In point of fact, many comic professionals were themselves fans before earning a living as comic professionals and they often remain comic fans as they break into the industry. Letter pages and fanzine credits are rife with the names of people who would go on to become well-known comic book professionals. Names like Wendy Pini, Ralph Macchio, Diana Schutz, Cat Yronwoode, Steve Gerber and Mark Gruenwald can easily be found in letter columns from their days before becoming comic professionals. Likewise, comic book fanzine contributors include the likes of Paul Levitz, Gary Groth, Tony Isabella, Mark Evanier, Dave Cockrum and Robert Crumb, all of whom went on to work in the industry.
However, there is no straight path from being just a fan to being a comic professional. Nor are there ample clear markers noting when such a transition might occur. While it would be easy to note when someone might be hired by a comic publisher as a full-time employee, many comic professionals work as freelancers and take other jobs while trying to make a name for themselves in the industry.
Jennie Breeden, creator of The Devil’s Panties, was able to document, to some extent, her progress attempting become a self-sufficient artist. She spent more than a few years trying to squeak out a living from her comic. In 2006, she noted on LiveJournal when she finally felt she’d begun making enough money to live from the earnings she received from her comic...
So I quit my job.
About a month or two ago...
Holycrap holycrap holycrap
I am now, officialy, [sic] an artist.
I’ve been doing a ton of conventions, not going to work... and my bank acount [sic] has been increasing so I guess I’m doing well. Still eating Ramen mind you, but I can pay rent and fill up my tank.
She elaborated on her then-current situation in her Frequently Asked Questions page in response to a query on advice for new comic creators...
My flyers are still printed off the computer on hot pink paper and thrown at people. I pack my lunch at conventions and share a bed in whatever hotel. I’ve slept in a van in the parking lot and carpooled 14 hours with people I never met before. I’m still steeling [sic] muffins from the complementary breakfast. But I’m printing up more books and spending less time pitching my comic and more time selling it to people who have come to hunt me down at the conventions that I do every year.
Although, she clearly wasn’t making a fortune from her comics at that time, she was able to keep up with her expenses. In Breeden’s story, she first identified herself as an artist when she tried making a go at drawing comics for a living. This would reinforce the notion that “earning a living” from working in the industry qualifies one as a professional. Interestingly, though, the job that she noted quitting to become a full-time comic creator was that of a clerk at a nearby comic shop. Technically, she had already been employed in the comic book industry, thus making her a comic professional years before The Devil’s Panties became a financial success.