Further complicating matters from the other direction are professionals who then pursue fan-like activities. Wally Wood famously started his own ‘zine called witzend which bore many similarities to comic fanzines, but contained the work of professional creators who worked for major comic publishers. Creators were credited but not compensated, instead simply being given the freedom to express themselves. Steve Ditko contributed several original “Mr. A” stories and art to not only witzend but a number of decidedly amateur fanzines as well, again going without compensation. Their work for fanzines was decidedly much more akin to that of other fans with regard to their mind-set rather than professionals earning a living through their craft.
Do I self-identify as an enthusiast? Yeah!
—Jerry Holkins, Participate
Yes, I am still a comic book fan. I am absolutely a comic book fan.
—Jim Lee, Comic Creators on Fantastic Four
Hey, I’m still a fanboy!
—Carlos Pacheco, Comicology #3
What is interesting about these examples and the hundreds, if not thousands, of others like them is that they highlight that comic book professionals are often a subset of comic fandom on the whole. Many who work in the industry began by engaging with their favorite comics beyond the basic reading. Indeed, comics like Penny Arcade, PvP and Least I Could Do became successful, in part, by their respective creators being very open with their interest in the medium. These comics, and many others like them, are not only the results of creating fan works in the creators’ spare time, but frequently also use comics and fandom as subjects and themes. The creators use comics to express their ideas about comics. They engaged (and continue to engage) the medium of comics on the whole and do not limit themselves to a single character or even publisher.
With the improvements in technology, these very fans indeed can become publishers in their own right. The start-up capital required is minimal compared to a generation ago, and many creators today can go out on their own to produce, market and sell their creations. Breeden did precisely that with The Devil’s Panties. Comic fans have the opportunity to effectively step into the comic creation process at any level their skills and desire allow.
What this means is that comic fandom can engage the medium at any level of participation they choose. In 1950, fans were largely limited to letter-writing and producing their own sketches. In the 21st century, fans can certainly still do that, of course, but they also have a greater ability to make costumes and sculptures and magazines and books and movies and almost anything else they can think of. Furthermore, if they’re good at it, they can have other fans pay them to continue doing that and, if they’re really great at it, they can get paid enough to support themselves engaging in something they love.