“What do you want to be in ten years?”
This is the question posed by a tutor in Jamie Coe’s Art Schooled. This was also one of the first questions posed to my Animation class in one of the first weeks of my degree at a small art school in Surrey. And like my illustrated compatriots, my classmates and I all wildly overestimated what we’d be up to. My (soon to be) housemate was going to write the English Family Guy. Another friend was going to write a Pixar film. I was going to create an animated film that blended Ghibli with the two godlike Davids: David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Clearly, this was not going to happen. Jamie Coe’s Art Schooledperfectly depicts the vacuum that art school exists inside; a world populated by people trying to be the next Damien Hirst, where badly executed “concept” art is valued above intricate traditional work, and where expectations are slowly dashed as reality sinks in. But it’s also a place that real friendships are made.
Daniel Stope is on a foundation art course at a large university in London, a fair distance from his cosy home in the countryside. Everyone there is bigger, bolder and brighter than people he knows back at home, but they are also highly pretentious and dismissive of his interests. The only person he really connects with at first is a cynical and bored student called Charlie; but when a giant busty sculpture falls on him, he finally gets to chat to his crush, the mysterious Pip Lang. Skipping between the course itself and the months of unpaid internship that lie beyond graduation, we see how he deals with the various ups and downs the college delivers. Daniel is a believable character, somewhat drifting through the course, a little self obsessed and oblivious to how his work and how he acts affect the people around him.
It’s organised almost like a series of vignettes, with short comic strip sections describing the various inhabitants of the uni, student and tutor alike. Occasionally, the comic will present an infographic of sorts, such as the eerily accurate breakdown of the various “types” of art students. (Side note: I lived with all of them in my first year. One of my flatmates really did go off to live in a commune.)
The artwork is grubby and vivid, with bold shading giving the drawings a lurid feel, particularly in scenes involving his tutors, such as his seedy illustration tutor being cast with green underlighting. Something that makes it stand out immediately is his choice in colour palettes. Each scene is cast in a certain colour, making each story stand out on its own; such as casting his life working as an intern in orange monchrome. The drawings are pleasantly loose and sketchy, and the colouring itself is wonderfully textured. There are also some impressive bits of staging, such as a scene where the frames spin round a two page spread as if going down a plughole.
It certainly shares some themes with the micro comic Art School Confidential by Daniel Clowes, but with a decidedly British bent (footnotes explaining things like Jeremy Kyle has been inserted to help bemused American readers.) It also manages to stay somewhat upbeat about the degree, as rather than turning into a bitter pulpit for Coe to berate his classmates and tutors with, it becomes a series of mishaps that form the person he will eventually become. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys slice-of-life writing – particularly coming-of-age comics, but it is readers who have studied some form of art degree that will get the most out of this brilliant little mirror of a graphic novel.