Top 5 Comics Creators with Crazy Former Jobs

Comic book creators are often comic book people their entire lives, picking up a pencil at an early age, going to some fancy art school and landing that golden comic book gig as a happy ending. But there are others who didn't get the 'Go straight to comic books' card, often working in other professions before breaking into comics.

This week, we look at five comics creators who, before getting into comics, were making a living in lines of work so crazy, you'd wonder why they landed in comics in the first place! We're counting them down so you won't have to!

5. Khoi Pham

Current occupation: Comic book artist for Marvel
Former occupation: Attorney

Khoi Pham made waves when he became one of Marvel's Young Guns of 2009, the next generation of talented Marvel artists. He was the artist for the critically acclaimed Incredible Hercules, took over Frank Cho's art duties in Mighty Avengers, and was trusted enough by Marvel to draw one of their big event comics, Chaos War. A lot of pressure for a dude like Khoi Pham, but compared to his former job, the pressure to meet deadlines in comics is small fry.

You see, before entering the world of comics, Pham was a full-time trial lawyer with a degree in law from the University of Pennsylvania!

"[I] was working full time as an attorney—trying homicide cases and all sorts of crazy things," Pham says during an interview for Marvel. No one knows what he means by 'crazy things', but I bet it involved drunken vagrants and women of easy virtue.

4. Mark Bagley

Current occupation: The definitive Spider-Man artist
Former occupation: Spy

During interviews and appearances, Mark Bagley looks like a pretty mellow guy, always smiling. The sort of cool uncle you wish you had. But what few know is that under that smile lies a dangerous secret...

Well, okay, maybe not that dangerous. In May 1994, during one of Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins (I kinda miss those), Bagley admits, "From '75 to '78 I was a Cryptographic Traffic Analyst for the army. I spent a year in Korea. I had top secret security clearance. If I told you any more, I'd have to kill you!"

Judging from his last comment, we're inclined to believe him. Good thing he's on the right side of good, churning out page after page of art as one of the most reliable comic book artists around and holding the record for the longest continuous run of any art team in mainstream comics today, with the sort of discipline you can only get from deciphering complex coded missives for the army.

3. Larry Hama

Current occupation: Comic book writer
Former occupation: Military Engineer

Larry Hama is well known as having fleshed out the technology and backstory of this little phenomenon in the 80's called G.I. Joe. He wrote most of the 155 issues of G.I. Joe's tie-in comic, and even wrote most of the file cards the 1:18th scale figures came with. G.I. Joe featured some of the most realistic portrayals of military tactics and procedure in comics, which Hama didn't just pull out of thin air.

Because before getting involved with G.I. Joe, Hama was up to his knees in the rice paddies of Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers!

That's right, 80's G.I. Joe owe their realistic military know-how to Larry Hama's experience as a real-life military man. And while the fact in and of itself is awesome, what's completely mind-blowing is that his expertise in the military was in firearms and explosive ordinance, which makes him one of the very, very, very few people in comics who know a thing or two about the many uses of C4.

2. Jim Balent

Current occupation: Comic book artist/writer for Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose
Former occupation: Gravedigger

Jim Balent caught people's attention when he was tapped to draw Catwoman in 1993, turning the slinky feline-themed criminal into this bouncy bombshell of a cat burglar. But before dipping into the comic book biz, he was dipping shovels into the dead soil as a gravedigger!

If anecdotes are to be believed, Jim Balent, he of the Tarot series from Broadsword Comics, was a former gravedigger before breaking into the comic book business. Wizard mentioned this little tidbit in their Wizard #2000 issue, and no less than Chris Sims himself mentioned Balent's gravedigging days in one of his blog posts. One wonders what made Jim decide to get into comics after such gruesome work, but I guess...*puts on sunglasses*...he just didn't dig it.

1. Jim Steranko

Current occupation: comic book artist/writer, graphic designer
Former occupation: Escape artist

And now we come to Jim Steranko, whose psychedelic art in Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. made it one of the most popular runs of the era. Steranko ranks number one on our list, and for good reason. Because while some guys were working 9-5 desk jobs while waiting for their big break in comics, Jim was busy getting out of straight jackets and heavy metal an escape artist!

Escapology (the art of escaping from restraints and traps) ranks right up there with razor-wire tightrope walking and sticking your head in a hungry lion's maw as dangerously awesome jobs...and Steranko was right in the thick of it, working in circuses and carnivals as the resident fire eater and escape artist. He was so good at it, he even wrote a thesis in Genii magazine on escape artistry, which up to now is still considered the best thesis on escapology ever.

And the best part? He was sent to prison several times while barely in his teens...and he  used his escape artistry to break out almost every time. Like a boss.

And those are the top comic creators with crazy former jobs, giving us hope that no matter what we do in life, we still have a shot getting into comics! Agree? Disagree? Know of any other comic book creators with weird and wild former jobs? Leave me a comment below and let's talk about it! Thanks for reading!

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  1. Awesome article, George!

    Not to do some hard selling, but here's what I know of our fellow Pinoys who are in the comics industry:

    Jay Anacleto = Dentist
    Gerry Alanguilan = Architect
    Carlo Pagulayan = Engineer

    and I was a Guidance Counselor. :)

  2. Welcome to the blog, Heubert! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    Don't think you're hard selling those big names...most info about our fellow Pinoy comic book stars don't mention all-important stuff like what they did for a living before living the life of comics. If I knew half of what you just told me, this would have been a very different list! :)

    Now that you mention it, you're the perfect candidate to be in this list! :D