The Center for Cartoon Studies

If you follow me on social media, you already know that I spent the past week at the Center for Cartoon Studies for the Graphic Novel Workshop. I shall record my experience here for, you know, posterity or something.

It all began Sunday evening. Coated in sand and salt from my aunt’s beach wedding that afternoon, I set out for the mythical land of White River Junction, Vermont. Two hours later I pulled into a spot in front of the Hotel Coolidge, across the street from CCS and my home for the next five nights. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who was nervous:


I have to admit, after my first night at the Coolidge, I already felt a bit homesick. There’s something about having to share a bathroom with a dozen other people (and mysterious, alleged arrests) that put a damper on things. But as soon as I got to class and Judith sat down next to me, I knew it was all going to be worth it. The instructor, Paul Karasik, quickly set us to work, and there was no turning back. We did some exercises to break the ice:


The days consisted largely of intensive studio time when everyone focused on their projects. These long hours were interspersed by lectures, as well as group discussions and mini field trips. I’m probably biased, but I’m convinced I had the best cohort. It consisted of: Judith (who’s working on an incredibly meaningful memoir about “being a mother and not being a mother”); Steve Bissette (of Swamp Thing and badass dinosaur comic fame); Cara (a lovely young lady who took the workshop with her father, both with independent projects); and myself (the awkward one).

On Tuesday, we visited James Sturm‘s studio and heard about his process. He shared a handful of sketchbooks with us, and seeing the sheer volume of extraneous work he’s produced outside his main projects over the years was incredibly motivating. It reinforced something I’ve heard several times over in quotes from many authors/creators I admire: if you want to be a creator, then create. That goes for writing, drawing, unicycling, and yes, cartooning. You’re only a cartoonist if you actually produce comics, so stop thinking about it and just do it. Don’t stop.

Wednesday and Thursday nights featured film nights hosted by Paul and Steve. We watched He Walked By Night, which was quite good, but the second, Rashomon, really made an impression on me. As you’ll see when I start sharing my current project, I’m a huge fan of exploring the ambiguity of the subjective, and it explores that in a really fascinating way.

Jon Chad stopped by, just in the nick of time, to do a guest lecture on thumbnailing. That’s where I was at in my own process, admittedly a little stuck. He shared the dummies he made of his past projects and it was interesting to look through them, since it’s such a different method than I’ve used. I ended up switching things up in the end, departing from my usual all digital workflow, and made physical books for my thumbnails as well. I’ll end up redrawing them when I rough the pages on the computer, but it was a good exercise and they feel like souvenirs:


I loved seeing how much progress everyone made over the week, the energy always supportive without being competitive. Friday saw goals met and preparations complete as we readied ourselves to push forward with our work independently, outside the hive. Saying good bye was a bit emotional, at least for me. As someone who made the journey because I don’t have access to that kind of environment at home, I’ll miss it sorely. But I have a bunch of new tricks stashed away in my tool box, plus an envelope filled with moral support from classmates propped on my desk in case of emergency. I’m not one to covet, but this might very well become my precious as I push through production:


On the way home, as I drove toward a strange, golden moon, I had a sort of out of body experience. I saw myself, and I saw my life right now for what it really is: freaking awesome. Comics are my life, and I consider myself amongst the luckiest of humans to have realized my passion.

And thanks to this past week, I’m finally ready to make this ambitious little project happen.

To see some of the other participants’ work, check out these links:

Instructor, Paul Karasik

TA, Joyana McDiarmid

Ashley Wolff

Becca Case

Cara Miller

Jackie Rent

Juliette Borda

Luke Healy

Maggie Vicknair

Mohammed Al-Mahdi

Rachel Lindsay

Romey Bensen

Stephen Bissette

Tyson Pease

Vincenzo Bizzarri

Here are a couple more sketches to tease my project (coming soon to a browser near you):

Desk Landlady

Edit: Check out the workshop’s coverage on the Schulz Library blog!