Comic arts contest invites students to explore codes, censorship and conflict  

September 22, 2022
A graphic illustration of a head wearing a crown in black on a field of gold with the text

VCU Libraries invites students from across Virginia Commonwealth University to enter the Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest, in which graduate and undergraduate students will create and submit single-page comics for judging to win a $1,000 prize.

This year’s theme asks participants to explore the theme "Codes, Censorship and Conflict."

Codes appear throughout the history of censorship in the form of industry self-censorship, legal codes that define obscenity and libel, and codes of ethics that guide and support librarians facing censorship challenges. Some well-known codes, such as the Hays Code and the Comics Code, are no longer in use. But written and unwritten codes still shape much of the creative work produced–from books to podcasts, from visual arts to films. Coded language and imagery has been used to evade or satisfy censors while signaling another meaning to people "in the know." 

The contest asks students – working individually or in teams – to respond imaginatively to the prompt with a fiction or nonfiction narrative in comic form. 

"This year we're excited to announce a new submission category for people who have a story to tell, but have never considered themselves visual artists. If you think you can't draw but you want to make a comic about codes and censorship, enter in the First-Time Comic Creator Category. Stick figures are OK," said Alice Campbell, the digital outreach and special projects librarian who manages the contest. 

Assisting Campbell this year is student editor Jess Soffian, a senior majoring in communication arts in the VCU School of the Arts. Soffian, 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.  

The winning entry, which will be announced in April, will receive $1,000 and the opportunity for the comic to be published in print and digitally by VCU Publishing. Two runners-up will receive $250 each. Up to five honorable mentions will win $100 as will the winner of the First-Time Comic Creator prize. All entries will be considered for digital publication. 

The deadline to enter is Feb. 9, 2023. For full submission guidelines and additional information on how to participate, visit

The comics contest is named for a book written by James Branch Cabell that was the subject of censorship. The VCU Libraries web portal James Branch Cabell: Literary Life and Legacy explores the censorship of Jurgen in detail. That web project and the contest are made possible by support from the James Branch Cabell Library Associates.

VCU Libraries will hold an online information session October 26, 2022 at 6 p.m. that students may register here. A First Time Comic Creator workshop will be held November 1, 2022 in The Workshop in Cabell Library.  

Winners of the 2021-22 contest may be seen through VCU Scholars Compass.

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