I think I first heard about the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art sometime in the late 1980s, despite it having been around for about a decade, and I recall being amazed that there was a school dedicated to teaching comics. And as I sit here now in 2017, I remain amazed that it’s not only still going strong but is not the only comics school out there! The Center for Cartoon Studies was founded in 2005 and the Sequential Artists Workshop in 2012. The International School of Comics opened a US branch in 2013.

Not surprisingly, their curricula are similar in many respects. There are lots of classes on basic drawing skills, color theory, storytelling, and many other aspects of creating comics that transcend format. What students learn can be applied to periodic comic books, newspaper strips, graphic novels and, of course, webcomics.

What these schools don’t teach, or at least don’t focus very much on, is the business side of comics. There’s little about actual publishing, marketing, dealing with editors, negotiating fees, contracts, etc. And there’s nothing, so far as I can tell, about creating a website and/or advice about getting your comics actually into the hands of potential readers. I kind of understand that, insomuch as they’re focusing on the fundamentals that most students are most interested in anyway. It’s the passion for those aspects of comics that drives many creators into the field. And, depending on how you want to apply your comic-making skills, a course on tabling at conventions or licensing your characters might not ever be useful.

But here’s what I don’t get… all of the schools use the medium of comics in at least some of their marketing. The Kubert School periodically runs ads in Marvel and DC titles, and some of those are designed as comics themselves. CCS frequently creates comic pamphlets that are given away at conventions and retail shops. But none of them use webcomics.

Like, at all.

I can see where running a webcomic on the school site itself might be seen as somehow undermining a school’s credibility—these are accredited schools after all. Although why using comics in printed material is simultaneously not doing the same thing, I don’t know. But if that is indeed a concern, why not make a dedicated webcomic site, and have the two just link to each other?

It seems to me that these schools are missing some big opportunities here. Not only could this work for marketing—marketing that would probably be seen by more people than whatever printed material they’re distributing—but it could be run as an ongoing student project, where every year a new student(s) is set up as the creative force with some administrative oversight guiding the general direction. Ass I think on it, the more I like the idea: different students’ natural proclivities would mean the tone and style could change every semester and trying to deal with that in the context of an ongoing narrative could prove to be quite interesting and entertaining. Plus. even if you’ve got a dud for whatever reason, they’d get cycled out next semester anyway.

I realize educational institutions are frequently slow to catch up and teach to industry norms, but that all of these schools aren’t addressing webcomics, even on the web itself, seems like an obvious item that needs to be corrected!

  • Good thoughts! Comics schools could provide web portals that would host several student webcomics, which might be the output of a one-term course, like an online gallery. Nothing gives a better sense of being a pro than having to produce something every day (or two or three times a week) and get immediate feedback from readers. Or a school could do an ongoing anthology, with different creators and comics every month, with students graded on how well they met their deadlines with quality content. Or, as I think you’re suggesting, an ongoing webcomic that different creators take over as they move through the school, like different writers and artists working on Batman.

    I’m sure it’s occurred to them. Maybe they’re doing it in low-profile, low-risk ways?