Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Visit To The Center For Cartoon Studies

This past week I attended Industry Day at the Center for Cartoon Studies, which occurs late in the spring semester and brings editors, publishers, critics and agents together to do a two-hour panel on the state of the comics industry as well as several hours worth of one-on-one portfolio reviews. Here are some scattered thoughts regarding the experience.

** I actually went up a day early because there was a vicious Nor'easter coming across New York that cancelled my flight. I flew south to Atlanta and then all the way up to Manchester, New Hampshire. Thanks to Jarad Greene and Dave Lloyd for putting that bit of magic together. Students Pat Leonhard and Kori Michele Handwerker picked me up and drove me the 1.5 hours to get to White River Junction.

** The Hotel Coolidge is a very old (1849 originally) place that CCS puts its guests up in, since it's right across the street from the school. A number of students live in the hostel section of the hotel, reputed to be haunted. It was old and creaky and wonderful.

** I was happy to get in a day early so I could sit in on the first-year crits performed by Steve Bissette and Sophie Yanow. The senior class has ten people and the first year class is double that size. Without getting into the specifics of the crits, I was impressed by the thoroughness and practicality of the commentary. I read every one of the pieces for the assignment, which was non-fiction comics. I was extremely impressed by the overall ambition and skill present in the works I saw, and it's obvious that this class has the potential to make a big splash.

** That's not to sell the seniors short. I've written about Daryl Seitchik extensively, as well as Mary Shyne, Dan Nott, Rainer Kannenstine, and others. I was happy to meet the very talented Alex Fuller for the first time.

** I was asked to moderate a panel that included Andrea Colvin (an editor for up-and-coming publisher, Lion Forge); Patrick Crotty (publisher at Peow Studio), Tracy Hurren (editor, Drawn & Quarterly) and Kelly Sonnack (an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.). I had not met any of them before, but I'm pleased to say that they all had interesting (and often opposing) views on comics.

** Lion Forge is an interesting case. They are based out of St. Louis, and the company is owned by two wealthy African-American men (Dave Steward II and Carl Reed), who started it six years ago with the imperative to bring more diversity to both content and creators in comics. That started with mostly superhero comics, but they've since brought in a bunch of new editors (including Colvin) and will be publishing a wide array of comics. This is a publisher to keep an eye on, and Colvin's good taste will have a significant impact on what they publish.

** Peow represented the small press model, where they tend to select their very few artists selectively and personally. The personable Crotty was a source of enthusiasm the entire time.

** Hurren and D&Q represented more of an auteur model, as she said they publish artists more than they do books. That means little to no editing, which is precisely the opposite of what Colvin and Sonnack do with their clients. Colvin in particular advocated how positive a good artist-editor relationship can be.

** What was very interesting (and only for the ears of those in that room, as were many other details) was that each publisher talked very candidly about different kinds of contracts, with details regarding royalties, advances, up-front payments and other details.

** We also traced the ups and downs in comics publishing since the late 1980s, as I was interested in getting everyone's take on what the keys to the present, somewhat upward tick in the market might be.

** The crits were fascinating to do, as every student I talked to had a different and compelling story as to how they got there. My advice, especially to the first-years, was to basically use this time to figure what you want to do. It's OK to cycle through your influences, because your own style will emerge eventually. For those cartoonists who were struggling with writing, I advised them to read Lynda Barry's What It Is and follow its exercises. I also advised a number of the cartoonists to do a daily journal for a month after the school year ends in order to keep them going and experiment with some storytelling basics.

** Seeing and being able to hang out in the Schulz Comics Library (pictures above and below) was almost overwhelming. I initially focused on looking at some school projects, in particular the Golden Age projects where students are grouped together and they have to come up with an approximation of a comic that resembled something from Dell, Gold Key, EC or even the superhero publishers. A lot of them were interesting because of the names involved, and a few were genuinely good. They did a manga phonebook this year that was really well-done.

** Everyone should spend time in the library. Their minicomics collection is impressive, and they have so many oddities that I could have spent days there. That's how I felt about CCS in general: I could have spent several more days there. I treasured my time spent with Michelle Ollie and a big group after dinner one night and was happy to see James Sturm, who had been out of town. The portraits of past librarians is a who's-who of cartoonists.

** Above all else, I have to thank Luke Howard for inviting me and facilitating the entire trip. He wasn't just organized and professional; he was incredibly kind and involved. He's an excellent cartoonist to boot, but I will never forget his hospitality. I had never been to CCS before (to which everyone there said, "How can this be?"), and it's Luke who made that happen.

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