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The Center for Cartoon Studies – More Than Just Cartoons

Aug 22, 2018 05:04PM ● By Linda Ditch
Do you have a favorite cartoon? Peanuts? Pearls Before Swine? Garfield? For some people, the comics section is the only part of the newspaper they read. Or perhaps you’re a New Yorker cartoon fan. If you’ve ever dreamed of drawing a cartoon, you’re in luck. The Center for Cartoon Studies is located right here in the Upper Valley—in White River Junction, to be exact.

However, CCS is about more than cartoons. This nonprofit institution offers a two-year course of study in a wide variety of genres, including comics, manga, and graphic novels—anything, in fact, that creates a visual story. CCS programs include a two-year Master of Fine Arts degree approved by the State of Vermont’s Department of Education, plus one- and two-year certificates in cartooning and annual summer workshops.

Students study the past, the present, and the potential of their chosen medium, and they don’t have to choose between art and writing. They will study illustration, design, computer applications, and writing, as well as the business side of comics—marketing, printing, and distribution.

CCS was founded by Director James Sturm and President Michelle Olli. James also founded the Seattle alt newsweekly The Stranger. His work has appeared in The Onion, the New York Times, and on the cover of The New Yorker. In the spring 2015 issue of Vermont Life, he said, “A lot of cartoonists feel like they’re on the outside looking in. As I’ve settled here in Vermont, this is the first place I’ve lived where I’ve really felt like a citizen.”

Michelle Olli takes care of the business side of the school. Before CCS, she was a director and faculty member at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and the development manager for Banta Corporation (now RR Donnelley). She has an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and taught for the New York Institute of Technology’s graduate online business-degree program. She is on the board of the Vermont Community Loan Fund, the advisory board for the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College (ILEAD), and the Vermont Higher Education Council.

In her own cartoon blog post, Michelle recently revealed her struggles as a child to learn how to read. She wrote about how her self-confidence was harmed because of the frustration of her teachers and parents with her reading difficulty. The only time she enjoyed reading was when she read the Sunday comics because she could connect the drawings to the words.

“My dad noticed I was reading the comics with no trouble,” Michelle wrote. “Soon, there were comic books in the house, and I was writing and drawing stories of my own. Instead of shame, I felt empowered.”

Many CCS students go on to create award-winning books and comics, including some that have won Eisner Awards, which are the Oscars of the cartoon world. Recently, two alums were nominated for Harvey Awards, another major honor. Tillie Walden’s book Spinning has been nominated for Best Children’s or Young Adult Book and Book of the Year. Spinning already won an Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work. Chuck Forsman’s work has been nominated for Best Adaptation from a Comic Book/Graphic Novel for the Netflix original series The End of the XXXXing World, based on his comic of the same name. Both were selected by a list of comics professionals, and the winners will be voted on by all industry professionals.

CCS includes the Schulz Library in the historic Post Office building. It comprises a collection of graphic novels, zines, student and faculty work, and out-of-print and rare collections of gag cartoons and classic newspaper strips. Of course, there are also a number of books about the art of cartooning.

Approximately 20 new students start the two-year program each year. Tuition is $23,000, and the Center has many options to help students with the costs. Housing is available through a special rate plan with the Hotel Coolidge across the street. Students also receive a housing packet with additional options. To learn more about The Center for Cartoon Studies, check out their website at

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