A Visit to Chicago's New International School of Comics

Chicago has a new place for aspiring comic artists to learn the trade: the International School of Comics.  Its nine Italian locations (known as Scuola Internazionale di Comics) have been educating students for over 30 years.  In March, the very first US branch opened in the Kinzie Corridor.  It's time more people heard about this place!

Classroom at the International School of Comics Chicago

I was impressed with the rooms and rooms of brand new equipment.

I visited the International School of Comics a week ago.  My guides, Valeria Fanelli and Jennifer Patino, showed me every corner.  The building is a jewel nestled in an industrial area.  Its interior is unexpected for the neighborhood- modern, clean, and filled with brand new equipment just waiting for eager hands.

When it comes to art method, The International School of Comics starts with "the basics." Communications Manager Valeria emphasizes "the importance of traditional illustration methods- ink and paint...  as opposed to digitizing everything."  While cutting-edge techniques are eventually explored, every student starts with hand-drawing.  Valeria explains, "There's always time to learn the latest techniques... but if you don't have the basics, it's hard.  That's what we do here."

Valeria and Jennifer described the school's academic programs, workshops, camps, and the future they envision in the United States.  "Chicago is a city that is very ready for art,"  Valeria observes.  I have to agree.  C2E2 and Wizard World are blockbuster events.  Our art culture is rich, from museums to street art.

The school offers something for local artists of any age:

Kids' room at the International School of Comics Chicago

This room is decorated with images children might be familiar with. There were many anime and video game characters on display.

Summer Camps:  "We know a lot of kids are into art," says Valeria. "They love superheroes."  Summer camps are already in-session for 2013.  A few children were present during my visit; they looked like they were having a blast with instructor Douglas Klauba.  The four-week program starts with figure-drawing, then expands into storytelling, character building, and simple animation.   Spanish and Italian language courses are also offered in the afternoons.  The camps are targeted toward children ages 7-13, but the current crop includes an advanced 3-year-old!

Workshops: Investing money and time into school can be a tough choice.  Jennifer recommends the school's workshops as "a great chance to network [and] have some face-to-face time with some of the teachers."  The next Beginners' Workshop is July 12th-13th with David Messina.  It's open to anyone, and will cover "the basic conventions of comics, including panels and closures, and how to use those structures to depict a story arc."  The workshop totals 6 hours, and will cost $199.

Lara West Doctor Who Star Trek Cover at the International School of Comics

Geronimo! A familiar face! Penciled by Elena Casagrande, this cover from the Star Trek: TNG / Doctor Who crossover is another example of alumni art.

Academics: For adults with career aspirations, the International School of Comics will be offering a 3-year program.  "It's really intensive," says Valeria.  "4 days a week, 3 hours per day."  The first year features no digital media whatsoever.  Jennifer describes this "figure drawing and anatomy" focus as what sets the school apart from places like Columbia and The Art Institute.

Key learning points include "learning anatomical modeling and structure... how the muscles work, and how that actually translates to motion in space."  As students continue, they will build a portfolio, learn about comic markets in other countries, and create characters that play to the artists' strengths.

Prospective students must submit a portfolio of work for critique, though personality traits like passion and focus will also be considered.  Please note, this is currently a certificate-based program.  The school is still on the fence about whether or not to offer transferable college credit

In the end, I loved my visit to the International School of Comics.  There's a lot to be excited about that I haven't even mentioned- a high percentage of female faculty (the Executive Director is Annelisa Vicari), a family environment, animation and graphic design courses, good coffee. Plus, Valeria and Jennifer were really open to my suggestions about bringing cosplayers in. ;)

Benito Jacovitti door at the International School of Comics Chicago

Each door at the school is decorated with the work of a famous Italian artist. Here is Benito Jacovitti.

I'm hoping I get the money together for the July workshop.  In the meantime, Valeria encourages walk-ins.  "We're always open for people stop by the school and have a little tour... We're really trying to create something as solid as what we have in Italy.  We are really proud of this structure and we want to show everybody."

The International School of Comics is located at 1651 W. Hubbard St. For additional information, visit the official website or Facebook page.  If you have more questions about the school, its amenities, or my visit, please post them below, on Twitter, or on Facebook.


EDIT 6/25/13:  The International School of Comics has released a special offer just for GGC!!  All workshops in July are 50% off for my readers- a $100 value.  Just e-mail code "geekgirlchicago" to info(at)schoolofcomics(dot)us.   So exciting!  See you at the Beginners' Workshop!!


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