Author Archives: jenvaughn

Halloween Heroes of Vermont

October 31st represents not only the end of a autumnal month here in Vermont with trees ablaze in their colorful death but a time consumed by costumed celebration. Betsey Swardlick (CCS ’11) below pens an essay on the connection betwixt the town of Rutland and the comics universe.

White River Junction, a town that takes pride in its vibrant artistic community, has an annual Halloween Parade sporting human-sized butterfly puppets swooping above the crowd, a glorious, flame-belching Fire Organ, and a procession of costumed revelers wending their way through the town center. With over two dozen art studios nestled into the downtown this is not your Grandma’s holiday craft crowd. With the addition of The Center for Cartoon Studies in 2005, a yearly influx of cartoonists added yet another element of creativity to the town and to the parade.

As the school gains national and international notice for its growing contribution to the comics field, the town can boast a unique place in the art world. White River Junction is one funky little Vermont town made famous by comics. But we have to remember that an hour to the west, the slightly larger town of Rutland has a venerable connection to comics and Halloween that has exercised some of the most creative and influential talents in the comics industry.

In 1959, Rutland held its first Halloween Parade, consisting largely of the high school marching band and one kid in a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume. So how did this quaint bit of rural revelry become one of the largest and most beloved Halloween events in the country? How did it garner the notoriety to inspire DC and Marvel Comics to set superhero stories in its midst? Ask around and the locals will tell you about Tom Fagan.

Rutland local Tom Fagan saw the inaugural parade and thought, “Not bad, but I think it could be better.”Recreation Chief Commissioner John Cioffredi took him at his word and appointed him general chairman of the event for 1960. Fagan, an enthusiastic follower of DC’s Batman comics, chose the all-encompassing theme of “Creatures of the Night,” and set to work knitting hispassion for comics into his newly-acquired civic duty. The second Rutland Halloween Parade featured a Batman float, with the Caped Crusader himself (Fagan, incognito) as parade marshall. Fagan wrote letters to Detective Comics, the publisher of Batman and other titles starring heroes, such as Superman, informing readers that Batman was now the leader of the Rutland Parade. A tradition was established.

Fagan’s love of comics infused the parade with an energy that kept Rutland engaged year after year. In that time before specialized comic book stores and only a very few, small comics conventions, there were few opportunities for comics fans to celebrate their interest. With Tom Fagan at the helm, the Rutland Halloween Parade grew from a simple town event to a celebration of comics fandom so great it spread not only to fans and to professional writers and artists of comics, but even to the content of the comics themselves. In 1965, Fagan attended a convention in New York city hosted by Dave Kaler, fan-turned-writer for Charlton Comics. Fagan invited Dave and another Charlton writer, Roy Thomas, to the Rutland Parade. By that time, the single Batman float had grown into a cavalcade of more and more comics characters, saluting the crowds and returning their cheers.

The post-parade party for the volunteers added to the event’s appeal and quickly became legendary. Housed first in an old Victorian home on Pine Street, and later moved to the old Governor’s Mansion known as the Clement House, the party was Fagan’s “thank you” to all those who volunteered their time and energy to the parade. By the end of the 1960s, some 200 to 300 people flocked to the mansion each year. As Fagan attended more comics conventions he found the parade had started to build a reputation among cartoonists, some of whom remembered his letters in Detective Comics. Fagan would invite them to see the parade for themselves, and by 1968, notable DC writers such as Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, and Mark Hanerfield made the trek to Rutland.

In 1970, the bridge between comics culture and comics mythology was crossed when the Rutland Parade was written into the Marvel Universe. Roy Thomas (then working for Marvel), was so taken by the parade and its energy that he set Avengers #83, “The Lady Liberators,” in Rutland during the event. Thomas also wrote himself, Fagan, and Fagan’s wife Jeanie into the book, marking the first of many cameos of real people to be made by Marvel and DC staff in subsequent Rutland stories. The parade even inspired the first inter-company crossover in 1973, when Steve Engleheart, Gerry Conway, and Len Wein teamed up to write a three-part story featuring themselves, Tom Fagan, and heroes and villains from both the Marvel and DC universes. Between 1970 and the present, the Rutland Halloween parade was featured in no fewer than fifteen separate issues of multiple titles by Marvel, DC, and WaRP Graphics. The most recent appearance was in 1997, in DC’s Superboy and the Ravers #16.

Although Tom Fagan had retired from his post as parade chairman by the mid-2000s, he continued to attend as a special guest and costume judge until his death in 2008, just a few weeks shy of Halloween. Though Fagan is gone, the spirit of the parade remains true to his original vision. The parade celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, and will continue to bring comics fans together for years to come.

The Center for Cartoon Studies is proud to present this exhibit about Rutland’s Halloween Heroes, their parade, and their comics. Two small Vermont towns, not far apart, play unlikely roles in that most American of art forms, the comic book.

-Betsey Swardlick (CCS ’11)

The Halloween Heroes Exhibit will open this Friday, October 29th from 5pm to 8pm. Gallery hours will continue every Saturday from 10am to 2pm at the Center for Cartoon Studies in the heart of White River Junction, Vermont. You can’t miss us, we have a window display with a robot. To take part in the White River Junction GORY DAZE parade, please show up at the Main Street Museum at 9pm on Saturday, October 30th. It’s at 58 Bridge Street right by these wooden sculptures (charming cartoonists no doubt will be covered in Halloween frippery)

To download this article, please click here.

Jen Vaughn

Facebook 2010 Assignment

No, this is not a retelling of the GREAT and POWERFUL social networking portal known as Facebook but rather a humble project the new Center for Cartoon Studies students take on. Every fall, while they are still getting eight hours of sleep, the students must write a bio and draw a self-portrait which is then turned into a two-color screen print. These pages are then bound together to create a cartoonist yearbook! (Cover above: Katie Moody, Below: Mia Onorato)

Screen printing is a challenge for many reasons, some of the students come to the school with little fine art experience and many are not used to the meticulous, almost unforgiving nature of screen printing. (Below: Jan Burger)

Some students, like Andy Warner, choose to write their bios out (which is still very graphic) and others like 2010 Fellow, Dave Libens, made a comic for his bio.

And Nate Wootters even created a great page spread by designing his screen print and bio to interact with each other.

The end result is an absolutely beautiful book made out of sweat, determination and wee bit of fear. You can download the entire 2010 Facebook here and enjoy all the tremendous talent of the newest set of CCS cartoonists.

-Jen Vaughn

Mmm-Hmm!

If Kevin Shelley asked me to join his revolution, I would do it in a heartbeat not even knowing what cause he was fighting for. What I have gleaned about this mad genius is that he knows packaging and promotion.

Armed with a pair of suspenders and a finely-waxed mustache (pictured on the left), I was charmed into buying his book for the Schulz Library. How can you deny those book displays? Not only did its strong blue-red-white design remind me dearly of the postal system but the various extras such as bookmarks and matching patch sealed the deal. Please enjoy the front of the book and bookmarks, then the back! How many smiling cherries can you find?

The visual content of the book itself is truly mellifluous poetry. Whereas a rigid computer font or more-forgiving letterpress usually holds lines of lyrics captive, Shelley’s easy script are hand-drawn and absolutely beautiful in his comics.

Shelley’s work is also rather intense with a story in the gutter (the space betwixt the panels) running parallel or affecting the story of the panels.

Part of the charm of Mmm-Hmm is the use of easy language, slang and so forth woven into each line with hard consonants striking a beat, not unlike the sound of your spoon at the bottom of an ice cream dish. If you find yourself wishing for modern illustrated rhymes with adorable characters (unicorn, anyone?), look no further than Kevin Shelley’s Mmm-Hmm.

-Jen Vaughn

Fantagraphics Ain’t Throwing Just Peanuts

A box arrived at the Schulz Graphic Novel Library with a dizzying amount of books, so heavy that I blacked out and began to see dazzling images.

And then it all started to come into focus…

It was PEANUTS! Charles Schulz, the man our illustrious library is named after, is still garnering a space in our hearts AND bookshelves. Fantagraphics has almost finished printing the entire, complete Peanuts collection. These wonderful tomes filled that heavy box.

As you can see, even the box of books came with some ‘peanuts.’ Our shelf dedicated to the man and books is slowly spilling over in abudance. If you have yet to check out these beautiful books, with Seth as the designer, then you have yet to truly live.

Jen Vaughn

P.S. Let’s just call those flat things ‘momes’ from now on for good measure.

Softball Sunday!

New Student Orientation at the Center for Cartoon Studies took place this past weekend and we could not be more excited for a whole new class (herd? murder? panel?) of cartoonists.

Aside from learning how to not cut your hands off with our giant paper cutter and how to properly pay for color copies, students both new and returning were asked to join in on the alum-sponsored softball game. (Jon Chad is at bat while Michelle Ollie pitches to Andy Christensen).

School founders James Sturm and Michelle Ollie both have backgrounds in baseball and softball so logically, they headed up the two teams, the Nancys vs. the Little Lulus. (Below, Sturm aggressively stands at the sidelines as third base coach while Nomi Kane and Randall Drew ready themselves for a whopper.)

The game was pretty loose, batting through entire line-ups but that didn’t mean the cartoonists didn’t BRING IT. With a bunch of home runs, line drives and even a double-play, we proved we can play betwixt all sorts of lines, be they panels or the foul lines. (Below, Nate Wootters is about to tag out Brandon Elston, Melanie Gillman watches)

As supreme thanks for all that they do for the cartooning community we gave James the Game Ball and Michelle the Official CCS Batting Helmet complete with student work stickers (more to come!)

The only thing left to do is invite the Kubert School out for some softball and corn dogs. So how about it, guys, are you game?

-Jen Vaughn

Don Flowers and His Lovely Ladies

A Schulz library favorite and avid patron, Evan Dorkin, recently donated Alex Chun and Jacob Covey’s retrospective book of The GLAMOUR GIRLS of DON FLOWERS (published by Fantagraphics). This thick beauty of a book features work spanning several decades (1940’s-1960’s) and Flower’s duel pen and brush captured all the fashion that lied therein. Flowers gained popularity in newspapers for his gorgeous woman, their cutting edge fashion and high-class life.

Part of the appeal of this strip lies in the fact that just as many jokes are made by women at the expense of men, Flowers made sure of that. As the 60’s pressed on, Flowers strip began to drop from newspapers so he made himself relevant again with the addition of teen humor and even cheeky children.

This is where some of his best work came from.

I, myself, do not draw children often or well so I spent several nights aping Flowers and his thick-legged half-beings.

Nor could I resist the chance to draw a most classy lady, teetering on pencil-thin stilettos doling out the sarcasm. So spend an afternoon and revel in the line work of someone you admire. I know where to look for my favorite: Don Flowers resides happily in the gag section of the Schulz Library.

-Jen Vaughn

Comics about Volunteering: Joe and Azat

Cartoonist Jesse Lonergan donated something very precious to the world and to Turkmenistan. He gave two full years of his life to the country via the Peace Corp program. Through few drawn lines Lonergan creates the most expressive characters. Here we see Joe, the American in glasses, looking for something rather important to any traveler.

The stories are episodic partly gathered from Lonergan’s own experiences while in the country. Azat is Joe’s guide into the world of Turkmen culture and, as it turns out, Joe is Azat’s guide into the world of business. One of my favorite stories is about Azat starting an arcade in his own home. How many of you grew up believing capitalism was the BEST economic system to govern your life without understanding how it worked? Azat’s charming naivete is only outweighed by his sheer enthusiasm and you want, hope and pray he is successful.

Lonergan’s well-balanced page layouts are so effortless you don’t even recognize how masterful he is until you slow down. Sometimes it takes an amazing confluence of story and art to do so, like rarely practiced old customs of bride-stealing or setting yourself on fire to win the woman of your dreams who happens to have a reluctant family:

I asked Lonergan what he brought back with him from Turkmenistan other than memories. He said in Turkmenistan people hang out with each other and garner interest even if they are not similar be it socially, morally or politically. From Lonergan’s life in the US, he observed the opposite, a clumping together of people always sharing the same interests. Lonergan returned with a willingness to meet people who were not necessarily cut from the same cloth and much less likely to “write people off.” And, if you’ll excuse the soap box I’m a-standing on, that is one of the best lessons you can learn while volunteering and in life. Pick up a copy of the excellent comic Joe and Azat by Jesse Lonergan today!

-Jen Vaughn