“I have one of those classic stories in that I was interested in making comics at a young age. I knew I wanted to make comics at 11 years old.”
The fascination started early for Jerzy Drozd, now a cartoonist, teacher and co-organizer at Kids Read Comics and its Ann Arbor event, the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival. Having grown up in a small town with no comic store, Drozd became hooked on sharing his knowledge of creating comics once he started teaching over 10 years ago.
“Opening up the process of comics and inviting cartoonists to come out of their studios reveals to the public the narrative and writing skills needed for comic writing,” Drozd said. “Making comics accessible to people has been very beneficial to inviting more people into the medium.”
Over the years that Drozd has been teaching, he has seen an increase in Ann Arbor’s engagement with comics.
“When I started teaching classes at the Ann Arbor Art Center about eight years ago, it was difficult to get the critical signup numbers for a class to run, and it would be very hit or miss,” Drozd said. “Now, I have a waiting list for every class I teach there, and I’m teaching more classes than ever before.”
Not only have more people been interested in comics, but the culture of comics itself is shifting in Ann Arbor, becoming more friendly and accessible. Drozd has noticed the downfall of the stereotype that comic stores and the comic community are unwelcoming to newcomers, finding that stores like Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor are encouraging and capable of finding comics for everyone.
“They don’t give you a ‘nerd test’ which the comic culture is guilty of in the past,” Drozd said.
Another huge factor in the openness of the culture has been the surge of comic-related community events, as they offer the chance to dispel people’s misconceptions about comics.
“I think events held by places like the Ann Arbor District Library, the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Art Center and 826 Michigan reveal to the public that you don’t have to draw to make comics,” Drozd said. “That’s another misconception the general public has. But if you look at comics like “Sarah’s Scribbles,” “xkcd” or “The Amazing Cynicalman,”you see that they aren’t necessarily immaculate pieces of illustration that are beautiful, but they’re narratively beautiful, and that’s something everyone benefits from when we invite people to interact with the medium.”
Drozd can also see how the resurgence of superhero movies has impacted the comic culture in Ann Arbor.
“The movies have created a sense that these characters are culturally significant,” Drozd said. “Even if they haven’t improved comic sales, they have improved comic reputations.”
Though Ann Arbor’s comic culture has made great strides, Drozd feels there is still more space for not just inclusivity, but explicit inclusivity, as well as the celebration of authors of color or authors from marginalized communities. Drozd also finds it difficult to get cartoonists out of their studios to interact with one another and the public, making it problematic to organize conventions or community outreach events.
Drozd made the move to step out of his studio a long time ago, and he hasn’t looked back since.