Twenty-three years ago, Humberto Ramos, then 21, borrowed money from his sceptical father and left his hometown of Mexico City for the first time to show his sketches around at the well-known San Diego Comic- Con.
Doors were slammed in his face and, in one instance, he was brutally told to "go home and get a real job".
Today, he is the highly regarded artist behind top-selling series such as Marvel Comics' Amazing Spider-Man, and is among the hottest invited guests at Comic-Cons.
This year, the 44-year-old gave advice to other aspiring pencillers at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention, which took place at Marina Bay Sands over the weekend. "Network," he says to them.
Known for his distinctly cartoonish style, which is unusual in the adult superhero genre, Ramos has worked on big-name titles such as Uncanny X-men and Spider-Man for Marvel, and JLA and Superboy for DC.
Apart from prestigious Harvey Award nominations for his comic-book covers, he has had the distinction of designing the first look of major new superheroes such as Silk (seen in Marvel's ongoing Amazing Spider-Man) and Impulse (a DC Comics series from 1995-2002).
Ramos is quick to say he owes his success to the goodwill of fellow artist Jon Bogdanove (The Death Of Superman).
After the rejections he faced at Comic-Con as a young man, Ramos returned a year later and impressed Bogdanove, who in turn pitched his case to publishers on the convention floor.
"To have someone like Jon take me under his wing was a big part of the path to getting into comics," he says.
That was also when he learnt how critical networking is. "The most important asset you can get yourself in this career is networking. Of course, you need talent and to be responsible and professional, but you need to network," Ramos says.
As a child reading Spider-Man and other superhero comics in Spanish, he dreamt of one day becoming either a hero himself or the artist behind their monthly appearances.
His father, an engineer, and his mother, a schoolteacher, thought he would be an architect. "What other job exists if you like drawing, right?"
But he convinced them to let him study graphic design at the well-known Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana and, in his third year, begged his father to lend him enough money to try and land a job at Comic-Con.
Thanks to Bogdanove's intervention, he received an offer from Milestone Media, a subsidiary of comics giant DC Comics. Excited, he went home to Mexico, told his parents he had a job and then waited by the telephone for further instructions.
"This was before the Internet," he says, laughing. "For the next four months, I kept waiting. My dad's patience had a limit. My patience was near its end as well."
But the waiting paid off. A package came in the mail with a manuscript and instructions to work on stories about minority superheroes such as Static, a kid with electricity-based powers.
Two years later, the Milestone Media connection led to him filling in on a major DC title, Superboy, and then working with award-winning writer Mark Waid on the cult favourite series Impulse, about a teenager with super-fast speed who is a relative of A-list hero The Flash.
Ramos also did the creator-owned and critically acclaimed six-issue series Revelations, about conspiracies in the Catholic Church (2005, Dark Horse Comics), but the crowning achievement was landing the job of lead artist for Spider-Man titles since 2011.
Getting that telephone call, he recalls, was "like taking a fresh breath and feeling at ease. Okay, I've made it".
His two sons, aged 11 and seven, love comic books too and enjoy having their father work from home.
Ramos has taught his children to respect the work of the comics artist - they have never barged into the studio nor damaged his artwork.
"They know that even when I draw the funny books, I draw them seriously," Ramos says.
This article was first published on Sep 8, 2014.
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