Erin Crawford wins the Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest

April 11, 2022
Erin Crawford standing in front of their winning entry for the Jurgen Comics Contest.

With imagination, wit and skillful visual storytelling, VCU students created comics that explored the events and issues surrounding the censorship of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1920. The format for the inaugural arts competition was a single-page multi-panel comic strip similar to the Sunday funnies that author James Branch Cabell might have read in 1920s newspapers. Cabell is the  namesake of VCU's Monroe Park Campus library. VCU Libraries created the contest. 


All contest honorees are students in the VCU School of the Arts. 


  • Erin Crawford won the 2022 Grand Prize in the Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest with "Cabell Walks Into a Bar," calling to mind the newspaper comics of Winsor McCay. Crawford’s prize is $1,000. 
  • Runner-up awards of $250 went to Tess Wladar for "The Judging of Jurgen" and Jay Crilley for "Swear to It." 
  • Katy Hooper, "Moral of the Story," Ty Campbell, "A Silent Fate," and Hannah Smith, "The Banning of Jurgen," received honorable mentions.


All winning entries and honorable mentions are being published in VCU Scholars Compass and exhibited on the first floor of James Branch Cabell Library. Details from all contest entries are being displayed on the Cabell Screen. Exhibits open April 11. A special edition Jurgen Comics Contest newspaper celebrates this year's connection to the Golden Age of newspaper comics. Copies of the edition will be available in the Cabell Library lobby April 14–James Branch Cabell’s birthday. 


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 the James Branch Cabell Library Associates

 The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seal and an illustration of James Branch Cabell on the left and the censor on the right.

Art by Alyson Piccione.

Included in the contest design was year-long mentorship of a student editor. The 2021-2022 student editor is Alyson Piccione, a senior pursuing a B.F.A. in communication arts and a minor in creative writing. In addition to managing contest logistics and presenting online information sessions, Piccione designed caricatures, posters, and a special edition Jurgen Comics Contest newspaper that celebrates this year's connection to the Golden Age of newspaper comics. 


The Jurgen Contest challenge invited students from across VCU to  explore the censorship of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In January 1920, the society seized the printing plates and copies of the novel, and James Branch Cabell’s publisher and editor were charged with violating state obscenity laws because it was an “offensive, lewd, lascivious and indecent book.” Cabell's satirical fantasy was barred from the mail, and demand for copies skyrocketed. Suppressed just as Prohibition took effect, Jurgen was sold at exorbitant prices by "bookleggers.” The case dragged on, but after a two-year legal battle, the indictment against Jurgen was dismissed.


"There’s something about the Jurgen banning that felt deeply comical to me,” said editor Piccione. “What started as a book with a satirical twist snowballed into an in-world satire that could only ever be portrayed in an equally funny medium. The whole situation is a lark! How else could we portray it then, but through a comic?"

In preparing their entries and to learn about the uproar and repercussions accompanying Jurgen’s suppression, students explored VCU Libraries' James Branch Cabell: Literary Life and Legacy. The winning artists drew inspiration from the Jurgen case, the era of Prohibition, and public dissatisfaction with the power of the non-governmental organization to oversee public morality.


Literary figures F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald make an appearance in Erin Crawford's wry look at Cabell's woes. Depicting Prohibition with a modern twist, Crawford's characters drink juice boxes in "Cabell Walks into a Bar." 


Jay's Crilley's colorful comic, "Swear to It," draws from a newspaper account of the “Propriety and Impropriety in Literature” debate held after Jurgen's acquittal, while Tess Wladar's "The Judging of Jurgen" looks to Cabell's own satirical fable of a dung beetle's accusations against King Jurgen in the court of Philistia. 


Contest judges were: Arts Research Librarian Carla-Mae Crookendale; Robin Farmer, a member of James Branch Cabell Library Associates; Chris Irving, of communication arts, VCU School of the Arts; Bizhan Khodabandeh, illustrator and faculty in Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences; Terry Oggel of the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences; and John Zuegner, a member of James Branch Cabell Library Associates. 


Having come to the conclusion of the first Jurgen Comics Contest, Digital Outreach and Special Projects Librarian Alice Campbell reflected, "All good contests involve a challenge. That's part of the fun. VCU students rose to the challenge of the unfamiliar–both the history of Cabell and the censors, and the format of Golden Age newspaper comics. From the beginning of this project, VCU Libraries set out to recognize and support developing artists, and now, having seen what they've accomplished, we're delighted to share their work."

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