Cartoon Center develops local talent

by Sarah Badami | 11/17/06 6:00am

Though comic greats Jack Kirby and Stan Lee received no formal education in the art of comics, the medium has greatly evolved since its golden age and the breaking into the industry may be daunting to some. But fear not, true believers, the Center for Cartoon Studies, located in White River Junction, Vt., offers courses in comics-related art, graphic design and literature. The Center prepares students for careers in creating comics and graphic novels with an emphasis in self-publishing.

"Our mission is to help aspiring young artists become professional cartoonists," said James Sturm, the founder and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies. A notable cartoonist, Sturm's "The Golem's Mighty Swing" won "Best Graphic Novel of 2001" from Time Magazine. Sturm has also contributed to The New York Times, the cover of The New Yorker and founded The National Association of Comics Art Educators.

The Center offers a two-year course of study focused solely on the art of producing comics and graphic novels. The program requires students to explore a wide range of approaches and techniques in the field of comics. Courses include Cartooning, Reading and Writing, Survey of the Drawn Story, Publication Workshops and Drawing Workshops.

"Cartooning brings together a lot of disciplines. Our courses are designed to incorporate all of these subjects," Sturm said.

Additionally, the Center requires that students complete a thesis each year.

"The thesis gives students momentum after they leave the school," Sturm said. "Their body of work allows them to find their own voices as cartoonists and they generally have enough material to get publishing deals."

While the one year-old institution has yet to graduate any students, Sturm said he believes that students are already on their way to success. Several students are pursuing book deals with Hyperion Books, and student Alexis Frederick-Frost received the 2006 Xeric Grant for her cartoon La Primavera.

The school's impressive faculty contributes greatly to the educational quality of the Center, Sturm said. Staff members include Jenny Hansen, who has worked for Disney, Warner Bros. and MTV; James Kochalka, a former animator for Nickelodeon and popular web cartoonist; and Sammy Harham, whose comics have received top rankings in various publications such as the LA Weekly, The Comics Journal and Publisher's Weekly.

According to graphic novel specialist and English professor Michael Chaney, Sturm's vision to develop a curriculum devoted entirely to cartooning is radical and revolutionary in the art world.

"His school is a practical response to a growing cultural demand for cartoons," Chaney said.

Sturm said he hopes the school will remain a small, dedicated group of young cartoonists in the future, and looks forward to increasing opportunities for the school, including a potential deal with Hallmark.

"I'd like this school to be the Ivy League of cartooning programs," Sturm said. "I hope people look to the Center for Cartoon Studies to find the next generation of real talent."

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