Fall 2018 Publishers' Preview: Five Questions for James Sturm

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine
This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2018 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall 2018 Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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James Sturm is co-founder of the fabled Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in White River Junction, Vermont, and editor of the Center for Cartoon Studies Presents series, whose first volumes are Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino and Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert.

Self-portrait by James Sturm.

1. Does the catchall term graphic novel to include such nonfiction books as these bother you?

This series of books reads like novels, so calling them graphic novels is entirely appropriate. But I do appreciate the question since that term has been horribly abused.

2. What can comics do for a person’s life story that unillustrated prose cannot?

The reading experience is so different. The old cliché that a picture says a thousand words is true. There’s so much information embedded in the pictures that the reader instantaneously absorbs on visual contact. And when images are placed in sequence, you can create a rhythm with lyrical qualities that, when done well, reads like visual poetry.

3. Who decides the subjects for this series, and how?

Disney-Hyperion and the Center for Cartoon Studies work together to decide. That’s a fun part of the process as we brainstorm and imagine the possibilities. Disney-Hyperion is more aware of what’s covered in school curricula, whereas I tend to focus more on finding cartoonists whose style and interests closely align with the chosen subject.

4. An editor and a designer work together to bring a picture book to print; how does it work for comics?

One difference may be that since cartoonists are designers, illustrators, and writers all at once, the shaping of the story and the shaping of the design happen in lockstep. In terms of editing, a visual draft of the book (as cartoonists write in pictures) is edited rather than a manuscript. That said, a good editor is always helpful no matter what kind of book you make, and this series has benefitted from some sharp eyes and minds.

5. What do your students make of White River Junction? And what does the town make of them?

Our students readily embrace “The Junc” and its small-town vibe. Many come here to get some breathing room from bigger cities, focus on their work, and be part of a vibrant arts community. In the thirteen years CCS has been around, White River Junction has prospered, and the locals are thrilled to have all these young, creative spirits enriching their community.

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