Monday, April 4, 2011

Spurgeon at CCS

My friend Mike Peterson, whose Comic Strip of the Day blog provides some of the most thoughtful non-snarky comic strip criticism around, alerted me to this longish report by Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon about his trip to moderate a panel at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in Vermont.

It's an interesting piece about something I don't have any experience with but am honestly a bit dubious about: schools dedicated to teaching people how to make comics. In my mind, the best way to make good comics is to learn a lot of stuff and have a lot of life experience that has nothing at all to do with comics and then tell stories about that. But that's a post for another time and I don't mean to disparage the sincere, hard-working people of CCS.

Mike sent me the link because one of the people on Tom's panel was my friend and editor Charlie Kochman. I laughed out loud (really!) at Tom's one-line observation that "Charlie Kochman is a note-taker" because I could just imagine him pulling out his well-worn paper notepad and scribbling intently with the pen he keeps clipped to the third buttonhole of his shirt. It's one of the qualities I admire about him. Also, I was at the New York Comic-Con the day Jeff Kinney brought Charlie his proposal for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and can vouch that it happened just as Charlie said.

Mike didn't know that I'm also casually familiar with another of the panelists, agent Bernadette Baker-Baughman. Bernadette and her former partner Gretchen introduced themselves in the early days of Mom's Cancer and for a while seemed to pop up everywhere. She exemplified the maxim that a big part of success is just showing up. At the time, Bernadette's small agency didn't have much reputation or a large client list, but she was there, she was interested, she was hustling--obviously looking for work, but in a friendly, low-key way that I appreciated. I remembered her and we've corresponded once or twice. I don't have an agent and haven't felt the need for one yet, but if I ever did she's one of a few people I'd call.

Anyway, Tom's CCS report is a nice read--a bit "inside baseball," as Mike told me, but worth a look if that's the kind of thing you might like to look at. Thanks, Mike and Tom.


Mike said...

I tried a couple of times to comment and it keeps eating my entries. Once more unto the breach: I agree that creativity can't be taught, but, after touring their library and hearing more about what actually goes on at the school, they both offer lots of chances to meet well-established cartoonists and get some advice and criticism, as well as to be seen by the people who actually do the publishing. It also sounds like they make you stretch out of your comfort zone and pick up some new licks, which can't hurt. And it also can't hurt to spend two years in the company of people who care passionately about something you care passionately about!

Brian Fies said...

Thanks for persevering, sorry for the commenting trouble. If it's a consolation, it just did it to me, too (I've acquired the habit of copying my comments before posting).

Agreed that all those things you list are good things. I spoke to Editor Charlie a couple days ago and his opinion was pretty much the same.

Like I said, my thoughts are complex, not fully formed, and maybe best left for another day. I just think I have some innate distrust and distaste for treating cartooning as a vocation--it's not auto or HVAC repair, and there is a teeny job market that offers students scant chance to repay their tuitions.

My other point/concern isn't that creativity can't be taught (in fact I think to some extent it can, or at least nurtured) but that life experience can't be taught, and that's what gives a writer a voice with something interesting to say. Young Jack London and Rudyard Kipling weren't sitting in MFA programs learning to write; they were tromping through Alaska and India accumulating things to write about. I joke that I'd rather read a comic about collecting bottle caps written by someone who's really passionate about it than another intergalactic civil war fought by laser-mounted dragons.

Again, not to criticize the skill or sincerity of people running and teaching such programs. I'm certain that if I visited I'd be hugely impressed and have a great time.

Mike said...

Agreed on the experience, though with this caveat: A guy I knew years ago wanted to be a writer, so he went to Paris and lived in an apartment on the Rive Gauche. After a year, he returned and still had nothing to say.

He became a currency trader. Maybe living overseas inspired THAT.