Comic art studies increasing in higher education

USA Today has an interesting story on the rise of comic art classes in colleges and universities around the country. The article mentions a few specific schools and the increase in students: the Center for Cartoon Studies applications for enrollment are up 50%, the School of Visual Arts in New York has doubled the number of students majoring in cartooning since 2002, and The Savannah College of Art and Design has 300 undergraduate and 50 graduate students in comic art studies. Other programs mentioned: Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY starts their program this spring; the University of Alaska Fairbanks began courses in 2005.

“Schools are now recognizing the creative and commercial value of comics,” Tyler said as she watched 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 any more.”

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

13 thoughts on “Comic art studies increasing in higher education

  1. In a way this does students a mis-service. A degree in cartooning and $5 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks (or is it $10). I think it’s an interesting elective for other majors, but the market isn’t there to support dozens of universities cranking out students. Listening to student papers at the Festival of Cartoon Arts I couldn’t help but think they mostly missed the point. While some were interesting, most papers were designed to make sentences into paragraphs with as many $5 words as possible. It’s one thing to study cartoon and deconstruct cartooning and quite another to write and draw funny cartoons. I’m sure one can help the other but beyond few courses or an associates degree, I can’t see what would fill up the cirruculum.

    I’m not saying that it’s not a great job for professors. Heck, get a real salary and not have to be able to survive in the market place is feindishly clever really. Wish I’d thought of that 😉

  2. As one of the folks interviewed for the cited article, Iâ??d beg to differ with the previous comments.
    You do yourselves a disservice in exposing not only your ignorance about the value of education in general, but a thinly veiled contempt for teaching. I suspect most artists and teachers are too busy in their studios and classrooms to waste time responding, so Iâ??ll try and explain using as few â??$5 wordsâ? as possible “;)”
    Criticizing the economic viability of certain degrees is certainly a valid point, but from â??marketâ? based perspective one probably has to toss out all of the liberal arts â?? and you might as well come right out and state the implied message; why bother learning new ideas or enriching your life? And I couldnâ??t help but notice on Diesslinâ??s site the mention of his Masters degree in theological studies â??to add credibility to his Christian cartooningâ? â?? so howâ??s that working for ya? Experience cognitive dissonance much?
    While the vast majority of accomplished cartoonists do not have formal degrees (yet) there isnâ??t anything wrong or misleading about improving oneâ??s skill at the craft by taking classes. Youâ??d think of all places this blog would be a place to read supportive comments on such pursuits; kinda sad/kinda funny that anyone would have to actually defend the teaching of it.
    Sure, itâ??s evident in a lot of the work out there that the ability to draw and/or write well isnâ??t a priority for some, but that doesnâ??t mean you canâ??t try to get better at it, let alone understand what you are doing and maybe learn a little history, make some friends etc.
    And again, a lack of education doesnâ??t necessarily have to stop anyone from achieving their goals in cartooning, and having a degree in anything certainly doesnâ??t guarantee success, but some people might find it a little easier getting help along the way. One of the greatest appeals for comics is that you donâ??t have to have special training or tools â?? anyone can do it. However, if you want to try getting better at it, there are many options for learning how, and itâ??s great that some institutions are opening up and acknowledging this as a legitimate discipline of study.
    As far as teaching comics, there are a host of skills associated with such studio courses, such as media and technology, which have a direct and positive benefit and are easily translated into real-world experience. Comics are a natural as far as encouraging younger students to read and draw, and later one also learns the many commercial applications of what is involved in creating comics.
    In my personal experience being able to associate with others who share a common interest and passion in drawing comics was invaluable, along with discovering new techniques and different styles, exposure to critiques and making contacts, among many other benefits. True, you might get all that â??learned from a bookâ? or hanging out at a convention, café or bar with other cartoonists, but some people learn better in a structured, professional environment.
    Iâ??d suggest checking out the resources at for more detailed information on that particular topic and the range of abilities that are literally drawn upon when creating comics. And also visit the websites of the schools mentioned in the article to find out more about the different courses available and the qualifications of the people who are teaching them. Maybe youâ??ll learn something; then again, maybe you donâ??t need to, or want to for that matter. My guess is itâ??s much easier to make stupid, lazy comments; otherwise some of us wouldnâ??t be cartoonists, right?
    Plus, as an added bonus, in college youâ??d get to learn how to spell big words like curriculum (fiendishly so, I might add).
    Finally, regarding the snide comment on â??not have to be able to survive in the marketplaceâ? â?? every one of the teachers Iâ??ve known has either spent time in the trenches paying their dues, or more often than not, still needs to supplement that supposedly â??great salaryâ? while â??cranking out studentsâ?. But â?? surprise â?? most of us actually enjoy doing our work anyways, with or without the financial incentives, and that goes equally for teaching.
    Iâ??d encourage people to take the opportunity for either – itâ??s fun and a challenge, which is more than I can say about this thread.

  3. Many people who take art appreciation classes, even majoring in it, are not artists themselves nor have any aspirations to be an artist. I don’t see why the same wouldn’t be true with cartooning. Perhaps it should be a required course for journalism students, many of whom will become editors one day.

  4. Wiley…if we could only make education mandatory for PUBLISHERS!
    My editors have been generally sympathetic and open minded; certainly they have more of a sense of humor than the popsicle stick publishers that desire to dictate content.

  5. Jamie, I didn’t mean to hit your hot button. No need for personal attacks. Let me explain my opinion, for which you are free to disagree. I have nothing against teaching cartooning. I do it myself whenever I get a chance, and I could certainly benefit by taking more courses in drawing, humor and writing (and, okay, spelling). I just don’t see “cartooning” as a four year degree that would be meaningful. What seems “misleading” to me is when an undergraduate degree is offered it seems to suggest that there is a ready market for the talent. Perhaps too narrow or a way to look at it. I can see a 2 year degree or an emphasis in combination with some other degrees (such as graphic design). Also, I can understand the desire to dissect a topic to understand it better, and to make it sound intellectual. But there is also a point where attempts to do this go into overdrive and are just absurd. Other than perhaps cartoons in the New Yorker, one of the main aspects of cartooning is to connect with the average person and draw on common experience. Trying to push cartooning into the arena of a Picasso, to be analyzed and enjoyed only by the indoctrinated few, seems to ironic. I’m not saying it’s being taught this way, but that’s what some of the papers were like – extreme over analysis, if not totally speculative at the same time. Some of the other papers I heard, I enjoyed.

    I’m all for folks teaching cartooning, taking classes in it and even making careers of studying and writing about it. I just don’t see the practical value of a 4-year degree in it. Perhaps I’m just jealous that it wasn’t an option for me 30 years ago, but I don’t think so. Would I take a job at a university teaching it … probably, I wasn’t kidding when I said it’s fiendishly clever to get paid to teach something you love … but gee, I guess I’d need a degree in it to get hired. Oh the irony.

    Thanks for visiting my web site by the way. I hope you stopped looking for my cognitive dissonance long enough to enjoy The Cartoon Days of Christmas (TCDC)!

  6. My apologies Richard for the knee-jerk response; guess the 24-hour delay should be 48-hours in my case â?? makes for lousy blogging (Iâ??ll go back to lurking).

    In fact, I bookmarked your site to show to my next class a perfect example of a cartoonist doing the best-case scenario in offering a full range of services; crucial case-in-point for making a living doing what one loves and is best at. One would only hope they would learn from and follow such examples given the relatively low odds of success in the field. Youâ??d never get any argument from me about what it takes to just make ends meet â?? the ratio at best for me is cartooning might pay the rent but freelance gigs still pay the bills.

    Another excellent scenario would be the incredible example of Chad Carpenter, whose work has been surfacing here and deserves a lot of commendation for his efforts over the years. Again, a grim situation faces any aspiring talent who sees syndication as the definition of success â?? so one has to find ways to make it without having that option, and maybe even reach that goal eventually, as in Chadâ??s specific case. And just like, uh, teaching for example â?? once you do reach that point there is absolutely no slacking; if anything it requires even more energy to maintain oneâ??s output and enthusiasm.

    And thatâ??s where (ideally) classes can teach about the many ways to establish yourself and keep working in the field. Along the way you pick up skills that in my biased opinion will make you far more effective in the market â?? there are so many practical applications for cartoonists out there, and so many local opportunities if one uses a little creativity and a *lot* of sweat-equity. The on-line community is a real wealth of opportunity to see how others both succeed and fail in that regard â?? this blog is an obvious example of that.

    It gets personal because I used to flunk art classes when all I wanted to do was draw comics and the teacher didnâ??t recognize that as a serious and legitimate calling â?? the olâ?? â??thatâ??s not artâ? line. So it gets real old real fast to hear others dismiss teaching it. It is with no small sense of irony that I get invited to our districtâ??s high-schools every year to give presentations on what this old drop-out chose to waste his life doing (though I definitely never recommend taking my particular path). I try to stay smug about it instead of being bitter. Corrupting todayâ??s impressionable youth by filling their heads with unrealistic expectations is a time-honored tactic in making a life worth living â?? thereâ??s no shortage of people who regret not following their dreams, in my experience even if itâ??s a bad joke at least you get a laugh out of it.

    I absolutely love seeing the comparatively huge increase in exposure the comics medium is enjoying, and should be all of our jobs if not responsibility to pour gas on that flame. There is room for everyone and no limit to what can be done with it â?? illustration, childrenâ??s books, graphic novels, strips, storyboards, cards, t-shirts, websites etc. etc, There is so much talent out there and so many avenues to encourage it – I really do honestly hope the field gets so absolutely saturated and there is such a glut of cartoonists that they maybe theyâ??ll have to find honest work as politicians and lawyers. Basically I think this world could use a lot more laughs these days, so training â??professionalsâ? is spiffy place to start.

  7. Jamie, aw shucks, now you made me blush! I now see much more clearly your points. The practicality of a degree is somewhat up to the student to ultimately decide. I don’t think many teachers or profs mislead their students into thinking it’s an easy living or a ready market.

    Teaching well requires a lot of effort, so I know it’s time consuming and involved. I always benefit from preparing to teach and learn a lot from doing it. I know I could use those classes in developing markets for sure !

    That aside, my wife still chuckles at the idea of a “Cartoon Research Library.” It brings to mind many good gags … but also, you and I know that it makes sense (to cartoonists).

    I’m all for more courses in it, 4-year degrees I’m still iffy on, making everyone in the country a cartoonist – priceless (… er … I mean is perhaps just a bit over zealous, and a good way never to sell anything). I guess I see cartooning more as a trade, craft, or skill than degree in it reflects. Perhaps that is only because it’s in its infancy as a profession (vs. engineer, lawyer, doctor).

    “… honest work as politicians …” LOL!!! That’s funny stuff!

    BTW – don’t just lurk … I need you to counter-balance my uber-blabbering on this site. My goal is not to be in the top 10 of Alan’s next list. This, I tell myself, will mean that I may have found a life (but I know that’s not true). Shoot me an e-mail too, I want to know more about what you teach.

  8. Good post, USA Today article and an interesting discussion on teaching/learning comics.

    I took the first ever sequential art class at the Savannah College of Art and Design when it was an “experimental class” within the illustration department. Quite honestly, it wasn’t a very good class and looking back I figure it was probably due to its newness and lack of structure. I learned more drawing strips for the school paper than anything in that class. Oh well, they obviously ironed out some kinks since then! It’s very cool to have seen comics grow into a full major not just at SCAD but at several schools.

    As to whether there is a market for all these newly graduating cartoonists, I think there is. The opportunities are growing and a smarter community of cartoonists are learning how to not just create comics, but create their own markets!

  9. Good job, Rich & Jamie! My eyes are moist…

    All this growth at the university level is great, but I like to think our elementary schools can really lead the charge in comics education. After all, it’s at the ELEMENTARY level where kids start to think they either CAN or CANNOT create great comics. How many of us only really seriously discovered comics in high school or college? I did, and I feel like I lost so many years of comics-development!

    As an industry and an art community, let’s advance our pro-comics agenda at ALL grade levels. Those younger artists actually have a lot to teach us…

  10. I must say that hearing what all of you had to say about comics in todays world was amazing. Sense i was a child i have loved comics, there is no other art form in my opinon that can speak a loader massege only with the use of pictures and words. Today comics are taking on issues that affect the world in a way that people can relate to.
    I wish to go to college to study in the arts, but not only in comics. although they are my passion im not blind to see that the feild for succes in small.I wish to also study in conceptial art and design classes as well as fine art classes in drawing and painting. I also wish to have a minor in spanish to be able to communicate with our changin world. Also a bussiness minor i believe would help me in the competitve feild of art. As you might have gussed finding a college that can offer everything i wish to study has been near impossible. If you have any advice it would be greatly apreciated. Im open to any ideas.
    The passion you all have for comics is inspiering. Thank you for your writtings.

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