad sign. Yes, books go out of print. But there’s got to be something out there to let people know that the thing existed.
If you say you drew a franchise comic like Spider-Man, there is more than one database online that lists artist’s credits for all different kinds of disciplines in comic books where someone can easily look you up by name. Maybe you assisted a professional and you didn’t get an official credit. If so, you should know the name of the person you assisted, and you should be able to tell me what you did for them. Vague statements like, “I can’t remember exactly,” or, “It was a long time ago,” are dubious. Vague knowledge of the basic mechanics of the field (“We did it on bristol board.”) is also revealing.
But the bottom line is that none of this matters a whole bunch if the quality of the work isn’t there. If your stuff doesn’t look professional, there’s no pretending. The quality of the work is either there, or it isn’t, and no amount of resume padding is going to change that. And no one is going to hire you if you’re not any good.