Showing on the Cabell Screen this fall semester, images from the annual Jurgen contest.

This exhibit showcases comic arts from a VCU Libraries-sponsored contest in the last academic year. These student artists brought wit, imagination and passion to the challenge of creating comics on the topic of censorship and self-censorship. This exhibit celebrates artists’ talents and contributions to the second annual Jurgen Comics Contest.  More contest artwork may be viewed on VCU Scholars Compass.

The third annual contest is underway with entries due by Oct. 31. The 2023-24 contest asks students to respond imaginatively to historical incidents of art censorship. Artists will create a single-page, multi-panel comic telling a story centered on a specific episode of seizure or censorship of visual art, book, music or film. Examples of such incidents may be found on the contest website. More details

Reflected in the Cabell Screen exhibit, the prompt for the 2022-23 year contest was “Codes, Censorship and Conflict.” Comics could be fictional or non-fictional, but were required to explore the impact of the written and unwritten codes that define what’s appropriate at the intersection of art, commerce and freedom. Students considered industry codes, like the Comics Code and Hays Code that have shaped the production and distribution of creative work, along with the ways “coded” language and imagery have been used to evade restrictions, while signaling another meaning to people in the know.

The Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest is envisioned as an annual student competition dedicated to telling the story of banned art – books, music, film and more – and encouraging discussion of the complex relationship between art and society. The contest is sponsored by VCU Libraries with generous support from donors.

Rena Bridge  – A Quick History of Gay Batman
Grand Prize Winner

Rena Bridge, pictured above, is an illustrator and comic artist majoring in communication arts and graduating in 2023.

“Coding and censorship are two topics I already had an interest in, especially in regards to how they relate to the history of comics, so I decided to combine these ideas with a topic that I have even more interest in–Batman! Those who know me can tell you that this comic was really a thinly veiled excuse for me to draw Batman and Robin over and over, so I can be honest when I say this: I enjoyed every part of the process of working on it, from the initial pages of research to putting the very finishing touches onto the lettering.”

Alexander Tyree – Driven Underground

Alexander Tyree is an Appalachian artist majoring in communication arts focused on telling engaging stories through a variety of mediums. He is excited to enter the publishing industry upon his graduation in Spring 2023. Tyree is Editor-in-Chief of the VCU student publication Emanata.

“Reading over the Comics Code of 1954, I was struck by how insidious the language used was. We see this reflected still today in modern lawmaking, with coded speech being used to criminalize minorities. Oppression is hidden under the pretense of best intentions. I wanted to explore the implications of some of the standards set forth by the Comics Code, to help the reader connect what is explicitly said to the underlying intents and consequences.” 

Emil Georges – Female Nudity 

Emil Georges is a senior in communication arts. Emil is a queer artist and Richmond native who loves creating art featuring bright colors and cute people.

“I saw posters advertising the contest and as a person who’s constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable in society, I was interested right away! As a soon-graduating artist with the intent to go into fine arts, and a love for museums and galleries, I decided to illustrate my first experience having my work in a gallery. In museums, we are often faced with nude figures of all ages and genders, but I have learned firsthand how quickly one gets restricted when trying to share their own art that features nudity, sexuality, and radical body acceptance. I have been told this piece cannot be shown in galleries, and prints of this piece cannot be sold at certain art shows. The human form, especially human forms perceived as women, is seen as inherently something that needs to be censored. Liberation and empowerment are perhaps the most important aspects of art, and codes and censorship are the antithesis of that.”

H. M. Smith  – The Devil’s Fire
Honorable Mention

H. M. Smith is a double major in both communication arts and history, graduating in 2024.

“I love making comics of all sorts, and getting to blend my two fields of study for this contest was a lot of fun. I had previously done a research project on the censorship of music in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, so for this, I decided to investigate one prong of the censorship that was simultaneously happening in the U.S.” 

John Novak – Aftertaste
Honorable Mention

John Novak is a communication arts major and a creative writing minor who will graduate in 2023.

“When writing this comic, I knew that the statement I wanted to make couldn’t be too loud or aggressive; I don’t like to ‘raise my voice’ when writing or drawing. People talk about media as something to consume, and I decided to draw a parallel between consuming media and consuming food. Everyone’s personal tastes vary, but the taste of one person or group shouldn’t dictate what an entire society should be able to see.”

Daniel Lee – Behind the Scene
First-Time Comic Creator Award

Sophia Shokraei – Malicious Compliance
First-Time Comic Creator Award

Sophia Shokraei is a sophomore, currently undecided in her major. This is the first comic she has ever created. 

“When making this comic I was really inspired by Nirvana and the band’s refusal to mime their performance when they were invited to play for the BBC. Their bold act of anti-censorship was something that stuck out to me, and I really wanted to capture that same energy. The only real issue I faced in making this comic was my limited resources. I was confined to what I had, which was pencil and ink on a medium sized sketch pad. This made figuring out how to fill the space while still leaving room for dialogue difficult. To deal with this issue, I made sure to keep the dialogue under a certain amount and I made the speech bubbles large enough to accommodate the text without it being too cramped. Since this comic is meant to be a commentary on censorship, I wanted to make sure that I was as clear as possible with my dialogue so the message could be clearly conveyed.” 

Taylor Smallacombe –  A Lifetime with the Hays Code
Entered in Grand prize category

Taylor Smallacombe is a freshman from Southeastern Virginia, majoring in electrical engineering.

“Making this comic was a lot of fun. I don’t have as much time to be creative as I used to be, so having an opportunity to take a break from all my STEM homework and do some art is always welcome. I’ve always had an interest in the Hays Code and how it has affected the American film industry, especially in regards to movies that managed to skirt around it. When I made this comic, I wanted to exemplify how ridiculous the code was by personifying each of its main rules. By showing each restriction worked into a single, everyday person’s life, I wanted to emphasize how silly it is to censor all of these things that are normal and natural.” 

Addie Calcifer  –  Control
Entered in Grand prize category

Addie is a senior in the communication arts department who loves drawing horror comics.

“I’ve always been interested in censorship in art, things that you aren’t supposed to show for one reason or another. The ideas change throughout time, but what stays constant is the idea that there are some higher standards that we’re all supposed to live by, and whatever doesn’t fit in should be excluded. I made this comic to challenge that idea, that anything and anyone that is different should be excluded.”

Lily Pawliczak  –  The End of Expressionism
Entered in Grand prize category 

Lily is a sophomore majoring in business management, who  loves to read comics and books in general, cook, and spend time with friends. 

“This comic was a last minute idea that came about when I wasn’t satisfied with my original idea. I think it’s unfair how authority figures, whether it be parents or the government, can take something away that could be an outlet for people just because they deem it inappropriate.” 

Rabeeha Adnan – The Blind Art Collector
Entered in Grand prize category

Rabeeha Adnan is a first year graduate student in the department of Sculpture + Extended Media at VCUarts. 

“I was listening to Fran Lebowitz, American author, in Public Speaking in which she recalled an event. It was about a $120 million Picasso that everyone kept raving about and then the collector – who was blind – tore a hole in it while showing it to his friends. I thought the event in itself was funny and reflective of some avenues of the art world. I worked on it for the contest because of unwritten code for what kind of art sells; because I have heard collectors tell me and other people to make portable and packageable work that can be hung on a wall, stored and delivered easily because collectors do not have space anymore; and because these unwritten widely understood codes implicate censorship – by oneself upon the self and by others upon you.”

Sara Giardino  –  Growing Up Censored
Entered in Grand prize category

Sara Giardino is a first year student majoring in advertising.

“I always have enjoyed art and making things, and I think it is really interesting to convey important topics through unique mediums, such as comics. My comic is about lack of representation in the media and how it affects children, especially young girls in the progression of their lives. It shows that this is a pattern in society, and provokes thoughts about what we show children and young adults in the media.”

Nicholas Ernest – Humanities Guide to the Artificial World
AI-generated comic
Entered in Grand prize category

Nicholas Ernest describes himself as “an older student that has come back with a fire under his behind to complete my education.” Ernest is a business major with a focus on marketing. 

“With much of the framing of this contest surrounding codes, censorship, and conflict I felt recent controversies and new technologies would make artificial intelligence a topic worth discussing. The kicker; all of the text and images were created by my curation of artificial intelligence tools that have been gaining much notoriety recently. ChatGPT was used to generate the text based on inputs I wrote. Midjourney was used to generate each image seen in the comic based on inputs I wrote. I think artificial intelligence is a tool that makes creativity more accessible than ever, but as with all new technologies, especially ones with such a dramatic possibility to reorganize society, they come with baggage attached.”

Hannah – Your Choice
Entered in First-Time Comic Creator category

Hannah is a second year majoring in electrical engineering. 

“My inspiration for my comic was a bit of myself. As of right now, I do not really have a set goal in what I want my career to be. Because of that, there has been a road of me accepting that I probably will go against what people would want me to do/think what is best for me. In realizing that and talking to other people, there are many people in my situation, and I would like for people to know that it is okay, you are able to follow/do what you want.” 

Alfred – Tha Game 
AI-generated comic
Entered in First-Time Comic Creator category

Alfred is a sophomore transfer student who entered VCU online in the fall of 2022, and is now on campus. Alfred’s major is undecided, but will most likely be related to information systems.

“My images were generated via Artificial Intelligence, so if I were to win, I would not feel good. I would feel sorry as there are other artists out there who did so much more time and effort and work. I want to reserve the number 1 spot for an artist who truly deserves it. If AI is plagiarism, I ask for forgiveness because Google says it isn’t, so I am unsure what to believe.”

Jayce Lips – The Audition
Entered in First-Time Comic Creator category

Jayce Lips is a freshman majoring in pre-nursing. 

“My comic is about the censorship of LGBTQ+ rights and Hays code. I made this comic for a [class] project! Inspiration for this comic came from the Netflix show “Hollywood” as the show portrays the hard life queer cis male actors face in the film industry; also it shows racism in the film industry back then.” 

Rowen Leary – New Queer Cinema: Fighting Censorship with Independent Film
Entered in Grand prize category

Rowan Leary (she/they) is a freshman in art foundations going into sculpture and extended media. Outside of art, they spend their time biking and watching movies. 

“I love the films that came out of the New Queer Cinema movement; “Nowhere” (1997) by Gregg Araki is my favorite movie. The DIY attitude that went into the creation of these films inspired me to create a comic that resembled a zine. The idea that some of the best art comes out of hard times in history was especially interesting to me; despite gaining little attention, receiving little funding, and facing heavy scrutiny and censorship,  the New Queer Cinema movement produced some of the most interesting and boldly queer movies I’ve seen.”

Charlize Bjanes – “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Say No Evil”
Entered in Grand prize category

Categories Comic Arts, Student Work