What is it about Vermont that has made it one of the most creative centers for the cartoon arts in the United States?
We're the only state with a cartoonist laureate, a position created in 2011 by the state Legislature and granted every three years in a ceremony at the Vermont State House. Two of our leading art museums, The Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont and the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, have had major exhibitions of cartoonists' work in the last year. The Center for Cartoon Studies founded in 2004 has brought new life to formerly abandoned buildings in downtown White River Junction and is accredited by the state to offer master's degrees in fine arts in cartoon studies. More than 100 students are enrolled in its MFA and certificate programs.
And, we have at least three of America's finest cartoonists living and working in our state!
Finally, in a rather dramatic turn from Bechtel's exploration of her family and Koren's humor, there is Jason Lutes' recently released "Berlin" (Drawn and Quarterly, 2018). Twenty years in the making, this graphic book is a powerful exploration of how the Weimar Republic and the democratic hopes for Germany after the disaster of WWI and the end of the Kaiser's rule deteriorated into the Third Reich. Lutes, a member of the faculty at the Cartoon Study Center, takes the reader through 500 pages of fine drawings and gripping dialogue, blending real life individuals with fictional characters to show how the National Social Democrats gradually took power through violence and mayhem and how ordinary citizens of Berlin reacted.
Some like Carl von Ossietzky, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 while in a Nazi prison, resisted with newspaper articles and political organization while others like the unemployed and brutal Otto Braun were drawn to the brown shirts and street violence. The conflict between the Communists and National Socialists spills into the lives of ordinary citizens like the Schwartzes, a Jewish family who leave for America after their antique store and home are vandalized, homosexual couples like Anne and Marthe who are beaten and humiliated in a police raid, and others as Germany lurches towards Fascism in the early 1930's. Hitler is not mentioned until nearly halfway through the book and doesn't actually appear until the final pages, but his shadow darkens that world from the beginning. Lutes has created a powerful and moving work that holds important lessons for our time.
Bechdel's "Fun Home" and "Are you My Mother," Koren's "Koren in the Wild," and Lutes' "Berlin" could not be more different from each other, but each is an outstanding example of the blend of art and words that is the unique gift of the cartoon. Vermont is fortunate to be the home to these fine artists/authors/cartoonists.