Saturday, May 19, 2007

Morning, all --

The Center for Cartoon Studies graduation is today.

Here's the talk I'm giving the students and their families this morning;
I'm counting on all of them being too busy to have time to read my blog before heading out to the morning brunch, where they'll be subjected to this -- surely, once is enough
(but at least enjoying some of White River's finest dining at the Tip-Top Cafe).

This one's dedicated to a few folks:

To my daughter Maia and my son Daniel;
to James and Michelle;
and to the great Joe Kubert,
for making dreams come true, and showing me the path.

Enjoy -- and have a great weekend.

I’m going to direct my talk today to the parents as much as the graduates and fellow CCSers, so please, bear with me.

All we have are our stories.

When I was a kid, growing up in northern VT, there were things we took for granted:

America was the greatest nation in the world -- General Motors made the best cars -- Chrysler, Pan-Am and TWA and Howard Johnson would be around forever, and -- stories and comic books were kid stuff.

Comicbooks were for us KIDS, not for grown-ups.

It was tough being the only kid in Duxbury, VT who wanted to draw comic books for a living.

My next-door neighbor, Mitch Casey, was a couple of years older than me; he was the first person I ever saw draw a comic book -- tiny home-made, stapled pamphlets, made by folding 8 1/2 x 11 paper over, drawing the comic page by page on each side, and selling them for milk money at school.

Mitch taught me to draw comics, but as he got older, he abandoned our collaborative comic-creating efforts -- girls and sports were more interesting.

I kept drawing.

I kept making up stories.

My father, a military man who served in four branches of the service and worked hard all his life, blue-collar through and through, had a tough time with this.

Drawing never seemed a very manly thing to do, and how was his son ever going to earn a living doing something so silly? My older brother and younger sister volunteered for the military -- that made perfect sense to my father -- but I kept drawing, against all opposition and odds and attempts to steer me to more adult concerns, and this never, ever made sense to him.

In 1968, when I was thirteen, it just didn’t make sense to want to draw comic books all one’s adult life. I might as well have said I wanted to live on one of the moons of Saturn.

In 1968, if I wanted to try and turn a friend on to what I considered the best in comics, the best I could do was loan him or her a stack of worn comicbooks, saying, “These really are great!” Nine times out of ten, these would be superhero comics -- most likely Marvel superhero comics -- and these were still easily dismissed as ephemeral, childish things.

In 1968, there were no comic BOOKS, the term ‘graphic novel’ didn’t even exist yet. TIN TIN was still relatively unknown in America, and the only evidence of manga in America were Saturday morning TV shows like ASTRO BOY, adapted from Osamu Tezuka’s classic MIGHTY ATOM manga series (though we didn’t know that).

In 1968, when the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and great futurist and science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke joined to make the ultimate sf film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, they populated their future with artifacts and trademarks of the American corporations certain to survive into the 21st Century: Pan-Am, Howard Johnson, and so on.

Like I said, we knew in our heart of hearts those American business icons would last forever.

A lot has changed.

Every single American corporation that appeared in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY no longer exists.

Chrysler no longer makes the best cars in the world -- in fact, they haven’t done so in decades. Chrysler is effectively no more, as of this past week; a shadow of its former self, a clutch of corporate assets to be sold off piecemeal by its current German owner.

But comic books are still alive and well. Comic books have been the wellspring of most of our summer blockbuster movies, habitually breaking opening weekend boxoffice records and now one of America’s major export successes.

In fact, America’s #1 export is no longer tangible goods -- steel, cars, manufactured goods -- but STORIES. Stories are the 21st Century’s coin of the realm, of the world.

Stories, characters, imaginary concepts, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES: movies, TV programming, music, novels, comicbooks and graphic novels. Many of America’s most lucrative exports derived from intellectual properties are adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, primary among them movie adaptations.

Comic books have grown up -- not only are there adult comics, but comic BOOKS -- GRAPHIC NOVELS -- have, for the first time in history, as of this past winter, eclipsed comicbooks in gross dollar sales. They are now in every book store, a known quantity, a desirable commodity.

This was unimaginable, a pipe dream, in 1968. But a generation dreamed -- the Will Eisners, Harvey Kurtzmans Jack Kirbys and Joe Kuberts of the world -- and dreams can come true.

But every generation has to MAKE their own dreams come true.

Every generation has to tell their stories to the next, TEACH the next, so that they can tell their stories -- so that they can dream, and realize their dreams.

A lot has changed.

For me, life changed when I attended the first comics college in North America, the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc. in Dover, New Jersey. I went in the fall of 1976, a little over 30 years ago; I was a member of the first class, ever.

For me, life changed when my father, diehard blue-collar military veteran that he was and still is, met the founder of that school, Joe Kubert -- a man’s man, a military vet, and a hard worker who raised a large family (five kids!) on what he’d earned drawing comic books -- and suddenly, what I’d wanted to do all my life made SENSE to my father. It WAS possible. It WAS -- well, OK.

I owe so much to Joe, and to his school, to my Kubert School classmates and everyone who was there. It was a dream of Joe’s to pass on all he and his generation knows to US -- and what a gift it was, and remains.

It is perhaps the greatest gift I’ve ever received, since my parents gave me life itself. Joe and his peers told us their stories, and taught us to tell our own. Thank you, Joe.

I was already publishing my first work -- earning my first paychecks -- before I finished my first year in that two-year program. I graduated from North America’s first-ever cartooning college in the spring of 1978. I was entering the comics industry in a time of great turmoil and collapse, but my peers and I made our way into the industry, bit by bit, drawing by drawing, story by story, job by job, and by the 1980s we were part of a generation that changed comics. We made our mark, as best we could. We earned livings and raised families.

My God, my daughter graduated from high school in that once-faraway future year -- 2001!

My son graduated from high school four years later.

Who would have thought, in 2001, I would even have a daughter? A son?

And that I would be able to raise them both on what I earned telling my stories and drawing comic books?

A lot has changed.

I told my stories, and those I shared with creators I was lucky enough to work with; I made my mark in comics for three decades, and thought it was time to move on.

But my work wasn’t done -- it was important to tell my stories and pass on all I know to the next generation.

How, then, could I resist the invitation, from James Sturm and Michelle Ollie, to teach the first-ever class at North America’s only other cartooning college?

Well, I couldn’t resist. And here we all are, today.

We have our stories, one and all.

It has been my great privilege to teach, draw with, and get to know your children -- now adults, all -- the pioneer, first-ever class at the SECOND comics college in North America, the Center for Cartoon Studies. It has been a great, grand adventure for all of us, and no other class will experience what THEY have experienced, accomplish what THEY have accomplished.

They have stories they alone know, and can tell.

Many of them have already shared their stories, their art. They have self-published, here, many comics. Many of them have already earned their first paychecks as cartoonists and illustrators, and have completed or launched work on their first graphic novels.

They are part of the first American generation to grow up without any negative baggage attached to comic books. They are the first American generation to grow up with ADULT comics, GRAPHIC NOVELS, a part of their landscape, a reality rather than a dream.

They know there is nothing silly about telling stories. They value stories, the greatest American commodity today.

They are part of the first American generation in which intangibles -- stories, characters, ideas, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES -- are America’s #1 export, the fuel that drives the engines of pop culture, and they -- these students, these graduates -- are FULL OF IDEAS.

They have stories, and will make and tell many more. They know HOW TO PUT THEM DOWN ON PAPER, into digital space and the world, they have the necessary knowledge and tools to make their way in the world.

What they have, today, is worth more than Chrysler and Pan-Am and Howard Johnson, worth more than American cars or steel. In the 21st Century, stories are worth more than all that.

Your faith in them, their art, their stories -- in their dreams -- is commendable and wonderful.

They are entering as uncertain and difficult a world as any prior generation has. That’s scary, yes, but they are armed with their own unique stories and skills, their own unique visions and voices, and with the community they have formed here, with one another.

They are better prepared for the 21st Century than any of we who grew up in the 20th Century -- believe in them, because they believe in themselves -- and they are RIGHT to.

It’s THEIR world now. They have stories to tell. I want to see, hear, read them all.

It has been an honor to teach you, to know you, to work with you, to draw with you, to see you here, today, with your families. I look forward to knowing you, drawing with you, reading YOUR stories, YOUR comics and graphic novels, for years to come -- for the rest of my life.

May you know one another, love one another, dream and draw and change the world together, from this day forward. May you read one another’s comics for the rest of your lives, and teach all you know to the next generation.

YOU are the first graduating class of the Center for Cartoon Studies, and we applaud you.

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