VCUarts brings experience in comic book world to his classes

Professor Christopher Irving was an art student at VCU in the 90s and has since interviewed prominent comic book artists and writers, including Stan Lee. Photo by Erin Edgerton.

Andrew Ringle
Contributing Writer

Christopher Irving says he took a “long, winding road” to end up where he is today. That road brought him to an interview with Stan Lee, four book publications and a plethora of odd jobs.

Today, he teaches a class at VCU on “Star Wars” in Franklin Terrace, the same building where he attended studio classes more than 20 years ago.

Irving teaches his “Star Wars” class with the help of VCU Communication Arts chair TyRuben Ellingson. Ellingson worked with Lucasfilm producing special effects for “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.”

The class examines the influences that led George Lucas to create the film along with the media which resulted from its massive success, such as the “Star Wars” radio series from the 1980s.

“By the time the students leave, they’ll have their own opinions on George Lucas, for better or for worse,” Irving said. “It’ll hopefully give them a better appreciation for what type of director he is in comparison to the type of director he began as.”

rving’s class examines the influences that led George Lucas to create “Star Wars” and allows
the students to form their own opinions on the famous director. Photo by Erin Edgerton

Next semester, Irving will teach a class on science fiction film, in which students will watch “A Trip to the Moon,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Avatar” and “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” The class will explore the roots of the genre and how science fiction films reflect social themes throughout history.

“I am super grateful,” Irving said. “Everyday I get to go into the classroom, and it’s a gift. Teaching my students everyday, I almost feel like I’m the one who’s getting more of an education.”

Irving studied art education at VCU from 1995 to 1999. In 1997, Irving was Spectrum editor for The Commonwealth Times. He wrote comic book reviews and once interviewed the author of the DC miniseries “Kingdom Come,” Mark Waid. After graduating from VCU, he wrote for various comic-based publications, including “Comics Buyer’s Guide,” “Comic Book Marketplace” and “Alter Ego.”

“Nowadays, anyone starts a blog and they’re like, ‘now I’m a comics journalist,’” Irving said. “But back then, I was on the tail-end of feeling like I really had to prove myself. I wanted that gold star from an editor that showed me they liked what I was doing.”

In his 20s, he sought out other jobs to help pay his bills and try new things. In doing so, Irving acquired a variety of unique experiences.

From working as a teaching English and art to working at a pen store — where he discovered his love for fountain pens — Irving worked a variety of odd jobs. While he said he enjoyed the experiences, he still wished he pursued comic book journalism, he said.

After his trail of unique careers, he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina to publish his first two novels — including his first comic history book “The Blue Beetle Companion.” After returning to Richmond and working as a copywriter at Circuit City for two years, Irving left for New York. There, with partner and photographer Seth Kushner, Irving launched Graphic NYC, a website based on the history of comic books.

At Graphic NYC, Irving interviewed more than 70 comic book legends, including Frank Miller, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon, Stan Lee and Brian Michael Bendis. Kushner photographed the subjects while Irving wrote about their lives and careers. They compiled their work into a book, “Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics.”

As a child, Irving said he gained an interest for comics when his father gave him a copy of “The Great Comic Book Heroes” by Jules Feiffer. Along with Kushner in New York, Irving visited Feiffer’s studio.

“It was a beautiful studio, like you’d see in movies,” Irving said. “He made me coffee and I played with his dog. I was thinking, ‘this is amazing.’ These were experiences that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”

After “Leaping Tall Buildings” was published in 2012, Irving pursued graduate school at Brooklyn College, where he began to miss teaching. He returned to his alma mater to teach comic book history.

“I had several different experiences under my belt,” Irving said. “I think they informed me in ways that someone with just one career would not have had. I’ve published books, I’ve edited books and I’ve even sold fountain pens. So when I came to teach in a classroom at VCU, it all finally made sense to me. All those experiences informed my teaching.”

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