Charles Vess
Charles Vess in his studio, Green Man Press, in Abingdon, Virginia.
Born (1951-06-10) June 10, 1951 (age 72)
Notable works
The Book of Ballads and Sagas
CollaboratorsNeil Gaiman, Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, Charles de Lint
AwardsHugo Awards, 2019 Best Professional Artist, Best Art Book

Locus Awards, 2019, 2023 Best Artist, Best Art Book

Inkpot Award, 1990
Eisner Award, 1991, 1997, 2002
World Fantasy Award, 1991, 1999
Comic Creators' Guild, 1993
Silver Award (Comics Industry), 1995

Charles Vess (born June 10, 1951)[1] is an American fantasy artist 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. Vess has won several awards for his illustrations. Vess' studio, Green Man Press, is located in Abingdon, VA.

He has received numerous awards and honors for his work including the 2019, and 2023 Locus Award for Best Artist, and the 2019 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist and Best Art Book for The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition.[2]

In 1991, his work with Neil Gaiman on the Sandman comic short story "A Midsummer Night's Dream" became the first comic to win the World Fantasy Award.[3]


Early life and career

Charles Vess began drawing comic art as a child. He graduated with a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 1974. While at VCU, Vess' comics appeared in the Fan Free Funnies, a comic tabloid published by the student newspaper.[4] 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 1979, which Vess wrote and illustrated.[5]

From 1980 to 1982 Vess worked as an art instructor at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. 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.

Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess (2011). Cover art by Vess.

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,[5] and "The Warriors Three Saga" in Marvel Fanfare #34–37 (Sept. 1987–April 1988).[6] He painted the cover of the debut issue of Web of Spider-Man (April 1985),[7] wrote and drew a backup story in The Amazing Spider-Man #277 (June 1986),[8] and crafted the Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth graphic novel (1990).[9] In 1991 he illustrated the official comic-book adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s Hook and had an eleven issue run (#129–139) as cover artist of Swamp Thing by DC Comics in 1993.[5]

Collaborations with Neil Gaiman

In 1990, 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,[10] and worked on three issues of Gaiman's critically acclaimed The Sandman series.[11] Sandman #19 ("A Midsummer Night's Dream") is a meta-fictional adaptation of William Shakespeare's play[12] and 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").[13] He drew the covers for the Books of Faerie spin-off series Molly's Story (1999).[14]


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[15] from the American Library Association. It 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.[16]

Blueberry Girl

Between 2004 and 2007 Vess adapted a poem by Neil Gaiman into a children's book, Blueberry Girl.[17] 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.[5] 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 Press. 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

Vess worked with longtime friend and writer Charles de Lint 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, as well as a later edition by Tachyon Publications, 2009), along with others mentioned above. In 2004 Vess 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).

Collaboration with Ursula K. Le Guin

Vess was chosen by Saga Press to illustrate The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition (2018), a compilation of all five Earthsea novels, as well as short stories, including some previously unpublished works. During the process, Vess had a chance to work closely with Le Guin, translating her vision onto the page. Vess described their work together as a true collaboration, saying in 2018 "... I don’t think she believed me when I said I wanted to collaborate. But, after four years and lord knows how many emails, she sent me a copy of her latest book, her essay book, and her dedication to me was ‘To Charles, the best collaborator ever.’"[18] The book was published in October 2018, and went on to win a 2019 Locus Award for Best Art Book[19] and a 2019 Hugo Award for Best Art Book.[20]


In a 2004 interview, Vess cited among many artistic influences, beginning with the 19th-century British book illustrator Arthur Rackham, saying,

I discovered his work while I was still in college and immediately fell completely in love with it. His art, unlike a lot of other artists that I discovered at the same time (Maxfield Parrish, Frank Frazetta, etc.) I've never grown tired of. I always find myself learning new things every time I study it. But there are many others that have influenced me, among them: the Swedish illustrator John Bauer, Howard Pyle, the 19th-century German illustrator Hermann Vogel, Alphonse Mucha (the father of Art Nouveau), Willy Pogany, Kay Nielsen, W. H. Robinson, Hal Foster and Alfred Bestall (the British illustrator of the long running Rupert Bear series). Among the living I count Michael Kaluta, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Lizebeth Zwerger and Terri Windling.[21]


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 "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:


Comics bibliography


Archival Press

Cartoon Book

Dark Horse Comics

DC Comics

Green Man Press

HM Communications

Marvel Comics

Renaissance Press

Spiderbaby Grafix & Publications


  1. ^ Miller, John Jackson (June 10, 2005). "Comics Industry Birthdays". Comics Buyer's Guide. Iola, Wisconsin. Archived from the original on February 18, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  2. ^ "2023 Locus Awards Winners". 25 June 2023.
  3. ^ "Enter Sandman". Chicago Tribune. 20 December 1991.
  4. ^ "Fan Free Funnies volumes 1-3 (1973)". VCU Libraries. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Charles Vess at the Grand Comics Database
  6. ^ Ash, Roger (June 2017). "The Adventures of the Warriors Three". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (96): 52–55.
  7. ^ David, Peter; Greenberger, Robert (2010). The Spider-Man Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book with Rare Collectibles Spun from Marvel's Web. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0762437726. Having fantasy artist Charles Vess illustrate the first cover to Web of Spider-Man also announced that this [series] was something unique.
  8. ^ Manning, Matthew K.; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2012). "1980s". Spider-Man Chronicle Celebrating 50 Years of Web-Slinging. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 154. ISBN 978-0756692360. In the issue's second story, written and illustrated by the talented Charles Vess, Spider-Man swung into a snowstorm in Central Park in order to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a diplomat. ((cite book)): |first2= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Cowsill, Alan "1990s" in Gilbert (2012), p. 190: "The magnificent painted artwork of Charles Vess was the star of the show in this 86-page hardback graphic novel."
  10. ^ Irvine, Alex (2008). "The Books of Magic". In Dougall, Alastair (ed.). The Vertigo Encyclopedia. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 38–41. ISBN 978-0-7566-4122-1. OCLC 213309015.
  11. ^ Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. The Sandman saw a variety of artists grace its pages. Sam Kieth drew the first few issues, followed by Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Shawn McManus, among others. ((cite book)): |first2= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Bender, Hy (1999). The Sandman Companion. New York, New York: DC Comics. pp. 74–88. ISBN 978-1563894657.
  13. ^ Burgas, Greg (January 7, 2013). "Comics You Should Own – Sandman". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on April 10, 2014.
  14. ^ Irvine "The Books of Faerie" in Dougall, p. 36–37
  15. ^ "2000 Alex Awards". Young Adult Library Services Association. 2013. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013.
  16. ^ "A Fall of Stardust". The Neil Gaiman Visual Bibliography. n.d. Archived from the original on February 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Vess, Charles (July 2007). "Blueberry Wanderings". Green Man Press. Archived from the original on May 25, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2009.
  18. ^ Moher, Aidan (2018-11-09). "Art of SFF: Charles Vess on Working with Ursula Le Guin on The Books of Earthsea". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  19. ^ a b c locusmag (2019-06-29). "2019 Locus Awards Winners". Locus Online. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  20. ^ a b c Cheryl (2019-08-18). "2019 Hugo Awards Announced". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  21. ^ "An Interview with Charles Vess". The Green Man Review. November 29, 2004. Archived from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved January 7, 2013.
  22. ^ "Exhibition - Earthsea Imagined by Charles Vess". Best Things Ohio (AmericanTowns Media). Archived from the original on May 11, 2018. Retrieved May 11, 2018.
  23. ^ "Inkpot Award Winners". Hahn Library Comic Book Awards Almanac. Archived from the original on July 9, 2012.
  24. ^ a b c "Neil Gaiman". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. 2011. Archived from the original on October 14, 2013.
  25. ^ "Charles Vess". Lambiek Comiclopedia. June 9, 2012. Archived from the original on November 12, 2012.
  26. ^ a b "1990s Eisner Awards Recipients". San Diego Comic-Con International. 2013. Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  27. ^ "Comics Creators Guild Award". Hahn Library Comic Book Awards Almanac. Archived from the original on October 24, 2013.
  28. ^ "Spectrum Awards 1995". Science Fiction Awards Database. August 10, 2012. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014.
  29. ^ "Award Winners & Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. 2013. Archived from the original on October 15, 2013.
  30. ^ "2023 Locus Awards Winners". 25 June 2023.