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Vermont's Comics School Makes Serious Progress

State of the Arts

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Prospective students at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction may get teased by friends who say they're going to "clown school." But as the two-year, full-time program prepares to hold its first graduation in May, no one's laughing - except in the way you do at a wacky single-panel.

The "clown school" anecdote comes from Jaci June, a student quoted in a lengthy profile of the CCS that appeared last January in The Los Angeles Times. The article also quotes Judy Hansen, a New York literary agent who claims that a cultural "movement toward visual literacy" is fueling the demand for works in "comic-book format."

That can mean a lot - from funnies and superhero comics, the graphic-enhanced genre has expanded to conquer some of the territory of the traditional novel and memoir. Next up: comic book biographies? CCS has partnered with Disney/Hyperion to produce a series of graphic bios aimed at young adults, featuring the art of its faculty and visiting artists. The first book in the series, Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi, is due on April 1 and has already received a starred review in Booklist, which calls it "a remarkably complete picture of [Houdini's] entire world."

Another sign that CCS is being taken seriously is its recently announced partnership with Sunrise Greetings, a subsidiary of Hallmark. CCS Managing Director Michelle Ollie says Sunrise asked the school to create a new line of cartoon cards. Students have the option to work on the cards - which will start appearing in 2008 - in return for a stipend. "It's a small source of income for the school, but wonderful branding: Our name will be on the back of the cards," says Ollie, who co-founded CCS with James Sturm.

CCS is still working with the Vermont Higher Education Council to determine what sort of degrees the new institution will grant, according to Ollie. Meanwhile, Patrick McDonnell, whose comic strip Mutts appears in 700 papers around the country, has been lined up as the first commencement speaker. "We'll have a beautifully designed certificate by a famous cartoonist," Ollie promises. "[Graduates] will want to hang it on the wall."

Visit http://cartoonstudies.org for more info.

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