Cartoon College is a new documentary about The Center for Cartoon Studies. That school, founded in 2005 in White River Junction, Vermont, accepts 20 students a year to work towards a Master of Fine Arts degree focused on the comic medium. The film’s directors, Josh Melrod and Tara Wray, shot from 2007-2010, exploring “what it takes to make it in the world of indie comics”. They describe the graduates as “ready to face the uncertainty of a career in one of the world’s most labor-intensive, drudgery-inducing art forms,” which makes me laugh and cringe at the same time.
I had the pleasure of viewing a screener of this hour-and-fifteen-minute movie. Watching the trailer, shown below, demonstrates a who’s who of comic creators, including Art Spiegelman, Francoise Mouly, Scott McCloud, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Douglas Wolk, school faculty members Jason Lutes and Stephen Bissette, and James Sturm, who’s also the school’s Director. While the big names will certainly be an attraction, I found it more fascinating to watch the faculty and hear the students talk about their work and bits of their lives before they came to the school. Especially since I’ve read the comics one of them, Jen Vaughn, talks about producing. That passion, showing how the students struggle and how their intentions may not be realized the way they hope, is the real strength of the film.
I was very happy to learn more about the school, its courses, the Schulz Library, and how learning is structured there. (I think there’s a followup to be done examining how the town population views the school and its creators in its midst.) It was also interesting to see the comments about different kinds of comics available these days and how to approach them as art. But it’s the students themselves, especially the brief moments where they acknowledge what they gave up and the choices they made to pursue cartooning, that will stick with me. Plus, there are cartooning couples and a visit to MoCCA Fest. If you’re at all curious about where the next generation of comic creators is coming from and what their influences are, you need to see this movie.
Speaking of which, the film will be shown on the West Coast this Sunday, April 29, at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Southern California. I hope the filmmakers make copies available to purchase, because it’s good watching.