– by Charles Vess

Something that I find endlessly fascinating is how the art gods that you once worshiped when you were a much younger artist fall away as direct influences and become replaced by others. This is not to say that (in my case) Jack Kirby, Maxfield Parrish, Russ Manning or even Frank Frazetta are any less an icon in today’s world, its just that as you as a person mature and begin to experience the world your passions change. And that’s really okay. Those particular image makers, whoever they may be for you, even though they were formative in making you the artist that you are at this moment in time, right now in fact, they just don’t fill your creative sails anymore. Because, sometimes you really do need that extra boost of creative inspiration in order for you to even think about sitting your butt down at your drawing board.


Its not that I would ever want to ignore the broad, level road that these particular artists left in my psyche its that I’d like to cut my own path through the cluttered landscape of popular culture.

But bless them, some of those seminal (to me, at least) artists still do get me going. 30 to 40 years after I’ve ‘met’ them I still find myself learning new lessons from what has fallen off their busy finger tips.

Of course I’ve met many others along the way, artists who still remain close aesthetic friends in my time of need.

Now, just because I was producing comic book narratives for many years back in the 1990s certainly doesn’t mean I only looked to comic book or strip artists for inspiration. Or later, when I slipped into fantasy book illustration that I only studied the cover art on SF/F books and magazines. I strongly believe that that can only lead to your stagnation as an artist and ultimately to complete boredom. If there is one thing that we can thank the ease of an internet search for is that there’s a great big world of art, past and present, lurking in all sorts of interesting corners for anyone to easily discover and become inspired by.

Which brings me to an important signpost on the long and winding road that is our artistic life, a posting that is often overlooked as we fly past it in our reckless pursuit of a burgeoning career. Never limit your search for inspiration to any one particular field. That narrow, twisty side road might lead you to a dusty bookshop that gifts you with the work of an unknown artist that could just change your life forever. That semi-mythic bookshop might even focus on a field that you’ve never considered of interest before. Don’t turn away. Take you time to browse through its offerings. Buried inside a book on gardening might be elegant line drawings by W. H. Robinson or one of his brothers.

In the pages of a children’s picture book could be an explosion of b/w illustrations by an unknown-till-then German illustrator, Hermann Vogel that will take your breath away.

Or a contemporary take on Arthur Rackham’s elegant line by Lizbeth Zwerger could offer you an escape from an aesthetic you no longer wish to participate in.

A graphic novel by Lorenzo Mattotti could entrance you with its particular magic stylization.

There, anyway are some of my particular signposts that have done their best to lure AND to teach me a lesson or two (well, maybe three or four).

Rhongast the Wizard: This pen & ink was done in 1969 when I was a senior in High School and trying desperately to grasp a hold of any aesthetic information that Aubrey Beardsly or Alex Raymond had to offer me.

Granny Goodapple comes Knocking on Your Door: In 1974 I had just graduated from college with a BFA and was able once more to draw as I pleased.

The Earth Witch (left): I had just moved to NYC in 1976 to share a two bedroom apartment with, Michael Kaluta. This was the first painting that I completed after unpacking my all my stuff. It wasn’t a commission because absolutely no one was hiring me to paint anything back then. The painting was done just for the love of it.

Spider-Man (right): Spirits of the Earth: In the mid 1990s I wrote, drew and painted this 70 page graphic narrative for Marvel sending the web slinger to the highlands of Scotland so that I wouldn’t have to paint NYC buildings and windows the whole damn time.

In the Deep Woods” One of 175 paintings that were completed in throughout 2005 and 2006 for the publication of my collaboration with writer Neil Gaiman, ‘Stardust, Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie’.

Blueberry Girl: an interior page from 2009 for yet another collaboration with Neil Gaiman, this time for a children’s picture book.

And, I’m always looking forward to meeting some new faces that may someday join my pantheon of art gods and goddesses.

Come on in, the waters fine.

Charles Vess
Abingdon, VA

Duet, A Door Into Summer: a private commission done in 2012.