Since the 1970s, VCUarts alumni have been making their imprint on the comics industry. From illustrators for Marvel and DC Comics, to indie artists and even comic book scholars, our alumni have been recognized as some of the best in the biz.
Perhaps the most decorated alumnus is Painting + Printmaking grad Charles Vess (BFA ’74), who’s best known for his fantasy art. In the 1990s, he collaborated with English author Neil Gaiman on The Sandman, Stardust and The Books of Magic. He’s won the coveted Will Eisner Comic Industry Award twice: once in 1997 for his work on The Book of Ballads & Sagas and The Sandman, and another in 2002 for his work on Rose.
“A Chance Meeting in The Greenwood” by Charles Vess. (From VCU’s On the Cabell Screen.) A suite of 12 prints from Stardust can be found on the second floor of Cabell Library.
Vess got his start during his undergraduate years at VCUarts by contributing work to Fan Free Funnies, a counterculture tabloid produced by The Commonwealth Times in 1973. Editor Edwin Slipek (BA ’74), then an art history major, solicited work by local artists at VCU and in the neighboring Fan district. (Today, Slipek is a senior editor for Style Weekly.)
Alongside Vess, Fan Free Funnies featured the work of Phil Trumbo (BFA ’72), a fellow Painting + Printmaking major who went on to win an Emmy for his work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. He later become a designer and storyboard artist on the Nickelodeon animated series Doug.
In 1981, The Commonwealth Times founded another spin-off publication titled ThroTTle, helmed by Dale Brumfield (BFA ’82). And in 1997, Sculpture + Extended Media alumnus Pete Humes (BFA ’95) created the indie weekly Punchline, featuring comic strips and covers by local artists.
Of course, major publishers have been printing the work of talented VCUarts alumni for decades. Since Vess first painted Spider-Man in 1985, alumni Reilly Brown (BFA ’03) and Mike Wieringo (BFA ’91) have made their mark on the wider industry.
Brown, a communication arts alumnus, began self-publishing comics in 2002; three years later, he was invited by Marvel to contribute to a holiday special edition. Since then, he’s drawn Deadpool, Spider-Man, Hercules and Lobo for companies such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Archie and Tantor Media.
Illustration of Spider-Man by Reilly Brown. (From VCU’s On the Cabell Screen.)
Wieringo, who passed away in 2007, actually earned his degree in fashion illustration. But by the year he graduated, he was already working on an independently published revival of the pulp fiction character Doc Savage. Through the ’90s and ’00s, he penciled issues of The Flash, The Sensational Spider-Man, Tellos, The Adventures of Superman, Fantastic Four and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, as well as many crossovers and miniseries.
After his death, the Baltimore Comic-Con honored the late artist by launching the Ringo Awards, in reference to his occasional pen name “Ringo.” His work is still celebrated today for his fun and exuberant approach to superheroes, particularly during an era of comics that often features gritty realism.
Alumni from the past decade have garnered swift success in the world of independent comics, and have even expanded into other mediums. Hugo award-winner Abigail Larson (BFA ’10) has created covers for the comics Edward Scissorhands, Assassin’s Creed and Penny Dreadful, in addition to artwork for tabletop games and text adventures. Shannon Wright (BFA ’16) has created political comics for The Nib and children’s comics for KAZOO Magazine (in addition to her newspaper illustrations for the New York Times, NPR, The Guardian and more). And Richie Pope (BFA ’09) won an Ignatz Award for his indie comic That Box We Sit On in September.
Most recently, Megan James (BFA ’17) was featured in our Senior Spotlight series last year after she had already published five full-color issues of her indie comic series Innsmouth. This November, The Commonwealth Times interviewed professor Christopher Irving (BFA ’99), an art education alumnus who teaches a Star Wars class with the assistance of TyRuben Ellingson, chair of communication arts. Irving got his start writing comic book reviews and contributing to comics enthusiast magazines. He’s since published numerous historical texts on comic books and artists—including a volume on the celebrated Charles Vess.
If you would like to learn more about the world of comics, VCU is the repository for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, with nearly 1,000 comics-related publications in Cabell Library’s Comic Arts Collection.
2018 marks 90 years of creative daring at VCU School of the Arts. To mark this occasion, VCUarts is spending this school year reflecting on our shared history and envisioning how we can continue to pave the way for creative practice in the 21st century and beyond. Visit the VCUarts 90th Anniversary website to learn more about the many stories that have shaped our school, and to share memories of your own.