- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DOVER, N.J.

Most college students don’t first learn about their school the way Jessie Desmond learned about hers — in an advertisement in an “X-Men” comic book.

But then, most colleges aren’t remotely like the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, which opened 30 years ago and has been churning out artists for the comic industry ever since.

What other school boasts of alumni who went to work for the old MTV Claymation series “Celebrity Deathmatch” or faculty who have worked for Mad magazine?

Just because doodling in class is required and a women’s bathroom is marked by a larger-than-life painting of Wonder Woman on the door, though, don’t think that the school is all fun and games. Housed in the former Dover High School, a stately building with creaky wooden floors, the mood is that of a music conservatory, where sleepy-eyed students are fully immersed in their craft.

“This is kind of like a boot camp,” said Mr. Desmond, 23, who dropped out of the University of Alaska three years ago to attend the Kubert school and pursue a career in animation.

Mr. Kubert — a comic-book legend perhaps best known for drawing Sgt. Rock, a fictitious World War II hero — has a rigorous curriculum. Mr. Kubert said that although art and design schools offer some cartoon classes, his school is the only accredited one made specifically for cartoonists.

Paul Levitz, the president and publisher at DC Comics, said Mr. Kubert’s school has given more people a way into the comics industry.

“To some degree, comics have always worked like the old Medieval guilds,” said Mr. Levitz, who is publishing Mr. Kubert’s forthcoming Sgt. Rock books, noting that aspiring artists had to meet experienced artists on their own and learn at their sides.

“This has been the first solid path that broke that,” Mr. Levitz said.

The school has meant people with different personalities and people from far-flung places have had a better chance in the business, said Mr. Levitz, who sits on an advisory board for the school.

Mr. Kubert, 79, got his start when he sold “Volton,” a five-page comic book, for $5 a page. That was when he was 12. Now, he is working on graphic novels of the sort that attract college-age readers as much as the traditional preteen comics fans.

Some aspiring cartoonists don’t seek formal training. Mr. Kubert says his three-year program is a quick way to learn about the business.

Each semester, students take 10 classes dealing with everything from the business of cartooning to how to draw backgrounds. Each meets once a week, and each requires plenty of work, which means students are always on deadline — just like professional cartoonists.

Mr. Kubert said more than 90 percent of his school’s graduates go into the cartooning world, doing jobs such as working on comic books, animating movies and designing video game characters.

Earning a certificate is not easy. Mr. Kubert expects students to draw about eight hours a day, six or seven days a week.

Alexio Gessa, an 18-year-old student fresh from high school, said he spends close to 16 or 17 hours a day drawing, even doodling on his train rides to and from his family’s home in Hawthorne.

“I don’t really get a lot of sleep,” he explained as he painted a fantasy scene of a sword-wielding hero on a rugged landscape.

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