Five Questions with Jessica Soffian

As the 2022-23 student editor of the Jurgen Comics Contest, Jess Soffian brings considerable experience to the post. Jess is the artist and writer of the graphic novel Khave and the Well, serves as the Assistant Editor-In-Chief of VCU’s Pwatem Literary and Art Magazine, and has both edited and contributed to VCU’s Emanata Comic Anthology. “Something I really like about VCU is the range and impact of publications offered through the Student Media Center,” she says. These diverse publications allow undergraduate students to see their work published and encourage them to write, draw, and make comics. “For me it’s also given me experience in the realm of editing for publication, and that’s something that’s useful for this position and for my later career goals.” She will graduate in December 2023 with a degree in communication arts. 

Why did this job as student editor of the comics contest interest you?

My long-term career goal is to work in the comics industry in some capacity, be it as an artist, writer, editor, or some combination of the three. This job allows me to get relevant experience and to make money doing something I love. 

The contest for 2022-23 focuses on censorship in all kinds of creative industries–film and television, comics, music, book publishing, and performance. Do you think it’s useful for business organizations to come up with codes and standards for art so it can be approved for release to the public? Are rating systems and age restrictions censorship?

Censorship is a complex issue because while it is often necessary to establish a base code of ethics for media, this can easily lead to censorship of free speech that is restrictive to artistic expression. In extreme cases, this censorship can become a tool of oppression, as seen with the book burnings in Nazi Germany. More recent, smaller-scale examples can be seen with the banning of graphic novels such as Maus (Art Spiegelman) and Gender Queer (Maia Kobabe) in school libraries following claims that they contain “explicit content”. Personally I think that rating systems and content warnings are a better solution than a blanket code of conduct, because it allows audiences to control what they interact with while also giving artists the freedom to create. 

How did you come to study at VCU?/What attracted you to  VCU?

I started school at UNC-Greensboro studying vocal performance but quickly realized music wasn’t something I wanted to do professionally, and that visual arts would always be my first love. I transferred to VCU because, as a public university and not a conservatory school, it allowed me the freedom to pursue my many interests instead of locking me onto a specific pathway. I was also attracted to the courses offered by VCU communication arts major, as the subjects of comics, illustration and concept art are all of high interest to me.

How has VCU Libraries helped you in your studies?/How do you use the library?

I often struggle with motivation when working from home, so I spend a lot of time in the library working on schoolwork and other projects. Having a dedicated space to go and work for a while is incredibly useful for me. I have also found a great resource in VCU’s extensive collection of art books, which I used as important references in my illustration coursework. 

What’s next for you? Plans for graduation? Travel, work, grad school? What’s your professional goal?

I’m planning on graduating in December 2023. After that I hope to get an internship working with a comics company such as DC or Marvel or another, smaller comics studio. Long-term I want to write and draw comics professionally and, failing that, I’m also interested in storyboarding and character design. In the meantime, I’m planning to work part-time teaching art camps at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

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