Whatever Happened To..?

By | Wednesday, January 15, 2020 Leave a Comment
Rocketo #6 cover
From time to time, I come across a comic book that I really like -- sometimes they even seem to gain a measure of critical success -- and then the creator just seems to disappear. Maybe the book will get finished, maybe not, but their work is enjoyable enough that I miss not seeing more regardless. Sometimes, I'm able to track them down and at least find out what happened. More often than not, I can't find anything. Either their name is too common or the work was so disregarded as to be unknown or they have just shunned anything resembling attention.

Frank Espinosa is probably one of the more high profile creators in this vein. His Rocketo series was exceptionally well-received, receiving three Eisner nominations in 2006. After that series concluded, he did two backup stories for Marvel and two issues of a new series (Killing Girl) for Image before that was canceled. He had a brief stint as a lecturer at MIT and is currently teaching at Scuola Internazionale di Comics in New York.

Of the creators I have located after they left comics, that's actually not an uncommon theme. They still circle in/around comics, but no longer make them professionally because they're busy with a day job. Frequently, teaching. Sometimes illustration, sometimes graphic design, sometimes even comic production... almost always art in some capacity. What does that say to you?

I believe it says a few things, which unfortunately aren't very flattering for the comics industry or education.

First, it says that these people are not not making comics because they don't have talent. (Sorry, I couldn't figure out a good way to succinctly say that without a triple negative.) That is, they have clearly demonstrated that they have artistic ability enough to make comics, otherwise they wouldn't have been hired to teach. So the reason they aren't making comics has nothing to do with their abilities as creators.

Second, it says that their jobs as educators take WAY too much time. It's not uncommon, after all, to hear stories about webcartoonists working as baristas or stocking shelves in retail while working on their webcomic at night or on weekends until they're able to earn a living through their webcomic. That you often don't hear these types of stories from the cartoonists that have had their comics published and professionally recognized, but are now teaching suggests that they don't have enough free time from that particular job to also work on a comic of some sort. It's not impossible to teach and create at the same time (I even have Eisner-winning friends who do this!) but that it's relatively rare suggests there's little opportunity after you've finished working on lesson plans and grading essays and writing academic journal articles and such.

Third, it says comics don't pay well. That's not necessarily to say that you can't get some nice-sized checks from publishers for comics work (I'm sure Robert Kirkman is quite happy with his income) but that it's unsteady and fluctuates considerably month to month makes it difficult to handle finances. Teaching (or, frankly, most other day job situations) provide a steady income stream that isn't reliant on this next book doing well. Health care almost certainly factors into this as well, although that's a pitfall for anyone working in any sort of freelance capacity.

There are obviously other reasons a creator might choose to forgo comic making. I've personally spoken to a number of women (all of whom spoke to me on the condition of anonymity) who left comics because of the sexual harassment they've received. David Trampier famously dropped out entirely, apparently so disgusted with one publisher's practices that he avoided publishing entirely. (As an aside, I was wondering a bit about Trampier's disappearance here in 2012; in writing today's piece, I discovered he passed away in 2014.) And obviously, not all creators go into education -- I know a couple who have become successful as children's book illustrators, for example.

I'm sure many industries have instances of creative individuals leaving because they're better able to make a living in another field, despite whatever talents they might have. I just find it lamentable that highly talented creators feel the need to leave comics because they can't earn a living, thanks to the publishing paradigms. Imagine how many good comics we might be getting if the industry supported it? But I suppose that's just the plot of Hicksville, isn't it?

Newer Post Older Post Home