You were getting constructive criticism, in my opinion anyway. I would add that your typography (choice of type, relation to the subject, placement etc.) could do with a lot more work. Please do not take this personally, but a lot of the illustration work looks like your just worked through some tutorials in Computer Arts magazine. It shows ability but not individuality - you already mentioned you've seen lots of things like this in the pages of magazines - so do something different and new.
I'm not saying I'm the best designer i could be, just looking through my portfolio over the weekend there are pieces of work in there a couple of years old i will quite gladly be tearing up - onwards and upwards i say, i still have a lot of improvements to make, and so do you :icon_wink:
As for the "I'm a designer, i have a degree" comment - just because you have a degree (not a graphic design degree anyway?!) does not make you a good designer. Nor does not having a degree make someone a bad designer. The degree doesn't matter, it's the quality of the work you do that does.