Comics & Education: The Early Days 2

A few additions to my initial post before I forget them.

An anonymous reader pointed out (via comments) a couple of other institutions where cartoonists got training. Both Disney and Fleisher Brothers trained artists for animation. This type training followed the specialization model typical of the other schools I mentioned before. In this case the specialization was even more pronounced. These companies were growing very quickly at one point and had a huge demand for animation talent. The fact that they set up corporate schools to satisfy their own demand for animators, speaks to the fact that there weren’t many other places for this kind of education. Some of this training obviously could translate to comics and cartooning. At least one great comic-book artist, Jesse Marsh, came out of that system.

The other school (named by the same anonymous reader) was The John Buscema School. It was set up in the 1970’s by one of Marvel Comics’ most prolific artists, John Buscema. I know that Stan Lee lectured there, but I don’t know much else about it. The work that went into that school was the source material for the legendary How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way. I confess that I have created hundreds of pages of comics during my high-school days based on the exercises in that book. If the book is indicative of the curriculum of the Buscema School, then the school probably functioned in a way similar to the training done by the animation studios. It was a way to quickly train talent for a fast growing business.

Even though How To Draw Comics… contains a lot of work by Jack Kirby, it’s probably safe to assume he didn’t teach at the Buscema School. By 1971 he had left Marver for DC. Also, I think by then he had already moved to California(?). In an interesting side note, Kirby briefly worked for the Fleischer Studios as an inbetweener. But he hated the work:

From Fleischer I had to get out in a hurry because I couldn’t take that kind of thing,” describing it as “a factory in a sense, like my father’s factory. They were manufacturing pictures. (Via Wikipedia)

This is coming from a famously fast artist who was capable of turning in several issues of a standard comic-book per month. I wonder if this in any way could be a clue as to the conditions & pace present at the animation studio schools.

modern illustrating including cartooning

Modern Illustrating Including Cartooning (1935 edition)

An interesting nugget about the state of comics education before the WWII can be found a the end of volume one the D&Q edition of Gasoline Alley (published as Walt & Skeezix). I just finished reading the volume and I can’t resist mentioning it. The book reprints seven pages from the fifth volume of Modern Illustrating and Cartooning. The book was published by Federal Schools, from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Federal Schools was the original name for the Art Instruction School which I already mentioned. Frank King wrote and illustrated the material reproduced. The piece is called “Lesson 3. Part 1. The Cartoon Page”. Here are a few subheaders to give you an idea of the material King’s writing about:

  • The Cartoon Page a Symposium on Timely Topics
  • Ideas
  • Arrangement
  • Making the Drawings

The content of the piece is a reminder why comics are called ‘comics’. Almost all of the advice is geared to creating humorous pieces on timely topics. King also encourage students to keep sketchbooks and to draw from life; sound advice for any era.

The material dates from 1931, but as Chris Ware notes in the explanatory text that accompanies the reprinted pages, most of the drawings that accompany King’s text dates to 1917 & 1918. Federal Schools was founded in 1914, so it’s certainly possible that earlier editions of the work exist.

Chris Ware also raises the tantalizing possibility “that [Charles] Schulz worked his way through King’s exercises as part of his correspondence training”. Schulz is the star alumni of the Art Instruction School, and had famously taught there as well. Incidentally the school is still around. A few of my friends were instructors there. It’s still a correspondence school, and the instructors still hand-correct (with red ink) sent in student drawings.

3 Responses to “Comics & Education: The Early Days 2”


  • I have a huge bound volume of “Modern Illustrating” lessons — some great stuff in there!

  • I’d LOVE to see those sometime!

  • Hi! I was a student at the John Buscema school for his first year. The class met for 42 weeks, two nights a week from 6PM to around 9PM but we always stayed for a bit after. John would occasionally have guest speakers there and Stan was indeed a guest. I wrote an article for Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego magazine (number 16, July – 2002 if you want to peruse it – and if you do, read about what I said about Don Heck – the guy was brilliant) and it gave a bit of history about the school. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I just want to add that in the How to Draw book – there is absolutly no Jack Kirby illustrations in there. It’s pure John. Stan, of course, “marvelized” the text which John just laughed about. You can see it in John’s face when Stan talks in the “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” video that came out (and is still available from Amazon for about nine bucks).

    And Jack never did speak there although John used to say that Kirby was in a class by himself and you couldn’t compare him to any other comic artist. His all time favorite comic book artist, however, was Joe Kubert.

    I do know that Tim Sale went there the second year and was disillusioned about his experience – but that year the class only ran for twelve weeks and was supposed to have three different artists teach a three week run. And John really didn’t have enough time to establish a rapport with those students as he did with us.

    His instructional technique was amazing and I certainly do miss the guy!

    Take care!

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