Comic careers are like any other career in entertainment: if you don't stay relevant and adapt to a trend, you'll eventually peak and then bottom out. But there are more things that can help end a career. Here's a list of 5 that I've been thinking about lately.
1. SOCIAL MEDIA TAKE-DOWN
The creator does something that somehow goes viral, turning his (or her) readers against him. Bad behavior at a convention, sexual harassment online, or a semi-racist Tweet made worse by bumbling attempts to correct it. Or maybe the creator gets blamed for something innocent: innocent comments taken out of context, or involvement in a controversial project that he had no say over. Whatever the case, “social media take-downs” can harm careers, leaving a permanent black mark on your career.
I imagine this one is the most common: no matter how hard you work—and no matter how much ass you kissed—you're never able to get wider recognition by the industry. And because of this, you never get the books you want, the fanfare you deserve, and the paycheck to help with those bills. I think creators are all prepared to pay their dues for a certain set of years, but eventually they expect to make it out and find a way to cut back on work and enjoy their success. But comics is a demanding industry, and a lot of us burn out.
3. RAPID SUCCESS
A few people hit the lottery very young—an amazing gig, an awesome rate, a killer writing/drawing partner, and high sales. And because they never paid their dues, they have a hard time later on when the industry throws them a curve ball. Most of us struggle—and that sucks. But that struggle also builds character, and those life lessons come in handy when you have a tough year: you're more likely to deal with the depression, find new ways to motivate yourself, and cut back on spending.
Rapid success hurting a career is unfortunate, because it's not usually the creator's fault that he (she) hit the lottery. But if he doesn't step back and re-access his understanding of the industry, he may never snap out of it.
Creators spend a ton of time alone in a room. We're all in danger of becoming an island, and when a brain is unsupervised, it might find it's way into a bottle. Other forms of addiction are drugs, sex, money, beating another creator out of a gig, and fame. I suppose something like “fame addiction” can lead to more success, but I'll bet it's better to find other ways to motivate yourself. Like trying to earn the respect of the artists you also admire.
5. GOD SYNDROME
A very small percentage of creators get so successful that they lose touch. They're surrounded by yes men, they're so wealthy that their monetary motivation for working is gone, or maybe their ego stops them from seeing the mistakes in their own work. Young and hungry artists—driven by insecurity and the need to pay their bills—generally make the best art (not all will agree). Old and satisfied artists need to find new ways to motivate the second act of their career, or risk being forgotten or dismissed.
6. CAREER ROT
(I know I said 5, but a friend pointed this one out to me yesterday)
((And yes, I ran this list by a lot of comic creators first, and generally they agreed these things are true))
A creator's negativity eventually burns too many bridges, rotting their career from the inside. Maybe it never actually ends their career, but it's a cycle that keeps feeding itself: creator is unhappy, creator lashes out (maybe without realizing it), creator's editor fires back, creator removed from book, totally reinforcing creator's initual negative opinion of the book. Word of mouth happens, so that the creator's next editor is pre-warned of creator's negativity. If the creator is talented enough, publishers might be willing to excuse that creator's negativity if the pages are awesome.
So if you're naturally negative, try to get that shit contained. Bitch to your friends and family, but keep it professional with your employers when you can. You get a few free “freak-outs” per decade—don't go using them all at once.
So be honest with yourself, and chat about this with your friends to get their opinion: what's most likely to take you out? It's an complex subject, and while negative (and over-simplistic) in its descriptions, I think this sort of thing can lead to positive changes if we keep an eye out for our shortcomings.
And if you think of another that I've missed, please respond!