More Thoughts on CCS and Its Comics

Posted by on November 1st, 2010 at 5:10 AM

Rob concludes his month-long look at comics from students and fellows from the Center For Cartoon Studies by reviewing Ninja Girl, by G.P. Bonesteel; Echo-4 Kilo, by Kevin Kilgore; Monsters, by Lena H. Chandhok; and Ten Reasons The Center For Cartoon Studies Experience Is Awesome!, by Alec Longstreth & J.P. Coovert.

It’s hard to put a finger on just what sort of artist the Center For Cartoon Studies accepts into its program and then produces.  In terms of pure drawing chops, the average CCS grad isn’t as accomplished as the average cartoonist graduating from the School of Visual Arts or other art schools that have cartooning majors.  There are exceptions (Joseph Lambert leaps to mind), but it seems like CCS is more interested in cartoonists who have stories to tell.  While CCS also seems to be more likely to accept those with fine arts backgrounds (Jose-Luis Olivares is one example), there are few avant-garde or primitivist cartoonists who seem to emerge from the school either.

As far as I can tell, the CCS experience serves three functions.  The first function is getting students to draw all the time and to draw from life.  Almost every CCS cartoonist emerges as a better draftsman and with solid fundamentals.  With simple instruction in the basics and an emphasis on repetition, the experience obviously reduces years of trial and error for a young, dedicated cartoonist.  The second function of the school is to help the artist figure out what kind of story they wish to tell and how best to do so.  CCS doesn’t seem to encourage nor discourage working in genre forms, but rather seeks to help each artist put their own individual stamp on stories.  The third function is to create a culture of productivity, wherein each student pushes the others to create and put out finished comics.  The tidal wave of minicomics that’s issued forth from the school in the last five years is certainly a testament to the fulfillment of that function.

G.P. Bonesteel’s Ninja Girl is an example of an artist finding a way to tell a story using a format that best flatters it.  Taking its cues from video games more than comics, this is a side-scrolling tale following a tiny, simply-drawn female ninja hacking and slashing her way across a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic environment.  Bonesteel is not a great draftsman, but he minimizes his weaknesses in that regard with the spectacular design of this comic and the way he works out compositional problems on each page.  This comic is also enormously funny, providing clues as to exactly what the ninja is up to until the final, shaggy-dog punchline.

Lena H. Chandhok’s Monsters is indicative of an artist who’s trying to figure herself out, and this mini blends the fanciful with slice-of-life storytelling.  A boy trying to recover a ball from a yard encounters a monster who’s not what he seems, leading to an unexpected and humbling lesson.  This comic is modest in terms of its ambition, much like her earlier works, as Chandhok is slowly building her comedic voice into something beyond simple gag work.

A Kevin Kilgore Comic Not From Echo-4 Kilo

On the other hand, Kevin Kilgore’s Echo-4 Kilo shows an experienced and accomplished cartoonist who needed guidance and organization.  This former Marine put together an impressive collection of strips and drawings about military life with the critical eye only an insider can provide.  It’s obvious that Bill Mauldin is a big influence (at least in spirit), though his line looks closer to a more cartoony Joe Sacco.  His strips about wanting to see “action” without truly understanding what that meant and the hypocrisy of a zero-tolerance drug policy in the corps that openly encourages drinking were drawn with wit and verve.  Hopefully we’ll see him continue to work in this vein.

JP Coovert’s Self-Caricature

Finally, CCS always has great promotional material, like a Kevin Huizenga-drawn pamphlet in earlier years to the Ten Reasons… pamphlet done by fellow Alec Longstreth and alum J.P. Coovert.  While organized around such tentpoles as support from the state, the Schulz Library and the accomplishments of its alums, it’s also a personal expression from each artist as to why these things are important to them.  Coovert has articulated his experience more directly than any other alum, and that distillation of the experience is put to good use here.  The page about Vermont’s winters being both inducement to work as well as fomenting stir-craziness speaks to the ways in which each function of the school is achieved: students are in an environment where all they have is their work and each other, and the hope is that this will ease the burden of the lonely cartoonist while inspiring them to push themselves to new heights.

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5 Responses to “More Thoughts on CCS and Its Comics”

  1. cfrakes says:

    You can download a pdf of the 2009 “Ten Reasons The Center For Cartoon Studies Experience Is Awesome!”by Alec Longstreth & J.P. Coovert or the 2010 “Annual Plea” comic by Max de Radiguès here:

    http://www.cartoonstudies.org/index.php/about/give-to-the-center-for-cartoon-studies/

  2. DerikB says:

    “there are few avant-garde or primitivist cartoonists who seem to emerge from the school either”

    I’ve been real disappointed with how conventional everything coming out of the school seems. The most interesting works in some of those anthologies (like the Sundays ones) have been from people outside of the school.

  3. Rob Clough says:

    Well, you should seek out the work of Jose-Luis Olivares, who uses an unusual mixed-media approach in his comics.

    Also, the highly underpublished Dane Martin is a cartoonist whose work would not be out of place if published by Picturebox.

  4. […] that wasn’t enough exciting news, I got mentioned on The Comics Journal again! Rob Clough spent all of October reading minicomics by CCS students and alumni, and he briefly […]

  5. […] just wanted to throw up a quick post about Rob Clough’s review of Ninja Girl. The review is with a wrap up of several other CCS mini’s and is rather […]