Cartooning school opens doors in White River Jct.

by John Mitchell | 11/19/04 6:00am

Looking to become a part of the only two-year cartooning program in America? You're going to need rent money for "dorm-like apartments" in White River Junction, Vt., a two-page comic about yourself, a snowman, a piece of fruit and a check for $28,000 made out to the Center for Cartoon Studies for tuition.

The Center for Cartoon Studies held a major fundraising event at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction Thursday night. The $100-per-head formal affair packed the lobby with Upper Valley residents eager to see the dream of a two-year, graphic novel-focused institution come to fruition.

Donors are "just kind of coming out of the woodwork ... cartoonists from all over the country are helping out," said Michelle Ollie, the managing director and chief operating officer of the fledgling center. Some of the most noteworthy and generous contributors have been late Peanuts creator Charles Schultz's wife Jean and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-founder Peter Laird.

CCS plans to begin classes in White River Junction next fall, with the help of a $30,000 grant from the state of Vermont. Various arts organizations have also made significant contributions that have helped the Center for Cartoon Studies remodel the Colodny building in White River Junction into a facility suitable for a school, and acquire a graphic-novel library.

The Center for Cartoon Studies hopes to prepare its students for careers as producers, writers and illustrators of graphic novels.

"Knowing the market is critical," said Ollie, and she expressed her hope that the CCS's close association with the graphic-novel industry will help the schools' students to success.

The Center has already hired its core faculty members, too. Although the teaching ability of applicants played an important factor in their hiring, Ollie made the point that the CCS was "not looking for degrees but for success" in the graphic-novel industry.

The school has been actively recruiting students since the summer. Immensely talented artists are pursued less than students who are gifted storytellers. In fact, less-than-superb artistic ability is not a problem in the admissions process. Ollie said the school hoped for a class of about 20 students, but refused to disclose the number of applicants up to the present.

The curriculum will not force students to take classes on any subjects other than comic books.

"The focused two-year track and program seemed to be appropriate," said Ollie. Various guest lecturers from the graphic novel industry, including publishers, writers and illustrators, will be brought in as guest speakers to help familiarize the students with the field.

At Thursday night's event, Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Maus: A Survivor's Tale," regarded as the finest graphic novel ever written, spoke and signed copies of his newest book, "In the Shadow of No Towers," while an adoring crowd looked on.

Although the school has a clearly focused curriculum laid out and faculty hired, Vermont has not in any way accredited the Center for Cartoon Studies, nor can the Center offer a degree to its incoming students.

The Center for Cartoon Studies does, however, have some semblance of legitimacy. The School of Visual Arts in New York City, an accredited institution offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees, has agreed to partner with CCS, with SVA planning to accept CCS credits should students wish to continue their education after completing the Center for Cartoon Studies' intensive comic book program.