What do you get out of reading a comic book? It’s an interesting question and one that most of us could answer any number of ways. I read them because they’re entertaining. I read them because I want a good story. I read them because I like to study the art styles. With so many other mediums and stories clamoring for our attention, is that all? This week, guest writer and comic book creator, Bob Ulrich, shares what makes him a fan of comic books and why comics are his medium of choice.
Until next time,
Sometimes I wonder why comic fans become comic fans. What bonds us to the form? Having worked in a comic shop for almost 10 years, I’ve had more time than most to discuss the subject at length with numerous fanatics. When we became fans seems to matter far less than what initially drew us into the world of comic books. I have talked to folks who didn’t start reading comics until they were teenagers, while others — like myself — have been reading for as long as they can remember. Literally, one of my earliest memories is of eyeballing a Batman comic at a friend’s house; I remember more about that book than I do about my friend. But, some readers are more interested in story than art, while others seem so exclusively focused on visuals that narrative becomes almost (or entirely) inconsequential. So, if there are no easy answers as to “why,” why ask in the first place?
The reason I ask is because, as a creator of an all-ages comic series, I am interested in appealing to as wide an audience as I can. As an adult comics fan, about 10 years back, I decided that it was time to start making comics myself. Most creators begin much earlier, but I had spent most of my artistic youth focused on photography. At that point, print photography was beginning its steady decline, and digital technology was becoming more and more prevalent. Instead of focusing on and embracing the changing technology (which probably would have been a smart move), what made sense to me was to focus on an entirely new medium instead. And I could draw comics for no cost; it’s really an everyman’s pursuit. Not so with photography. All I needed to make a comic was a pencil and paper.
Now, I understand that most comic fans are not like me, and don’t love the medium with such intensity that they are willing to drop everything and spend a decade of their lives pursuing a silly goal with zero financial gain as a likely reward. But, I’d be willing to bet there are more than a few out there who are like me. I’ve discovered that the design of comics is where my greatest interest lies — designing layouts, designing costumes, designing characters. I love building an effective visual and verbal flow so that those moments between the panels are just as interesting as the panels themselves; something akin to Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory”, but — you know — for comics.
Which brings me to my ultimate conclusion about what actually unites all comics fans and why we become fans in the first place: I believe it’s the interactivity of the medium that appeals to us. Anyone with an internet connection can see evidence of how invested in these worlds the fans become (either to the benefit or annoyance of creators). When we read a comic story, we become an integral part of it, because we have to use our brain to fill in the gaps; it’s a unique and unspoken contract between creator and audience. The casual reader can still passively enjoy a comic book. But, the comic book fan demands to be an active participant in the experience.
About the Author
Bob Ulrich is a lifelong comic book fan who makes a living selling books and graphic novels in Portland, ME. He earned his Masters Degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment at Full Sail University in 2014, and holds undergraduate degrees in both Studio Art and Photography. He creates comic books and strips on his own and in collaboration with other artists, and plays bass in a rock band.