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Vess, Charles

Entry updated 19 February 2024. Tagged: Artist.

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(1951-    ) American artist. After receiving a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1973, Vess briefly worked in animation before moving to New York City in 1977 to do illustrations for National Lampoon, Heavy Metal, Klutz Press, and other clients. Yet he displayed a natural talent for illustrating works of Fantasy by producing a number of paintings for a 1977 edition of J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) while also writing and illustrating his own fantasy novel, The Horns of Elfland (1979). Vess also did a handful of early book covers, displaying a distinctively ornate, decorous style of art, reminiscent of Victorian artists like Arthur Rackham; one example was his cover for the December 1981 issue of Fantasy Book, showing a Circe-like woman with a wand apparently surrounded by the men she has turned into pigs. In the 1980s, however, Vess largely abandoned covers to work primarily in the field of Comic books and Graphic Novels, and he garnered his greatest acclaim for numerous collaborations with his friend Neil Gaiman, including contributions to his Sandman series; one instalment unusually won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for short fiction, crediting Gaiman and Vess as co-authors. For Marvel Comics, he also wrote and illustrated a graphic novel featuring Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth (graph 1990), and was primarily responsible for a 1991 adaptation of Steven Spielberg's film Hook (1991). On three occasions, Vess earned Will Eisner Awards for his work in comics. He also founded Green Man Press to publish books of his and others' artwork, including a series of illustrated adaptations of ballads that were eventually collected as The Book of Ballads (graph coll 2004).

In the 1990s, Vess again turned more of his attention to artwork for books; one prominent project was numerous interior illustrations for Gaiman's story Stardust (1999) which were later employed in its 2008 film adaptation. He has illustrated several books by another friend, Charles de Lint, and his work for De Lint's chapbook A Circle of Cats (2002 chap), including a nice cover showing Cats gathering around a forest clearing, received a Spectrum Award. He painted colourfully charming covers for four anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and he perfectly captured the spirit of Winsor McCay in an imaginative cover for the first publication of Ray Bradbury's unproduced screenplay Nemo! (2012). Overall, one cannot describe Vess as versatile, but he has shown himself to be an ideal artist for certain sorts of fantasies. His Walking Through the Landscape of Faerie (coll 2016) won a Locus Award as best art book; in 2019 he received two Hugos and two Locus Awards, as best professional artist and for best art book, the latter in each case for Ursula K Le Guin's The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (graph omni 2018). A further double Locus Award win came in 2022, for best artist and best art book with The Art of Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess' Stardust (graph 2021), and he won a 2023 Locus Award as best artist. [GW]

Charles Dana Vess

born Lynchburg, Virginia: 10 June 1951


graphic works


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