Comics & Education: The Early Days

The date of MIX is approaching soon! I’m excited that Minneapolis has the potential to become the site of a regular indie comics convention. I understand that the table space went really fast, which is indicative of the demand for such an event. But, more on MIX in the future. I mention it only in passing because, during MIX, I’m moderating a panel on Comics Education . I’m pretty new to teaching (I taught my first class at MCAD this Spring), but the topic of comics and education is something that I’ve thought about a lot over the years. I’m going to post some notes over the next couple of weeks to in an attempt to clarify my ideas on the subject. Most of this will be US centric. I don’t know much about how/if comics are taught elsewhere. I also realize that some of this may include inaccuracies and generalizations. I hope to correct these over time. Anyone please feel free to chime in.

First, a little history. Comics or cartooning have been taught for a long time. Historically comics and cartooning schools were mostly designed as technical colleges that taught the skills necessary to get work in the fast paced commercial environment of newspapers, pulps, magazines and comic-books. Some key institutions that embodied that approach were:

  • The Art Instruction School was founded in 1914, and is famous for the ubiquitous Tippy the Turtle ads and Charles Schulz. It’s purely a correspondence school and was founded to (in their own words) “train illustrators for the growing printing industry.”
  • Cartoonists and Illustrators School was founded in 1947 by Burne Hogarth to educate returning WWII GI’s. It was originally known as The Manhattan Academy of Newspaper Art and eventually became The School of Visual Arts (in 1956). This is the only school on this list that transformed itself from a primarily technical art school, to a ‘proper’ art school as we understand them today.
  • The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art was founded in 1976 by Joe Kubert. Their mission is stated as: “The school is dedicated to aspiring cartoonists who are dedicated to becoming professionals in cartooning, comic book, and the general field of commercial art.”

In all of these schools comics and illustration went hand in hand and on some level were interchangable. The focus was on representational drawing and painting, perspective, pen and ink, drafting, lettering etc. These were the exact skills a student needed to master to create camera ready artwork for commercial printing and publication. As such these institutions were tied to a cheap mass medium: print. Students were encouraged to specialize. The speed of publication required separate people to write, draw (penciller), ink (inker), letter and color a single story. Artists from that era created countless pages of comics for huge & small corporations (many of them unsigned) under strict deadlines, in an assembly line system. It’s a wonder that any great comics managed to be made despite the brutal, fast-paced system.

The commercial quality of the comics is why ‘real’ artist like Roy Lichtenstein could paint panels from a comic-book in a gesture similar to Andy Warhol’s later Campbell’s Soup Can. Comic-book art was generally seen (with some exceptions of course) as anonymous commercial junk for kids. Lichtenstein’s comic-book based paintings became an important defining moment (myth?) for the future of Comics Art in education and it’s relationship with Art and Art Schools. This is something I’ll tackle in the next post.

A partial timeline. Some of these items will not become significant for comics education until later:

1914. Art Instruction School Founded
1947. Cartoonists and Illustrators School founded
1958. Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth published
1961. “Look Mickey” painted by Roy Lichtenstein
1970. Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth published
1976. The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art founded
1978. How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and others published

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