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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

What's next for Vess


"Here There Be Dragons"

By Leslie Grace| A! Magazine for the Arts | December 26, 2018

Charles Vess is known for his fantasy illustrations, although he calls it mythic fiction. “I really respond to mythic fiction that’s not dungeons and dragons, or giant armies fighting other giant armies until there’s just pools of blood. I don’t like reading that, and I don’t like drawing it. I like other things,” he says.

Currently, he’s working on a non-fantasy book. It’s a children’s picture book. “The art director used to live in Bristol, and she saw me at a reception in New York and introduced herself and said she had a project that I would be great for. She loved my landscapes and that’s what most of these illustrations are. The protagonist is a branch. I read the story and went ‘This is great, it’s fun.’ If someone lived on the West Coast or Arizona, it would be drawn completely different than how I’m drawing it as though it were happening right here.

The story begins with a young boy finding a branch in the fall. The branch falls in the stream, and the book follows its travels downstream throughout the seasons. It eventually goes to the sea gets picked up by a trawler and returns to shore where the same boy finds it and begins to draw in the sand with it.

Vess has the stick travel through Virginia and North Carolina, where it goes out to sea. “I didn’t want the stick to fall out in Norfolk or Newport News. It’s hard to do a Google search that’s specifically North Carolina fish. You ask to see under the ocean, and you’re shown Key West and coral reefs. I’m trying to be specific to be Virginia/North Carolina,” he says.

Another upcoming possible project includes a new book of short stories that are new fairy tales by Joanne Harris who wrote “Chocolat.” He’s also working on projects of his own: a graphic novel and a text novel.

There is also the possibility that the conversations between Vess and Ursula K. Le Guin may be published. There are thousands of those emails from the four-year collaboration. “She was funny, acerbic, and she did not suffer fools whatsoever. She really enjoyed collaborating. She did some theatrical things and some musical projects, and they went really well and she loved how that worked. But when it came to books, other artists said they’d collaborate and then went off and did their own things. She said ‘I want to see my world on the page.’ Our collaborations worked really well. There are lots of great pithy comments about that sort of thing in the e-mails. Ursula was one of the people who had been instrumental in setting up the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon that the Bundys took over. She was so pissed off at them. There was some speech there. I suppose it will depend on how well this book sells.”

Vess is enjoying being in a position to be able to say no to projects he doesn’t want to do. “As I get older, I want a weekend. I want to relax. I used to work at the studio seven days a week and just go, go, go. Now I usually go to the studio at 10 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. unless I’m really involved in something. I enjoy having some time for myself.”

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Topics: Achievements, Art