In Colleges, Comics Art Is Becoming a Serious Matter

By Lisa Cornwell
Associated Press
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CINCINNATI -- As a fine-arts graduate student in the early 1980s, Carol Tyler felt she had to hide her interest in cartoon drawing from teachers. An art form associated with comic books and comic strips wasn't considered college material.

Now a professional cartoonist and graphic novelist, Tyler began teaching the University of Cincinnati's first comics art class last year.

Other colleges have also started such classes as critical and academic respect for comics has grown. Courses that began in 2005 at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks are starting to lure professional artists and public school teachers. Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., will start its first course next spring.

Applications have increased by at least 50 percent at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., which was founded two years ago and won state approval this year for a master of fine arts degree. "Schools are now recognizing the creative and commercial value of comics," Tyler said as she watched her Cincinnati students outline their pencil drawings in ink, filling in sections with black or gray tones. "An interest in comics and cartooning doesn't have to be a secret anymore."

Some students hope to learn skills useful for advertising, film, video game or illustration careers. Some just enjoy comics. Others want to produce comics or graphic novels.

"I started drawing comics when I was about 12, but had sort of put it aside," said Mariana Young, 25, who wants to be a professional cartoonist.

Tyler's students learn graphic design, composition, lettering, layout and how to draw figures that convey emotion. She also tries to show them how to organize their thoughts to deliver clear and concise ideas. Story lines have included the impact of nannies on a student's life and recollections of a colorful grandfather.

The director of the National Association of Comics Art Educators, Ben Towle, said it's too soon to have hard data on numbers or where new classes are being taught. But the association is fielding many more inquiries about starting classes.

"There are a lot of scattershot courses as opposed to dedicated programs, but you wouldn't even have seen that five years ago," he said.

Demand also is growing for established courses, and some schools have waiting lists to take classes.

The number of freshmen in the cartooning major at the School of Visual Arts in New York more than doubled from 2002 to last year. The Savannah College of Art and Design offered comics art in 1992 as an elective to a handful of students. The school now has nearly 300 undergraduates and 50 graduate students pursuing bachelor's and master's degrees in sequential art, also known as comics art.

Much of the credit goes to the emergence in the 1980s of graphic novels, which offer more complex story lines for more mature audiences than traditional comic books do. They typically are more durably bound and longer than the floppy comic magazines that told the tales of Superman or the antics of small-town teenager Archie Andrews and friends.

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