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Cartooning with class

James Sturm, 39, has loved comics since before he could read. Born in New York City, he had the chance to take cartooning courses in college, but never took one, thinking it was kid stuff. Later, Sturm, who wrote the graphic novel, "The Golem's Mighty Swing," changed his thinking about cartooning classes and began teaching others the craft. He founded the National Association of Comics Art Educators to urge more schools to include cartooning in their curricula, and last year, decided to start his own school. The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., will begin classes in September and open with 20 students.

ON BEING A CARTOONIST: I don't think that anyone really decides to become a cartoonist; I think it's more of a calling than a decision. . . . I do comics for adults, for a more mature readership, which only now is becoming culturally accepted.

LESSONS TO LEARN IN CARTOON SCHOOL: If you're a competent cartoonist, you have to learn how to draw, you have to learn to design. If you're going to disseminate your work, which our curriculum covers, you have to learn how to scan your pages in, or create your work on the computer perhaps. . . . You have to learn the skills of desktop publishing. You have to learn research skills, let's say if you're writing historical fiction. . . . Costume design. Lighting. Staging. There's so much that goes into making a comic.

WHY WHITE RIVER JUNCTION? It's a place where obviously a lot of people have passed through over the years. We were able to find affordable space and long-term leases. It's just a neat old town that people just have very strong feelings about.

CARTOONS DESERVE RESPECT: I just think because they are so immediately accessible, they are easier to dismiss. Somehow we associate them with juveniles, that they're for kids. I don't know. . . . People were a little bit afraid of comics for a while. In the '50s they would throw them on the bonfires and burn them because they thought they were rotting the brains of America's youth. There were Senate subcommittee hearings, and comics were seen as an impediment to education, whereas today comics are [seen as] a great way to get kids excited about reading. In the '50s, they just thought that there were all these horror comics, and that there were homosexual underpinnings to Batman and Robin, and there was this backlash against them. The comics industry started self-policing, self-censoring, and it really put the medium back quite a bit in terms of its development.

GOAL FOR STUDENTS: Ultimately you want students to become intimate with their own creative process and learn how to ask the right questions. You just want to help them learn to problem-solve, to tell stories, to string images together in a way that creates meaning.


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