San Diego.- While thousands descend on Comic-Con to revel in their colorful hobby, a few see it as the opportunity of a lifetime.
Francisco Ander Zárate, a 28-year-old native of Ensenada, is one of them. He has attended the summer conference for several years with the hope landing work with a comic book publisher.
After all, Comic-Con was designed for that purpose. It was to be place that would bring together illustrators and colorists with publishers from across the world.
Zárate is a digital colorist, which is the artist who brings to colorful life comic book panels.
He arrived early on Friday to the hall at the San Diego Convention Center where portfolios are reviewed and waited for hours. His work included illustrations of Spiderman, Star Wars, Hellboy and Ironman. He was trying to attract the interest of a publisher looking for a digital colorist.
The day ended without any luck, but there were still two days left in the conference.
"I'm here with the hope of finding a job," he said. "But I also see this event as an opportunity to learn and to make contacts that are needed in this profession."
Comic-Con is a place where he can see what's new in the industry.
"There's no better place to find out what people want, what's selling."
At last year's conference, he was so frustrated at not getting any results in the area where work is reviewed that he took matters into his own hands. He went directly to the exhibition pavilions to look for the representative of IDW Publishing, whose comics include Transformers, 30 Days of Night and G.I. Joe.
The company's editor happened to be there and he was intercepted by Zárate, who asked him to review his work. The editor liked what he saw and asked him to send him more work samples.
However, Zárate had to deal with some personal challenges in the ensuing days and was not able to follow up that request. But he said he learned a valuable lesson: It's up to him to make things happen.
He began in the business at age 21. Though he studied graphic design at a university in Ensenada, he said that most of what he's learned is self-taught.
"On my own I started experimenting with Photoshop," he said. "From there the key is to try to decipher how other digital colorists who have much more experience than I do work."
He was forced to drop out of school to help his mother financially. That motivates him to excel in his profession so he can help support his family.
Attending Comic-Con, as well as publishing a sampling of his work in his Internet site, has yielded results.
He's landed contracts with major publishing houses such as DC Comics; Adidas; Dial R Studios; Arcana Studio, from Canada; Aranim Media Factor from Jordan; and the Italian firm Panini Comics, for which he worked on a comic book whose heroes were the soccer players from Spain's national team who won the World Cup.
He sees as the greatest advantage of his profession that he's able to work on most contracts through the Internet. That's also a curse, since this leaves him vulnerable to things not working out with his bosses.
"When you're working long distance, companies can treat you poorly," he said. "But it's a risk I have to take because this is how I want to make a living."
And because he's encountered problems with some companies, he's had to change the name he goes by professionally.
"I don't think it's a question of discrimination, but at times some publishers think they can pay me less because I'm Mexican."
"They know that in my country the dollar is worth a lot and on occasion they offer to pay me less under the argument that it's a lot of money in Mexico," he said.
So he goes by "Ander," his middle name, so he's not revealing his nationality.
Digital colorists can earn $100 or more for each page they illustrate, a process that can take four to six hours.
Zárate's dream is to work for Disney Studios.
"That's where it all began for me, that's where the seed was planted," he said. "As a child I loved their cartoons. I would love to someday do something for them."
Francisco Ander Zárate's work can be seen on his offical site.