The Art of Charles Vess

14 Oct

Charles Vess is an American fantasy and comics artist who has specialized in the illustration of myths and fairy tales. His influences include British “Golden Age” book illustrator Arthur Rackham, Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, and comic-strip artist Hal Foster, among others. Charles Vess has been drawing ever since he could hold a crayon. Working in his studio in downtown Abingdon, Virginia, Charles Vess adds a little bit of magic back into the mundane world, drawing pixies, swamp things, goth spirits and fantastical forests. If you’re a comics or fantasy fan, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with the works of Charles Vess, an award-winning artist and illustrator.  His collaborations with authors Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint, as well as his cover art for Marvel and DC have gained him a passionate following across the world. His award-winning work has graced covers and pages from numerous comic book publishers including The Books of Magic, Sandman and Swamp Thing from DC Comics, as well as Spider-Man from Marvel Comics. He currently concentrates on book illustration, where he continues to win praise and accolades for his unique style. The ultimate testament to his talent came when Vess shared the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story with Neil Gaiman in 1991 for their collaboration on The Sandman #19, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Charles Vess has been an artist since he was a small child. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1974, he took his first professional job as an animator for Candy Apple Productions in Richmond, Virginia. He stayed at this position for about two years before moving to New York in 1976. There, he worked as a freelance illustrator, contributing to publications including Heavy Metal and The National Lampoon. It was in this early period of his career that he published The Horns of Elfland  for Archival Press in 1977, which Vess both wrote and illustrated. From 1980 to 1982, Charles worked as an instructor at the Parsons School of Art and Design. By the late 80’s, Vess had made a mark in the field of fantasy comic art with titles such as The Raven Banner: A Tale of Asgard  published by Marvel in 1985 and The Book of Night, published by Dark Horse in 1987. Eventually, his mainstream success was affirmed by his illustration of Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth from Marvel in 1990, and a ten issue run as illustrator of Swamp Thing for DC in 1993.

In 1989, Vess began his best-known collaboration to date, with Neil Gaiman, illustrating The Land of Summer’s Twilight, one of four episodes in the original Books of Magic, a DC mini-series,and also worked on three issues of Gaiman’s Sandman. Sandman #19, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream won the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 1991. It was the only comic book to ever hold the honour, as award organizers consequently amended the rules to exclude comics! Recently, the Mayor of Abingdon presented Vess with the key to the Town in a special ceremony held in front of his very own Midsummer Play fountain. He was preceded into the ceremony by harp music, a cloud of bubbles, and a parade of tiny fairies from a local dance academy. It was an unexpectedly fantastical moment, and a fitting tribute to a man who has spent his life bringing a little more magic to the world.

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