It’s CCS awareness week here in Vermont, and around the world I suppose.  I’m going to write a little bit about my experience at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

I first heard about the Center for Cartoon Studies as I was closing out an art degree at the University of Oregon.  An excellent library system, my voracious appetite for comics, and the explosion of DIY and “Alternative” comics fueled my obsession.  I found myself sitting across a studio desk from the head of the Sculpture department (where I briefly was a half-hearted BFA candidate) being asked what was more important to me: sculpture or comics.  I instantly said comics, and was politely asked to get the hell out of the sculpture department.  Alas, I was no longer welcome to spend my time extrapolating narratives and grand insights from abstract lumps of foam and felt.  My days of pretending I knew how a given pile of colored buttons ‘activated the space’ were past.

So I found myself back in my hometown of Portland, Oregon (another city boasting a great public library for the comics connoisseur).  Inspired by some friends’ attempts at minicomics, I began writing and drawing my very own comics, all the while enjoying great stacks from the bounty of libraries and comics shops in Portland.  I would work out the plot to a story as I trudged through various low-status jobs, and spend my free time scribbling out crude pages in sketchbooks.  When I worked in an office that allowed headphones, I listened to Inkstuds interviews of my favorite cartoonists for hours on end.  I drove straight to Vancouver, BC and back in a night to see Kim Deitch present a festival of rare early animation.

And CCS kept on being a school.  And I would see the website, and meet representatives at conventions, and dream a little dream.  The transition from college to working had instilled a core belief in me: school is better than most jobs.  And there was a school that seemed to be catering right to me, and all the comics and cartoonists that had me so wound up.

And then, with a couple minicomics under my belt, and a job that made me feel powerless, I decided to apply.  It took me a horribly long time to get my shit together, and it was almost August by the time I got the materials to the school.  After being placed on the waitlist for the next year, I disappointedly sat and started waiting.  But then I got a call, and before I knew it, I was quitting my job, emptying my apartment, and on a flight to the opposite side of the country.

Man, I’ve written a lot for not getting to the CCS part yet.  Long story short, I’ve been plunged into a community that cares about comics like I do.  I’ve found myself in joyous collaboration, friendly competition, and fierce argument, exploring the depths of this medium even more obsessively than when I was left to my own devices.  I’ve met some of my biggest heroes in the field, who are (almost without exception) generous and supportive of goofy young cartoonists like myself.  I’ve felt the power of making a whole room laugh at a three-or-four panel strip, and the equally great but opposite power of making nobody laugh with a joke I thought was the most hilarious thing in the world.

And, most importantly, I have been continuously forcing myself to get better.  It’s a game of hours and days, planning and spontaneity, heartbreak and joy.  The value in seeing a wide variety of writers and artists at all levels using their skill sets to solve the problems of storytelling has given me years worth of creative progress in hyper-condensed form.

I routinely find myself completely amazed at the situation I’m in.  Just yesterday, I sat in the Capitol Building in Montpelier, as they announced James Kochalka’s inaugaration as the first ever Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont.  This is a very exciting time for comics, and CCS is a buzzing hive, a unique and wonderful school.

Can you make comics without this education?  Of course!  Many of the best cartoonists have received no formal training, and even decry this sort of program.  Will I ever be able to make a living off comics?  Probably not!  I will probably have to keep vacuuming floors, transcribing audio, washing dishes, or whatever menial labor I find to support myself and pay back my debt.  CCS ain’t cheap (though in relation to a lot of MFA programs, it really is), and it’s not for everybody, but damn if this isn’t just what I wanted.  I’m very lucky and thankful to be here, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Here’s some photos:

Here I am enjoying the cover to the classic children’s book, ‘The Runaway Bunny’ with Lawrence.

Here’s Josh Kramer and I at the Main Street Museum, there’s a little Ed Koren cartoon on the wall behind us.

Jacob Montgomery, Betsey Swardlick and I are visiting an Elementary school with James Kochalka.

Here’s the school visit crew.

Andy Christensen and I folding and assembling our respective anthology projects.  

James Kochalka, the first Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont, at the school’s exhibition/coronation.

My studio desk, where the magic happens.

So yeah, if that made some sense to you and/or you’re thinking about applying to CCS, contact the school and arrange a visit.  Or just start browsing student sites and see what you think.  To me, this is the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, and I’m just starting to hone my powers to someday emerge an X-Man.  Luckily, since this is CCS, nobody’s beating me up for saying that.