Who determines when a comic book creator’s career begins to fade or simply end?
Sometimes it’s the creator themself. They’ll miss multiple deadlines with little or no excuses, they’ll become “difficult” and rock the editorial or corporate boat, they’ll become tired of the monthly grind of comic books and decide to return to the nine to five working world, and sometimes they just lose their passion for creating comic books or go crazy and quit.
I’ve seen and worked with young and older talent that has chosen a path of self-destruction when it comes to their career. They were bound and most determined to plant roadside bombs on their own career path and then step on them. I’m guessing when that happens there’s a more deeply rooted emotional problem that is way beyond my education and general people skills. Those creators are their own worst enemies in their goal to create. As long as they don’t drag others down with them, then I figure it’s their own talent to waste, and trust me, I’m sorry to say, I’ve seen some major talent wasted.
A lot of those personal reasons for self-destruction I can understand while others can be more puzzling. I’ve witnessed some creative careers take nosedives because of an editor that comes down with what I call “Raccoon Syndrome”. That’s when they discard a creator that hasn’t done anything wrong or detrimental to the book – and the book may even be months ahead of schedule – but are kicked to the curb because the editor sees another creator that is new, shiny and sometimes unproven in regards to handing a book in on time. The editor(s) will shuffle the talented, established creator off to limbo, just south of Buffalo, and bring in the shiny new creator without training them in what it takes to produce a monthly book, not to mention how that must work with crafting a compelling story and not just being a working cog in the current event of the month. Editors should be editors and teachers, not just traffic managers.
In another time, creators were moved off of books when the sales continued to move down past the point of making a profit. and only after everything was possibly done with the story line and character development that could be done. If this were true today then there really wouldn’t be a lot of people working on comics. The sales today are nowhere near what they once were when there was a wide customer base and the comic book business wasn’t a niche market like it is today. The mass market has not been cultivated in decades and we have turned the direct market into a backwoods incest fest. Everyone has their fingerprints on this almost dead body.
Today we have seen many creators’ careers reduced to fumes because of nothing more than the statement that “we’ve worked with you before”. It’s true, I’ve sat in the marketing and editorial meetings where talented, on time creators’ names have come up for books and the remark was made “Yeah, they’re really good and I loved their work on (insert major character/book here), but we’ve worked with them before.”
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that new talent shouldn’t be hired. During my time at Eclipse Comics, Image Comics, Todd McFarlane Productions and IDW Publishing, I was always the guy that was seeking out talent, both old and new. I did a talent search when I was executive director of publishing for McFarlane where I personally took in over 1,000 art submissions and pored over every one of them myself. I did this knowing that I was obligated to also educate and mentor the talent I picked. I needed to lift their talent to the highest level I could so that they could produce compelling comic books to the best of their ability. If I didn’t, then I would not only be short changing them, but us as a publisher. (You may request my Sainthood now.)
Cliques within the established comic book publishing world have always been around. Like any job, they always will be. But the thing is we need to rein in those cliques to where it doesn’t hurt the product and the entertainment of the readers. Cliques have increased with each new cycle of readers-turned-pro. Right now, after more than a few generations, we are at an all-time high. It’s at a very dangerous level. Management, media, editorial and creative circles are all infested with chokingly tight cliques. It has never been harder for someone new or someone established to break in – or back in – to comics. It’s a cold hard fact that everyone knows, but few will admit. Everyone is or has been guilty of it. It’s got to be reduced before we niche ourselves out of a comic book industry. Cliques will fade a creator’s career faster than bleach being poured on a pair of blue jeans. Cliques won’t go away, but they need to be controlled.
What can you do to make sure your career doesn’t fade away? First and foremost as a creator, you have to always…ALWAYS produce the best work you can and produce it on time. That, along with networking, marketing yourself and honing the actual craft of writing/drawing comic books will put you where you need to be to maybe overcome some of the hurdles I’ve talked about in this edition of Busted Knuckles. If it doesn’t, then you’ll always know YOU did YOUR best and you won’t serve yourself sour grapes, you’ll fill your plate with dignity instead.