Art Notes: Cartoon School to Offer Masters in ‘Applied Cartooning’

This is a section of a cartoon Andy Warner did for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warner says cartoon study “teaches you how to make beautiful art and tell good stories.”
Courtesy Andy Warner

This is a section of a cartoon Andy Warner did for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warner says cartoon study “teaches you how to make beautiful art and tell good stories.” Courtesy Andy Warner

When the Center for Cartoon Studies first got off the ground in 2005, its stated mission was to prepare graduates to produce graphic novels, personal work of artistic merit.

At the time, the graphic novel was ascendant, and a generation raised on Art Spiegelman’s Maus , Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth or Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical Persepolis were primed to attend a school that would encourage them to craft their own long, thoughtful, heart-felt narratives in words and pictures.

But cartoon art has continued to grow in exposure and usefulness, and graduates of the White River Junction school have found a wide field of endeavor for the skills they pick up during the two-year program.

“It teaches you how to make beautiful art and tell good stories. That’s a pretty big tool box,” Andy Warner, a 2012 CCS graduate, said of his degree.

CCS is making that tool box larger still. Starting in the fall, it will offer an MFA degree in applied cartooning, a program intended to help students examine how comics can be used in the fields of health, education, public policy, business and journalism.

“The applications are endless,” said James Sturm, cofounder of the cartooning school. Any field that requires communication is open to cartoonists. Every business plan or mission statement can be expressed more quickly and effectively by cartooning, Sturm said.

The applied cartooning program is a response to trends in higher education and cartooning. Almost all colleges and universities are now being asked by students and parents what a degree will be worth, and CCS isn’t exempt from that line of inquiry, said Marek Bennett, a Henniker, N.H., cartoonist and educator who will be one of the advisors for the applied cartooning program.

“I think it’s really important for students who are graduating who may be going into debt” to have a plan to earn a living upon graduation, Bennett said. The applied cartooning track is “about showing kids how to engage with their own creativity and their place in society,” he said.

The program is also a way for CCS to maintain its status as a top graduate program. The school admits up to 20 students a year and now faces more competition from undergraduate programs, distance learning and low-residency cartooning programs that cost less, Sturm said. Students move to White River Junction to attend CCS and they have to commit to cartooning to do so.

“The students who come here, they’re all in,” Sturm said. The applied cartooning program is a commitment to the students, a way to offer them more options.

The curriculum for the first year of the applied cartooning program will remain as it has been for the traditional MFA program. Students work exclusively and obsessively on cartooning technique. During the second year, which has always included a course on professional practice that includes such nuts-and-bolts details as filling out tax forms and examining contracts, applied cartooning students will dig even more deeply into work that connects their cartooning practice into a community, an industry or an organization.

CCS graduates are already involved in this kind of work. In addition to illustrating books, Katherine Roy is traveling to Kenya to research wild elephants. Dan Archer, another graduate, is in Nepal and has reported comics on a wide range of subjects.

Andy Warner, a California native now living in San Francisco, makes a living creating comics for such journalism outlets as Slate, KQED, the San Francisco NPR affiliate, and Popular Science , as well as for organizations, including the United Nations and the Center for Constitutional Rights. He started selling cartoons to Slate during his second year at CCS, but it wasn’t until three or four months after he graduated that he realized he had found a career.

“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity right now, but it’s on you to do it,” Warner said.

If cartoonists are going to be able to find work, in a lot of cases it’s going to involve getting outside their own experience.

“If I’m really responding to the communities around me, then I’m constantly discovering more projects than I can complete,” Bennett said.

The current freshmen at CCS will start designing the applied cartooning program when they begin their second year in the fall, Sturm said. The program will respond to their needs, but it will include one component already outlined — students will document their work, in a comic.

The cartoon school also has a bunch of events lined up for the coming weeks.

Zollikofer Gallery in White River Junction’s Hotel Coolidge opens the “CCS Student Art Show,” work in a variety of media by students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, on Friday. A reception is planned for May 2.

On April 10 at 4:30 p.m., Burlington cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the author of the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For and the memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? , will give the cartoon school’s annual Eisner Lecture in Room 100 of the Life Sciences Building at Dartmouth College .

And on April 17, Vermont cartoonist Jeff Danziger will be at the Norwich Congregational Church to talk about his recent book The Conscience of a Cartoonist , an account of America post-9/11. The free event is set for 7:30 p.m. and features a conversation with fellow cartoonist Tom Tomorrow.

AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon hosts its annual Silent Auction exhibition, which concludes Saturday evening with the Silent Auction Party, from 5:30 to 8. Prior to the party, admission to the exhibition is free. Admission to the party is $25 for AVA members, $30 for nonmembers and $40 at the door.

The show is usually crammed with art donated by dozens of artists, and other goodies ranging from jewelry to gift certificates. AVA sets a price on items in the auction that enable purchase on the spot.

The auction is one of AVA’s major fundraisers, and is likely all the more important as the nonprofit art center holds a capital campaign to fund a planned expansion and b uild an endowment.

In addition to the auction exhibition, which will fill AVA’s street-level gallery space, AVA also hosts an exhibition and auction of framed vintage posters in its Johnson Sisters Library. The posters, from the collection of Al Quirk, a longtime AVA supporter, include work from Harper’s Bazaar and World War I propaganda posters by artists such as Edward Penfield, James Montgomery Flagg and Charles Livingston Bull.

Openings and Receptions

Colby-Sawyer College in New London will hold a reception this evening, 5 to 7, for the students with work in the college’s 41st Annual Gladys Greenbaum Meyers Juried Student Art Exhibition. The show features recent work in ceramics, drawing, graphic design, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, watercolor and mixed-media by Colby-Sawyer students and is on view in the Marian Graves Mugar Art Gallery, Sawyer Fine Arts Center. An awards ceremony will begin at 7 p.m.

Of Note

Windsor’s Arabella Gallery is hosting a day-long workshop titled “The Ecstasy of Creativity” with creativity coach Jeannie Lindheim on April 5. The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and costs $60. Register online at, call 802-674-5111 or go to the gallery in person at 65 Main St. in Windsor.

Artistree Gallery in Woodstock is seeking submissions for its “MUD Season Exhibit.” Submit by Friday at 4 p.m. Call 802-457-3500 or email for more information. The show opens April 4 with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Last Chance

The arts program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center exhibits mixed media by Donna Allen, woodblock prints by Matt Brown, photographs by Cathy Cone, acrylics, watercolor and colored pencil by Amy Fortier and photographs by Carla Kimball. The exhibit will continue through March.


The Hood Museum of Art hosts “In Residence: Contemporary Artists at Dartmouth,” through July 6, and “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection,” through April 13 .

Scavenger Gallery in White River Junction is showing “bikepots,” ceramics by Norwich artist Jim Walsh, that replicate bicycle sprockets and cranks.

Kimball Union Academy’s Taylor Gallery hosts “Revision,” recent paintings by Maine artist Tollef Runquist, through April 5.

Nuance Gallery in Windsor hosts “Luminaries,” a group show, and “Making Visible,” recent work by Valery Woodbury, Michelle Woodbury and Nance Silliman.

BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., hosts “Juice Bar,” a colorful winter group show.

The Norwich Historical Society is exhibiting six recently acquired portraits of members of two of Norwich’s earliest families, the Hutchinsons and the Lovelands, into late June. Visitors are welcome Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by appointment. Call 802-649-0124 or email

Alex Hanson can be reached at, or 603-727-3219.