‘Codes, Censorship and Conflict’: Library announces theme for second annual comics contest

Illustration by Killian Goodale-Porter

Emily Richardson, Contributing Writer

VCU Libraries announced their second annual Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest, inviting the VCU community to submit a one-page, multi-panel comic on the theme of “Codes, Censorship and Conflict” with a grand prize of $1,000.

This year’s theme dives deeper into the issue of art censorship after the first contest last year, which explored the banning of James Branch Cabell’s novel “Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice” in 1920, according to the library website. Two runners-up will be awarded a prize of $250 and five honorable mentions will be awarded a prize of $100, including a new First-Time Comic Creator category. 

All entries in the contest will be considered for digital publication through VCU Scholars Compass. The library is funding the contest. 

Last year’s contest focused specifically on the censorship of Cabell’s “Jurgen.” The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seized the printing plates and copies of the novel for being “offensive, lewd, lascivious and indecent,” which caused demands for the book to skyrocket, according to the VCUarts website.

Alice Campbell, VCU digital outreach and special projects librarian and project manager of the contest, said examining art censorship specifically helps to dig into the concept of censorship as a whole.

“It’s a very particular kind of censorship,” Campbell said. “It helps us decide, ‘what do we think about these issues? Why does this happen? Is it always a bad thing?’”

Comics were an ideal medium for the contest because of VCU Libraries’ focus on comics collection, Campbell said. The collection comprises more than 175,000 items, including 125,000 comic books, according to the library website.

“Comic art has been one of our collecting areas for a long time, so we have a terrific collection,” Campbell said. “It’s a natural thing for VCU Libraries. It’s a great storytelling medium.”

This year, the library is taking the contest a step further by focusing on the codes that cause art censorship, according to Campbell.

Written and unwritten codes shape creative work produced today, according to an article on the VCU Libraries Website. The Comics Code Authority, which regulated the content in comics from 1954 to 2011, helped to inspire this year’s theme, Campbell said.

Codes and regulations have their place, but can be abused by those in power, Campbell said.

“It’s an interesting balance between standards, which make things run smoothly,” Campbell said. “But, also, the possibility for power and abuse.”

The new First-Time Comic Creator category invites those without experience in visual art to take part in the competition.

“If you have a story to tell, but you don’t think of yourself as a visual artist, you can do it with stick figures,” Campbell said. “You can make a comic with sequential storytelling and you can enter the contest and win $100.”

Jess Soffian is this year’s student editor. They are responsible for creating posters and social media material for the contest “among various odds and ends,” Soffian said. 

Entering the contest is a good opportunity, regardless of if working in comics is a participant’s goal, Soffian said.

“It’s a publication opportunity and it looks great on a resume,” Soffian said. “It’s broadly applicable because comics themselves — it’s storytelling, it’s typography, it’s composition. It’s a lot of things.”

Last year’s grand prize winner was senior Erin Crawford. Now a VCUarts alumna, she said she decided to enter because she found the topic of censorship interesting. Crawford’s winning entry, “Cabell Walks into a Bar,” depicts James Branch Cabell lamenting the censorship of his novel.

The most surprising thing about winning the grand prize was the recognition, Crawford said.

“I didn’t really expect it,” Crawford said. “I even had people at my job who saw me in the paper come up to me and congratulate me.”

The best thing people who enter the contest can do is to read up on the theme, Crawford said.

“The material provided to you is your lifeline,” Crawford said. “The biggest leg up you can have is to read about it all and then find what speaks to you, or find what you feel best relates to the prompt within that.”

For more information on the contest and how to enter, visit the VCU Libraries website. Students from all departments are eligible to enter the competition. A First-Time Comic Creator workshop will be held on Nov. 1, 2022 in The Workshop in Cabell Library.

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