Charles Vess

Charles Vess
Charles Vess

Vess at a panel at Faerie Con 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Born June 10, 1951 (1951-06-10) (age 60)
Nationality American
Area(s) Artist
Notable works Sandman
The Book of Ballads and Sagas
Awards Inkpot Award, 1990
Eisner Award, 1991, 1997, 2002
World Fantasy Award, 1991, 1999
Comic Creators' Guild, 1993
Silver Award (Comics Industry), 1995
Official website

Charles Vess (b. June 10, 1951)[1] is an American fantasy artist and comic-book illustrator who has specialized in the illustration of myths and fairy tales. His illustrations are strongly influenced by the work of artists and illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Alphonse Mucha.[citation needed] Vess has won several awards for his illustrations.



Early life and career

Charlies Vess began drawing comic art as a child. He graduated with a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1974. His first professional position was as a commercial animator for Candy Apple Productions in Richmond, Virginia, which he held for approximately two years.

In 1976 he moved to New York City and became a freelance illustrator. He contributed illustrations to publications including Heavy Metal, Klutz Press (now an imprint of Scholastic Press), and National Lampoon. One notable publication from this early period was The Horns of Elfland (ISBN 0-915822-25-3) published by Archival Press in 1977, which Vess wrote and illustrated.

From 1980-82 Vess worked as an art instructor at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Also during that period, his work appeared in one of the first major museum exhibitions of science fiction and fantasy art, held at the New Britain Museum of American Art in 1980.

Vess' cover for Web of Spider-Man #1 (April, 1985) featuring Spider-Man in his black costume.

Mainstream fantasy

By the late 1980s Vess had found a niche in the world of fantasy comic art with publications such as The Raven Banner: A Tale of Asgard written by Alan Zelenetz and published by Marvel Comics in 1985, The Book of Night, published by Dark Horse Comics in 1987, and The Warriors Three Saga, Marvel Fanfare #34-37, 1987-88. His success was also mainstream, however, as evidenced by his illustration of Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth (a 1990 graphic novel from Marvel), and a ten issue run (#129-139) as cover artist of The Swamp Thing by DC Comics in 1993. In 1991 he illustrated the official comic-book adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s Hook.

Collaborations with Neil Gaiman

In 1989 Vess began one of his best-known collaborations to date, with writer Neil Gaiman. He illustrated "The Land of Summer's Twilight", one of the four episodes in the original The Books of Magic mini-series,[2] and also worked on three issues of Gaiman’s critically acclaimed Sandman series (both series were initially published by DC Comics as part of their shared universe, but later moved to the new "mature readers" Vertigo imprint/universe). Sandman #19 ("A Midsummer Night's Dream") is a meta-fictional adaptation of Shakespeare's play. In 1991, that issue won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, the only comic book to hold the honor, as award organizers subsequently amended the rules to specifically exclude comics. Vess contributed eight drawings for a prose-based inset that appeared in Sandman #62 ("The Kindly Ones: 6") and illustrated the final issue of the series, Sandman #75, a second Shakespeare adaptation ("The Tempest"), both now published by Vertigo. He also drew the covers for the Books of Faerie spin-off series Molly's Story (1999).[3]


Between 1997 and 1998 the collaboration between Vess and Gaiman continued in the four-part series Stardust, a prose novella to which Vess contributed 175 paintings. The series was collected and published in trade paperback form by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. Stardust won an Alex Award[4] from the American Library Association. It also received a Mythopoeic Award, and Vess was given the 1999 World Fantasy Award for Best Artist for his work on the series.

In 1999, Vess's own Green Man Press produced a portfolio as a benefit for his wife Karen, injured in a car accident, titled A Fall of Stardust, which contained two chapbooks and a series of art plates.[5]

The 2007 film adaptation of Stardust credits Vess prominently.

Blueberry Girl

Between 2004 and 2007 Vess adapted a poem by Neil Gaiman into a children's book, Blueberry Girl.[6] The book was published by HarperCollins in 2009.(ISBN 0-06-083808-6)

Tales and Sagas

Beginning in 1995 Vess self-published a biannual series of comics entitled The Book of Ballads and Sagas through his Green Man Press. In this series Vess illustrated adaptations of traditional Scottish and English ballads written by a variety of contributors, including Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Sharyn McCrumb, Jeff Smith, and Jane Yolen. Issues 1-4 were collected and published as Ballads in 1997. The work was reprinted as a hardback by Tor Books in 2004 with additional material, including an introduction by Terri Windling.

Collaborations with Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow

Vess has illustrated a series of anthologies edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, published by Viking. They are: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2002), The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm (2004), and The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (2007).

Collaborations with Charles de Lint

Probably his most productive collaboration is with longtime friend and writer Charles de Lint. The pair have worked together on at least half a dozen publications, including Seven Wild Sisters (Subterranean Press, 2002) and related projects A Circle of Cats (Viking, 2003), and Medicine Road (Subterranean Press, 2005), along with others mentioned above. In 2004 Vess also did both a color cover and front page illustration and additional black and white interior illustrations for a 20th anniversary (signed, limited) edition of Moonheart, by de Lint (Subterranean Press).


Starting in 1989 with "The Art of Fantasy and Science Fiction" at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, a series of gallery exhibitions have featured Vess's artwork. The gallery show "Storyteller" appeared in 1992 at Frameworks Gallery in Bristol, Virginia. The following year he showed work under the title "The Mythic Garden" at the Open Air Birch Garden in Devon, England, and also "The Magic" at Repartee Gallery in Park City, Utah.

In 1994, after he moved to southwestern Virginia, a local museum asked Vess to organize a show which became The DreamWeavers: a travelling exhibition of 15 fantasy artists from a variety of fields including children's book illustrators Jerry Pinkney, Dennis Nolan, Gennady Spirin, Ruth Sanderson and David Wisnieski; comic book illustrators Michael Kaluta, and Vess himself; science fiction/fantasy book jacket artists Dawn Wilson and James Gurney; commercial book illustrators Scott Gustafson, Brian Froud, Alan Lee and Alicia Austin, and fine artist Terri Windling. The show ran from fall 1994 through summer 1995.

Since that time Vess's work has appeared in gallery showings and museum exhibitions, including:

  • "The Tempest" Spring 1996. Four Color Images Gallery, N.Y.C.
  • "Stardust" Spring - Summer 1998 Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco, Ca.
  • "Good Goddess Arts Exhibition", Johnson City, TN and Abingdon, VA, March 1998, ‘99, and 2000.
  • "Into the Light," Comic Art Symposium, Avilles, Spain, Fall 2000.
  • "Fantasy, Visionaries of the Fantastic" Torino, Italy, Spring 2002.
  • "A Circle of Cats," 153W Bookstore & Gallery, Abingdon VA, Summer 2003
  • "Ancient Spirit, Modern Voice," (Co-curator and participating artist) The DeFoor Centre, Atlanta , GA , Spring 2004.


Vess has won the Will Eisner Comics Industry Award three times. In 1997 he was named Best Penciler/Inker for his work on Sandman #75 and The Book of Ballads and Sagas. In 2002 he was honored as Best Painter for his work on Jeff Smith’s Rose.

  • The Inkpot Award: For excellence in comic art, 1990.
  • World Fantasy Award: Best short story, 1991 for Sandman #19, by Neil Gaiman and Vess.
  • Will Eisner Comics Industry Award: Best Single Issue, 1991 for Concrete Celebrates Earth Day, by Paul Chadwick, Vess, and Jean "Moebius" Giraud
  • Comic Creators' Guild: 1993 Best Cover (Dark Horse Presents #75).
  • Silver Award (Comics Industry) 1995, Spectrum Annual of Imaginative Art.
  • Will Eisner Comics Industry Award: Best Penciler/Inker, 1996 for The Book of Ballads and Sagas and Sandman #75.
  • World Fantasy Award: Best Artist, 1999 for Stardust, written by Neil Gaiman.
  • Will Eisner Comics Industry Award: Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, 2002 for Rose, written by Jeff Smith
  • World Fantasy Award: Best Artist, 2010[7]


  1. ^ Miller, John Jackson (June 10, 2005). "Comics Industry Birthdays". Comic Buyer's Guide. Archived from the original on October 29, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ Irvine, Alex (2008). "The Books of Magic". In Dougall, Alastair. The Vertigo Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 38–41. ISBN 0-7566-4122-5. OCLC 213309015. 
  3. ^ Irvine, Alex (2008). "The Books of Faerie". In Dougall, Alastair. The Vertigo Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-7566-4122-5. OCLC 213309015. 
  4. ^ ALA website
  5. ^ "Neil Gaiman Bibliography: A Fall Of Stardust". Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  6. ^ "News from Green Man Press » Blog Archive » Blueberry Wanderings". Retrieved November 18, 2009. 
  7. ^ World Fantasy Convention (2010). "“2010 World Fantasy Award Winners & Nominees”". Retrieved 04 Feb 2011. 

External links

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