Center For Cartoon Studies Gets Noticed, Including In Movie

08/06/12 7:50AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/Charlotte Albright
James Sturm is a founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies. He works in his studio in White River Junction.

The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction is growing, and word about it is spreading. The school is offering summer workshops in its newly acquired dig. Meanwhile, a new film about the Center is making the rounds of festivals. 

 Nationally known cartoonist James Sturm started the Center in White River Junction because the area was both affordable and appealing.

"I just liked this area so much and it seemed like it would be such an effort to have to convince higher education to get the resources I would need within that institution to fund comics and I thought if I was going to put in all that work I might as well just put the work into starting my own school" Sturm said.

Eight years later, over a hundred students have attended the Center, getting certificates or a Master of Fine Arts in Cartooning, and studying with some big names in the cartoon biz. Summer workshops are popular. On a sweltering morning, about twenty cartoonists take advantage of the school's "pro-doodling" policy as instructor Alec Longstreth got class underway in the Center's newest building, the former Post Office on Main Street.

"Give me your best elevator pitches," he told the cartoonists.

 Each student made what Longstreth called a thirty-second "elevator pitch," as if they had encountered someone in an elevator who could help launch their cartoon project.

Kyle Warren rattled off the cast list for "Troublesome Island"

"It's an exciting action adventure serial set in 1917," he told Longstreth. "William Haight Sawyer the fourth, failed psychotherapist, Marco Falcon, infamous criminal chimney sweep, and Kitty Whisperer, a feisty globe hopping super spy arrive by stolen steamboat to a mysterious and dangerous island in the south Pacific to steal back their confiscated gold."

After parachuting onto the island, the protagonists encounter robots and, unpredictably, William Howard Taft, President of the United States. Taking a break in the hallway, Warren, a high school teacher from New Jersey, hoped his 20-page graphic narrative will launch his cartooning career.

"I think everybody here, I think that's their main goal, is to go off and create comics and have a rabid fan base that are waiting for their next amazing piece of work to come out," Warren said with a smile.

Warren, however, is not the typical Center cartoonist because he prefers action adventure stories over autobiographical sketches. After lunch, instructor Robyn Chapman encouraged the students to experiment with what she calls "abstract" cartoons, more intimate personal memoirs.

"In the kind of cartooning we tend to do here at CCS it's really personal medium because you are the author and you are the artist and when it's also your personal story you can get really close to it in a way that might be harder in a collaborative medium like film, for example," Chapman said.

But there is a brand new film about the Center for Cartoon Studies. Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, a husband-and-wife team, heard about the Center while they were living in New York City.

"And so I started looking a little bit more into it and came up with this idea that I would try to apply and go to the school and make a movie about that."

She soon realized that she was not skilled enough to pass muster as a cartoonist, so she ditched pen and ink and used only her camera to track the successes and failures of the student cartoonists.  Making "Cartoon College" was daunting, she says, but now it's finding audiences at screenings around the country. None is yet planned for Vermont, but the duo is working on that, and they hope to make their home now-with their two-year-old twins -- in Barnard.


arts education
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