Do quit your day job: the strange careers of comics creators

There’s no single best way into the comics industry, but a lot of creator biographies follow a similar trajectory. Veterans of the Golden Age started out as newspaper cartoonists, commercial artists or contributors to the fledgling fanzine scene. Many Silver Age greats came out of art schools or had previously worked as commercial illustrators. And modern creators who find work at the big two are likely to have track records in independent or online comics. But not everyone follows a sensible career path, either into or out of the comics industry. Here are four examples of people who had the kind of jobs you wouldn’t expect before (or after) they started making comics.

Alan Moore

The wizard of British comics started working in the field at a young age, but it wasn’t his first job. After being expelled from school in 1971, Moore worked at a series of frustrating, dead-end jobs that included cutting up sheep carcasses, packing magazines in a bookseller’s warehouse and cleaning hotel rooms. Moore has described the years of the 1970s — he wouldn’t begin to be published consistently until the end of the decade — as “a long downward progression that ends as a comics writer.”

Grant Morrison

The other star occultist of British comics did some comic writing throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, including licensed Doctor Who and Zoids comics for Marvel, but his real goal in the early 80s was to be a rock star. In fact, a few songs by Morrison’s band, The Mixers, did achieve some recognition — but by the time they did, the band had already more or less broken up.

Mind you, some people would say that Morrison’s been playing the rockstar role in comics ever since.

Bill Mantlo

Bill Mantlo’s path into comics was pretty typical, but his post-comics career was very unusual. A lifelong comics fan, he went to art school and eventually joined Marvel as a colorist in 1974. He became better known as a writer, though, renowned for his ability to bash out a fill-in script on a tight deadline. Mantlo’s work on Micronauts and ROM: Spaceknight is still remembered, but today he’s probably best-known for co-creating Rocket Raccoon. As the 1980s wore on, though, Mantlo began looking for a new career. He went to law school, passed the bar exam and took a job in 1987 as a public defender, a challenging and far from high-paying job.  Sadly, Mantlo’s legal career was cut short when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver, an accident that left him with permanent brain damage.

Jim Steranko

Jim Steranko is known for his psychedelic work on classic Marvel spy-fi series Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Prior to breaking into comics, Steranko had worked as a commercial artist, a not-uncommon career path for comics artists in the late 1950s. In addition to commercial illustration, however, Steranko had also worked in a number of other fields. He performed in a rock band and worked as an illusionist and escape artist. In fact, both Jack Kirby’s escape-artist character Mister Miracle and Michael Chabon’s later creation The Escapist are said to have been based on Steranko!


And that’s just writers and artists. If we were to go into publishers, particularly publishers of the Golden Age, we’d be looking at a motley crew of get-rich-quick artists, scoundrels, quasi-pornographers, mob hangers-on and just downright weirdos. But that’s a story for another time.

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