Publisher's Weekly Comics Week - CCS feature

“The Center for Cartoon Studies—More Than Just a School” / Publishers Weekly / Douglas Wolk / November 22, 2005

Cartoonist Ed Koren Speaks; James Sturm Looks on
"You know what I got in the mail today?" James Sturm says excitedly. "All the preliminary sketches that Al Jaffee does when he does a Mad fold-in," he says referring to long-time Mad magazine cartoonist. Sturm, a cartoonist whose books include the critically acclaimed graphic novels The Golem's Mighty Swing and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, is the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a new institution that's rapidly turning White River Junction, Vt., into a comics nexus.

The CCS features a cartooning school (which admitted its first students this fall), rotating exhibitions (most recently New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren) and, now, in an old firehouse that's a short walk from its main building, the Schulz Library—a collection of thousands of comics-related books, pamphlets and ephemera, funded by Charles Schulz's widow, Jean Schulz, to which Jaffee and many other cartoonists have contributed original work. This summer, the school will offer a series of one-week workshops.

In addition, the Center has a deal with Hyperion Books for Children to produce a series of comics biographies; as Sturm points out, "We're called the Center for Cartoon Studies—we're not just a school." The first two titles under the Hyperion deal will appear next fall. The first book will be about Harry Houdini, written by Sturm and Jason Lutes and drawn by Nick Bertozzi, with an introduction by Glen David Gold. The other book will be on Satchel Paige and will be written by Sturm and drawn by Rich Tommaso, who just moved to White River Junction himself, and will include an introduction by African-American studies professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Next in line is Henry David Thoreau, by minimalist cartoonist John Porcellino (Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man).

On Mondays, the Center's 20 students have drawing classes (taught by cartoonists James Kochalka and Steve Bissette, among others); on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have classes on writing (taught by Peter Money and Sarah Stewart Taylor) and the history of comics. On Wednesdays, former Highwater Books publisher Tom Devlin teaches a production and design class. All of their assignments are designed to allow students to work toward publication in some form. "Right now it's our first semester ever—we're just kind of feeling out the whole process and how the school's going to function," Sturm says. "We're going to offer a one-year certificate and a two-year MFA once we gain our degree-granting authority, which we do not have yet." Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For), Barron Storey and Alec Longstreth have already been visiting artists at the school, and Chris Ware, Kevin Huizenga and Bill Griffith are scheduled to visit soon.

The Schulz Library (whose core is Sturm's personal collection from the past 30 years) is rapidly expanding; a few comics publishers, like Drawn & Quarterly, have sent their entire catalogues. And the students (who range in age from 19 to 32) are a close-knit group, Sturm reports; many of them live in the Hotel Coolidge, across the street from the school.

Any big surprises that have come out of the program so far? "In the back alley behind the school, we've put up a basketball net," he says. "It turns out that these geeky cartoonists are pretty good basketball players."

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