Esteemed Comic Artist Stephen R. Bissette Educates and Amuses University
photo by the author; courtesy of Stephen Bissette
Virginia Commonwealth University Grace
Street Theatre- VCU invited popular artist Stephen
R. Bissette to visit a cartoon collaboration class by day and
lecture students and the public by night. They picked an outstanding
speaker. True, his work is worthy - but as readers of this column know,
there is more to success than talent. Bissette displayed real personality
and even a degree of showmanship in his talk. Not a mere studio artist,
he regaled the audience with tales of his career and humorous anecdotes
that elicited laughter and applause.
English professor and national author Tom
De Haven introduced Bissette. No less a luminary than M.
Thomas Inge was in the audience to hear the talk of this popular
figure in the illustration and comics fields. An animated speaker who
has no need for a microphone, Bissette began with a slide show of a
number of his accomplishments and projects, from a Rondo
Hatton award to an upcoming Imprint for E-Books, ON/IN Comics.
He really is a businessperson as well as a storyteller, which is partly
why his presentation was so inspirational. He has edited anthologies,
published his own work and is a champion of Creator's Rights. As a horror
fan and artist, he contributes to recognition of the original copyright
holders of cult-favorite film "Night of the Living Dead"
- indeed, much of his discussion focused on copyright protection and
advice for aspiring artists and writers on how to seek recognition while
protecting their developing "brand". Comics fans love the
accessibility of people like Bissette, who overcome obstacles to find
success and seek to help others who have the same love for the craft.
No opportunity was lost for a "teaching moment" by this faculty
member of The Center for
Cartoon Studies, and the guest speaker displayed two short comic
stories of his own authorship and artistry from his preferred genre,
horror, and analyzed the elements of the work: characters, pacing, and,
most importantly, inspiration, an element he learned from one of his
heroes, Edgar Allen
A member of the first graduating class of the famous Joe
Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Bissette certainly
had memories of towering figures in the field to share, from working
with Legends such as Kubert himself to meeting the great Al
Williamson. In spite of the termination of their friendly relationship,
Bissette had numerous words of praise for famed author and former Swamp-Thing
Moore. He kept negativity and ego out of his entire presentation,
which helped elicit numerous questions from the students at the question
and answer session. In fact, he was still on stage answering questions
at the conclusion of the event. However, attendees were moving toward
the lobby to get copies of their books autographed, and Bissette eventually
found his way to the next group of fans and aspiring professionals -
to cheerfully answer more questions.