French Toast Friday
A weeklong electronic journal.
March 18 2005 11:46 AM

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

The Haitian Hobo, former denizen of White River Junction
The Haitian Hobo, former denizen of White River Junction

Fell asleep last night at 8. Awoke at 6 when the girls scrambled into our bed. Even with 10 hours sleep, I still feel anxious and run down. It's important I downshift today. Otherwise it will be a long weekend with the family. Dealing with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old when you are insanely tired is a recipe for big trouble.

Neither of the girls goes to school today (or music, ballet, gymnastic, or ice skating lessons), so we do not have to achieve early-morning escape velocity. After a leisurely breakfast (French Toast Friday!) I check eBay from the home computer. Matt Groening donated a signed Simpsons animation cell to the school to help raise funds. So far, no bids.

Advertisement

I walk downtown to the studio. Despite the sunny, warm weather (should reach 40 degrees again today) I'm in a pretty foul mood. Each day I feel a certain amount of lingering regret that when I am working on getting CCS off the ground I am not cartooning. Today this regret is horribly acute. The cartoonists that I most admire, all far more talented than I am, have a maniacal work ethic. They are like Olympic athletes in their dogged pursuit of excellence.

In the year before I committed myself to starting a school, I was working on a graphic novel that followed several students at an art and design college over the course of their freshman year. I had about 300 pages laid out, and maybe a third of it was worth keeping. I tried to keep working on the book along with CCS but found it increasingly difficult. A few months ago I calculated that at my current pace, it would take me 73 years to finish the book. What a depressing revelation. You would think that starting an art school would be more work than creating a graphic novel about one, but that isn't the case.

Sketchbook drawing today, CD cover art tomorrow
Sketchbook drawing today, CD cover art tomorrow

I know once the school is up and running I'll have more time for my work. I know once my girls are a little older I'll have more time for my work. But knowing these things doesn't make me feel better today. Arriving at my studio I grab a brush, open a jar of ink and work in my sketchbook—the only real antidote for the black mood that has overtaken me.

Sketchbook drawing isn't a substitute for the countless months and years it takes me to produce a substantial piece of work, but it does offer catharsis and prevent my skills from backsliding. I often use an image from my sketchbook when asked to contribute an illustration for a poster or a comic to a newspaper. My brother-in-law Ernesto Diaz-Infante is a composer and musician, and when he asked for an image for the cover of his new CD we had plenty to choose from.

I love drawing dogs with alien.
I love drawing dogs with alien.

My sketchbook is filled with dashed-off comics; mug shots; sketches of hobos, dogs, and aliens (always together); robots (every cartoonist likes to draw robots); and drawings of other cartoonists' work. Mindlessly doodling for a few hours has a refreshing effect. Drawing makes me feel as if I have re-established my legitimacy, both as a human being and in relation to the school. When I used to teach, if a week went by when I didn't put in a good effort in the studio I felt like a total hypocrite standing in front of my class.

About 11:30, friend Peter Money stops by the office with his daughter Lilly. Peter's a poet and will also be teaching at CCS in the fall. Steve (one of the Renovation Rangers, as I like to call the carpenters) puts down his hammer and we all walk across the street for lunch, running into Rachel and the girls on the way. We grab some food at the Baker's Studio and then head next door to Inky's Place in the Hotel Coolidge to eat. David Briggs, the hotel's proprietor, named the meeting place after CCS's legendary founder Inky Solomon.

CCS board member Tom Ketteridge, left, and banker Ed Childs, right
CCS board member Tom Ketteridge, left, and banker Ed Childs, right

Back in the office, I stay committed to taking it easy. I manage to send off a few follow-up letters to the offices of Sens Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy (both of whom have taken an interest in the school) before settling down with a book of Astonishing Ant-man comics. It's hard to describe the pleasure that reading these insanely stupid old comics provides. The Ant-Man collection arrived in three large boxes of books and graphic novels, courtesy of Bill Boichel, owner of Pittsburgh's The Copacetic Comics Company. I've never met Bill, but he heard about the school and as a lover of comics wanted to help. He spread the word to his customers, and two of them have applied and been accepted for the fall class!

After an hour of poring through the books I start feeling guilty and resist the urge to return some phone calls and respond to e-mail. With less than six months to go until classes begin, there is an overwhelming amount of work to be done. If I didn't allow for days like today, however, I would have already had a nervous breakdown.

It was with a certain amount of ignorance and arrogance that I set out to start a cartoon college. I love comics, I love teaching. I wanted the opportunity do both, in a great town, without the hassle of the politics of an established school. The last few years have been humbling, to say the least. I would have failed miserably in this ambitious enterprise if not for an incredible board of directors, tremendous grass-roots support, the help of Michelle Ollie, and of course Rachel. CCS has achieved some momentum. I just hope, as the school keeps gaining speed, it doesn't run me over.

James Sturm is the author ofThe Golem's Mighty Swing, named Time magazine's best graphic novel of 2001, and the recently released Above and Below, Two Tales of the American Frontier.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.