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James Kochalka First State Cartoonist Laureate



THIS JUST IN: The Center for Cartoon Studies just sent out a corrected press release saying Vermont is not the first state to have a cartoonist laureate, and therefore James Kochalka is not the first of same. He is still, however, the first cartoonist laureate of Vermont.

CCS included apologies to Alaska, the actual first state to name a cartoonist laureate, and to Chad Carpenter, so named at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer in 2008.  Carpenter is the creator of the aptly named Tundra Comics. Oops.


Chalk up another "first" for Vermont. The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction announced today that Burlington cartoonist James Kochalka (whose "American Elf" appears in Seven Days) will be appointed the first-ever state cartoonist laureate.

Newly elected Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin stands firmly behind it. "Cartooning promotes literacy and literature," he says for the press release — "two things we can't have enough of."

And what are the qualifications for being Vermont's cartoonist laureate? First, living in Vermont, duh. And he or she must be someone whose work "manifests a high degree of excellence, who has produces a critically acclaimed body of work, and who has a long association with Vermont."

Kochalka was born in 1967 in Springfield, Vt. (home, it must be noted, of the Simpsons), and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1989 During his college years, of course, James became a "superstar" — both a tongue-in-cheek one with his punky band, James Kochalka Superstar, and in the comics world. He lives in Burlington's Old North End with his wife, Amy, and two small sons.

Quoth CCS director and cartoonist James Sturm, "Whether they are funny, philosophical or naughty, James Kochalka brings a childlike intensity to all his work. with his diary comic, he has influenced countless cartoonists and has forever altered the landscape of cartooning." That daily diary cartoon began on October 26, 1998.

I've always thought of "American Elf" as "Family Circus" for the indie set. A little sweet, a little edgy. Early readers of Seven Days may remember James'  very naughty "Fancy Froglin." The, uh, protagonist was a frog with a permanent boner.

A daylong celebration on March 10 will honor Kochalka, with events in WRJ, Springfield, Montpelier and Burlington. More info to follow at cartoonstudies.org and in this newspaper.