Doin’ my part for CCS Awareness Week!

12 Mar

I talked in my last entry about the CSSSA-Innerspark program and how much it influenced me in high school. Today, if you guys’ll humor me for a little bit, I’d like to blather on a little bit longer about who I am and the program I’m in right now. For those of you who don’t know (or who have just been skimming the blog looking for pictures of girls in their underpants–of which, to be fair, there are a lot), right now I’m in my second year at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. CCS is one of only three schools in the US that only teach comics, and we offer a two-year master’s degree or a one-year certification program in comics and being AWESOME.

So how do you get to CCS? Sit yourself down, and listen to my tale…

This is me before attending CCS:

I wish I was drawing comics right now...

As you can see, I was a sad and lonely girl, befriended only by statues of sea life.

…No, that’s totally not true. I was pretty happy in undergrad–I liked UC Santa Cruz, I had good friends, and I was taking fun classes. I just wasn’t doing a whole lot of art. I’d decided to go for a literature major because I’d liked my high school lit classes so much, and since you couldn’t minor in art at the school I attended I relied on doodling in my notebook as an artistic outlet. I drew comics now and again in my sketchbook, but none of my friends were really into drawing (although they were really supportive), so it was basically just for my own amusement. I’d fallen out of contact with pretty much anyone from CSSSA, and gradually I forgot what it was like to be surrounded by so many like-minded artistic individuals. I came to the art major late and didn’t really click with many people in the department, probably because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do artistically. I did a lot of drawings and paintings that I was half-into, but ultimately I was more happy with the work I was doing in the Stevenson College Programs Office and in the margins of my notebooks, even if I didn’t really know why.

I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to do until I visited CCS’s winter Portfolio Day. That was where I met James Sturm, Michelle Ollie, Jason Lutes, Steve Bissette, Robyn Chapman, Alec Longstreth, and Jon Chad for the first time. Everyone there was so interesting and enthusiastic and articulate about what they did in comics and why they did it. It was just like CSSSA–a fact that I didn’t even put together until later–except that I’d get to stay for two whole years instead of for a month. The only downside, I thought, would be the challenge posed by the Vermont weather.

What is this strange, cold substance?

It had been a balmy 40 degrees that weekend, though, so I figured it couldn’t really be all that bad. (Little did I know what was in store!) I rushed home and spent the whole next week putting together my application–transcript, letter of recommendation, essay on the theme of “cartoonists are like that”, and a four-page comic featuring myself, a snowman, a robot, and a piece of fruit–so that I could be considered for the next round of admissions. In the meantime, I found myself getting antsy and kind of frustrated with my painting classes. Now that I knew I wanted to do comics, I wasn’t as excited to paint, and I wasn’t sure I could combine the two to my satisfaction yet. The rest of that quarter was an exercise in patience and trying to cram the rest of my required art classes into ten weeks.

The day that I got the acceptance letter in the mail was, seriously, one of the best days of my life. That summer, with the help of my friends, I packed up everything I owned and headed east to White River Junction.

Holy hell, I just moved to Vermont.

To be honest, I was totally scared. Pretty much everyone I knew was on the West Coast, and my closest relatives were three and a half hours away–not too far, but farther than I was used to going, for sure. I didn’t know anyone in the program (except for Valerie, the school’s awesome operations manager, who met me once at Portfolio Day and recognized me instantly when I came back into town), and I was living on my own (no roommates, no pets, nada) for the first time ever. But my awesome classmates and the school won me over pretty quickly.

Lookit all these RAD comics!

Immediately after coming to CCS, I was introduced to a whole new world of artists and influences. I grew up reading newspaper comics, my parents’ copies of The Funny Times, and a whole lot of terrible shoujo manga. I was the most comics-savvy person in my group of friends in Santa Cruz, but everyone I talked to here introduced me to something new I’d never read before. If I wanted to check it out, all I had to do was take a five-minute walk over to our fantastic Schulz Library. It. Was. Awesome.

I didn’t just spend my first year reading, though.

I am binding the HELL outta these books!

I learned how to do all kinds of awesome stuff that year! I tried out a bunch of different tools, figured out which ones worked best for me, laid comics out on master sheets and in InDesign, fought with the copier, contributed to anthologies, helped perfect-bind books, visited a bunch of new cities, tabled at conventions, and–oh yeah–drew a ridiculous amount of comics. Seriously, I have never been so productive when it comes to my art. Here’s a sample of what I did:

TOTALLY FREAKIN' AWESOME!!!

The above image doesn’t even show everything that I did in my first year. Not pictured are my Ed Emberley comic, Caution (the first anthology I contributed to, although my story by itself is pictured), Tales from San Papel (the second anthology), Eat Up, Cat (my children’s book, which I’ll be finishing this month), and the diary comics I did every week first semester. We don’t call the first year ‘comic book boot camp’ for no reason!

By the end of the year, I was pretty tired…but I was exhilarated with where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing.

...I have never been so happy.

Sappy as it is, that thought balloon is totally true. Choosing to attend CCS was the best decision I ever made. Yeah, it was scary to move; yeah, I miss the hell out of my family and friends on the West Coast; yeah, I’ve slept way less in this past year than I maybe should have. But I’ve made some wonderful friends and done so much work that I’m really proud of here. I have only three months left, and it’s a bittersweet feeling. I’m excited and scared to move somewhere new, and I feel so lucky to have come here and found this amazing support system of cartoonists. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now without what I’ve learned at CCS.

If you’re interested in applying to either (or both!) of the CSSSA or CCS programs, you can find more information on the CSSSA website here (for the animation program, but they also have several other concentrations) and the CCS website here. If you have any other questions or anything like that, please comment or send me an email! I’d love to talk to you about comics, comics school, or whatever. :) You can also check out these other posts about CCS from other students and alumni.

I can’t adequately tell you how much I recommend these two programs, guys. I know that by this point I just sound like a spokesperson, but CSSSA and CCS played a huge part in who I am today. Apparently I am really moved by anything with a lot of C’s and S’s. Who knew that was the way into my heart?

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3 Responses to “Doin’ my part for CCS Awareness Week!”

  1. cantocomics March 12, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Glad you’re here, bro!

    • Lena Chandhok March 12, 2011 at 3:34 am #

      Thanks, man! I’m glad you’re here, too. CARTOONIST HUGS FOR EVERYONE

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  1. Welcome to the … « Comic Sutra Sketchblog - October 3, 2012

    […] storyteller and all-around person. (If you want the down-and-dirty about my time at CCS, check out my post from CCS Awareness Week last […]

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