Sunday, September 11, 2005

So, the Center for Cartoon Studies opened yesterday at 1:58 PM, and a grand and glorious day it was, too.

The drive for Marj and I from our home to the CCS doors is about a 90 minute haul. It couldn't have been a more beautiful day -- sunny, cool, mild -- and though it's still late summer, there were a number of maples along interstate 91 beginning to show their colors. The characteristic first-bloom of autumn: radiant orange leaves at the uppermost tips of top branches, punctuated by the occasional raptor overlooking the roadside, eyeing possible game. The hawks and falcons are out on days like yesterday and today, hunting even at midday. Still, about 25 minutes shy of White River Junction and the CCS, I caught a glimpse of my odometer when it hit one of those rare mileage palindromes: 133331.

We drove into White River about a half-hour before the scheduled 2 PM opening, and Marj got her first look at the CCS operation. Marj was mighty impressed, though the crowd of new faces and names was a bit overwhelming. For me, many of these faces and a few names are already familiar, including a few of the students, one of whom (John Nicolls from Ludlow, VT) I first met at the 24 Hour Comic Marathon in Brattleboro a couple of weekends ago. One student made a point of telling me she'd read "Moving Day" on the blog, and that was gratifying -- hope it provides some link between her own experience this week, month, year and my own in '76.

James Sturm and Michelle Ollie have been hard at work all summer with the help of numerous contractors, sponsors, and a number of interns, including Robyn and Allie, who were both at the opening; Robyn is working at CCS for this first year, but Allie popped in to savor the event though she's back at college seeing through her senior year at Smith. They've completely renovated the old Colodny "Surprise" Department Store -- the word "Surprise" is indeed on the original awning that stills shields the front door and display windows -- which had never housed a surprise like yesterday's. But first, Michelle and James had to shoo us all out of the building onto the sidewalk for the ribbon-cutting ritual and opening festivities.

James Kochalka's son happily tugged the ribbon down before it was due to be sheared, but no worries: Michelle and a little scotchtape took care of that. With CCS-t-shirt wearing students, a lot of faculty and staff, visiting dignitaries, fans (and faithful donators to the CCS library like Tom Laurent, who drove up from Western MA to be there), and curious WRJ citizens crowding the sidewalk, James climbed atop a milk crate (alas, no soapbox) and declared: "It's 1:58, but what the hell," and launched into a short, sweet speech. The ribbon was cut, and James Kochalka mounted the crate to debut the official CCS school song, which was roundly cheered and will no doubt be sung in the hallowed halls of CCS for eons to come.

After much huzzahing and gnashing of teeth, we tottered back inside and manned our respective stations. Guests could sample a generous spread of food, snacks, and drinks, and each were given an official CCS sketch board with a series of blanks in the bottom left-hand corner where they could choose the subject of their sketch: "Dog," "Alien," "Stick figure," etc. Students and some faculty were seated in the main classroom area at tables, with the respective subjects posted, and guests could then go up and get their sketch completed right before their eyes. It was a two-hour sketching marathon; I joined one of the students I'd met earlier this summer, Elizabeth (Chasalow), at the "Alien" table, and we drew tons of aliens of all shapes, sizes, textures, and dispositions. It was quickly established that my aliens tended to be vicious and toothy (no surprise there), at which point I established the entry line to all guests who approached me, "Would you like your alien benevolent or malevolent?" Elizabeth's were all benevolent, given her nature, while mine ran the gamut. One family with two little ones, Emma and her younger brother Ben, were eager to get their alien sketches toward the end of the afternoon. Ben's dad assumed he'd want a benevolent alien, but when I asked "scary or friendly?", Ben scrunched up his face and bellowed, "SCARYYYYY!" Emma got a sketch with both benevolent and malevolent aliens at repose, and all seemed pleased with their booty.

James and Michelle had also set up a "Finishes" table -- where students added blue and gray tones to the sketches -- and another student manned a "Quality Control" table where each sketch was rubber-stamped with the red CCS logo, thus marking it as an official harvest from CCS, Day One.

My favorite moment nobody else saw: At the end of the day, we all blundered around outside in a haze of adrenalin and exhaustion. The littlest kids, though, were wired. Peter Money, poet and CCS faculty member, hunkered down on the sidewalk to entertain James Sturm and Rachel Gross's daughter (who had been drawing chalk aliens on the board behind Elizabeth and I earlier) with a poem. She stopped for a moment, paying rapt attention to Peter, than dashed away with a laugh.

OK, now we're off to the CCS BBQ!

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