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Italy opens comics mecca in Chicago

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Without a doubt, comics have emerged as a much-loved 21st-century art form. Could it get any better? When native Italians apply their mastery and artistic acumen to the task, there can only be one answer — and you don’t need Superman to skywrite it for you. Better still, a successful Italian school that trains future comic book artists and storytellers recently landed in the United States.

The International School of Comics (known in Italy as Scuola International di Comics) is up and running in Chicago. Founder and president Dino Caterini chose the city because of its reputation for nurturing new artistic ventures, and attracting Italian talents such as Chicago Symphony Orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti.

“This is a great city to start,” says Caterini, speaking through an interpreter, while in town for the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. “The American culture here is softer and people are really friendly, very welcoming. And it’s a fact that in America, comic art is an institution — through books, graphic novels and the movie industry. The innovation and technology are impressive.”

So is the no-nonsense approach the school takes to help students to see the bigger picture. “

The artist is not just an artist,” says Annalisa Vicari, executive director of the Chicago location and herself an ISC graduate. “The concept is to grow a professional artist who can work as part of a team and on deadline. We want to cultivate their dream and let them grow, but to also teach them that it’s a job with compensation and production schedules. We teach them more than talent and technique.”

Caterini started the school in 1979 with the mission of passing on his skills as a successful comic artist and designer. To date, his school has nine locations in Italy, including branches in Rome, Turin, Naples and Florence.

“Our students have found jobs right after school and that’s how we became known,” Caterini adds. “The big factor in our evolution was the prestige we gained when we got recognized by Marvel Comics, DC Comics and the major film studios.”

Is there a superhero secret? If so, it might be as old as how Italian talent passes from generation to generation. “We call this a bottega school,” Vicari says. “In the past, the comic artists started as the assistant of a master — and this is our concept. These are not just teachers we have: They are artists teaching.”

And it’s quite the environment where classes take place. Large comic panels — many of them in Italian — grace the walls of the front entrance and classrooms, with genres from Japanese manga to old-school Looney Tunes represented. Signs of sunshine yellow, the school colors, are everywhere — and speaking of sun, the classrooms are bright and sleek, reflecting Caterini’s sharp-yet-playful aesthetic.

Yet it’s not out of reach for many students. “Our tuition is so low it’s ridiculous,” Vicari says. “We don’t want students paying off loans for the rest of their lives.”

To hear her tell it, it’s more about the personal and professional payoff. “This is a community. “Once our students start believing they can do this job, they get excited and sometimes we have to calm them down.”

The International School of Comics is located at 1651 W. Hubbard St., Chicago. To learn more about workshops and class schedules, call 312-265-0982, email info@schoolofcomics.us or visit schoolofcomics.us

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi's Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master's degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.

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