Professor carries comic book interest into collegiate career

This lifelong comic book fan may be a real-life hero for many and not even know it.

Jack Karlis, 38, assistant communication professor, never took the SAT. He was told in high school that he wasn’t destined for college.

Ignoring the naysayers, Karlis took those comments as a motivating factor and knew that in addition to his love for sports, he was always very good at writing. So he applied to Buffalo State and majored in print journalism. During that time, he worked at the Buffalo News and the Niagara Gazette. After finishing undergrad, he went on to earn his Master in Arts in Mass Communication/New Media from the University of Florida, and worked at the Gainesville Sun.

Karlis kept moving trucks in business as he moved to Syracuse, then Atlanta, where he did media buying in the television business, and then to South Carolina to work as the editor and publisher of a local newspaper.

Though Karlis has lived in many other places, he came back to Buffalo last year because he was homesick.

“We always come back,” he said.

Back in the 716, Karlis worked for the West Seneca Bee and the Gazette. He also held a position in public relations at his alma mater, the West Seneca school district.

In addition to those positions, he knew he wanted to get back in the classroom. So he called Ron Smith, a professor in the communication department, and told him he wanted to teach. He started working part-time at Buffalo State, teaching night classes, in January 2004.

Karlis then wanted to become a full-time professor, and earned his Ph.D in mass communication from the University of South Carolina. Afterward, he flew around the country looking at colleges to find a job.

He turned down potential positions and waited for the right one, which he says was Buffalo State.

Karlis knew that he wanted to become a full-time professor here instead of all other schools because while other universities focus on research, which is something he loves to do, he said Buffalo State’s students are real – students work 23 hours a week, care about their grades and care about the person sitting next to them.

Karlis said the faculty is different here too.

“There’s something special at Buffalo State,” he said. “Faculty don’t look at students as numbers.”

Karlis started as a full time professor in Fall 2014 and says that teaching is refreshing for him. Now, he teaches and has changed his writing focus to strictly academic. Students leave his classroom knowing the rights and wrongs of social media and that media literacy is a big deal.

Karlis also tells his students that they need various experiences and he encourages them to take one or more internships.

He feels that people are too hesitant to go do things.

“If you think you’re going to map out life, it’s not going to happen, especially in communications.”

Passing along advice is only part of the reasons why Karlis enjoys his job.

“It’s so cool to be in the classroom,” he said. “It’s great to be encouraging to students.”

He said that school was always an escape for him when things weren’t going well.

“Those students depend on me,” Karlis said. “I want to give back to here.”

He cares about his students and said he tries to keep close relationships with them even after they graduate.

These movies aren’t just for comic book geeks. They’re for everyone. There’s now a new generation of fans because comics were brought to the big screen.”

— Jack Karlis, assistant communication professor

Karlis doesn’t have to check Rate My Professor to know students think he’s a tough grader. He feels he holds his students to high professional standards and wants his students to hold themselves accountable while also enjoying their time in college.

“No matter what, you’re a part of something special,” Karlis said. “The sense of community, the work ethic — you will miss it.”

Tying in his mutual love for both comic books and the classroom became a priority for Karlis.

Comics were a big part of his childhood, and he used to go to the Flea Market on Walden Avenue on weekends to get his comic books. He equated his interest in comics to being the fan of a sports team.

“X-Men,” which he says was about a group who knew it was OK to be different, taught him how to read and was his favorite comic growing up. “Justice League,” another favorite, was a lesson in group interaction, which he found fascinating with all the different personalities involved.

He said that Batman is also notable because even though he lost everything, he stuck to his vow that he’d never use guns.

Karlis now references these comics in his classes since they’re a part of pop culture and currently a big part of films.

He said people may not realize that the movies 300 and the Walking Dead are based off comics.

“These movies aren’t just for comic book geeks,” Karlis said. “They’re for everyone. There’s now a new generation of fans because comics were brought to the big screen.”

However, he explained that now some veteran comic fans are upset because they feel that comics used to belong to them, and now they’re becoming mainstream.

Another way that comics are changing is the way fans access them.

Karlis, who calls himself a tech nerd, reads comics on his phone, though he said there’s still something satisfying about sitting down with a cup of green tea, thumbing through books.

He also finds the comics to be inspirational.

“We live in a different time when we look at our heroes and see their mistakes,” Karlis said. “Comic heroes are legendary and they’re a way to see that there’s still hope for humanity.”

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Twitter: @LiveWithColly