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Smart school: Cartoon program uses Google Apps

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Michele Ollie, co-founder and President of The Center for Cartoon Studies, based in White River Junction, Vermont. The Center for Cartoon Studies is America’s premiere cartooning school and studio.

I founded the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in 2005 on a very simple belief: the medium of comics was as potent and deserving of serious exploration as painting, sculpture, and poetry. Most of our students see comics as a calling as much as a career, a vehicle for personal expression. Although there is a deep reverence for the printed page, it would be wrong to assume we don’t embrace new technologies. In the school’s production lab, the old school screen-printing shares the same space as wireless state-of-the-art color laser printers and digital tablets. Students still dip steel nibs into inkwells while laying out their comics in Adobe InDesign.

In only six years, CCS has become one of the premiere cartooning schools in the world. A lot of things came together to make this happen: the right people, the right place, the right timing and, of course, the right technology. To put it bluntly, Google tools help make CCS possible. Our school is built around collaboration, and Google Apps for Education makes it easy for our artists and students to work together. As an example, Google Sites help faculty manage core courses, keeping students on task and informed. It goes without saying Google Calendar is the glue to our school. With over 30 visiting artists on campus annually, a dozen exhibitions and events, Google Calendar is the 24 hour source for what’s happening on campus and off.

We also rely heavily on Smartsheet, a cloud based project management application available in the Google Apps Marketplace, to keep our comics on track. Smartsheet lets us share key documents with many collaborators, track progress, facilitate online discussions, send automatic email updates and reminders, and generate Gantt charts (for those of us who work better with visuals timelines). Schools can spend a fortune on IT, but these free and low-cost cloud applications help our school thrive on a very modest budget.

With a growing network of alumni and visiting artists, CCS has a number of new and exciting projects under way: an expanded summer program, a community planning grant, and an online comics delivery system to bring comics to Vermont libraries and beyond, to mention a few. Whether it’s creating elegant and powerful comic strips or growing a school, Google Apps and Smartsheet allow everyone in the CCS community to pursue a vision.

Illustrations from The Center for Cartoon Studies brochure by Kevin Huizenga. Download the brochure here.