VCU Libraries announces 2023-24 Jurgen Comics Contest winners

November 29, 2023
Student stands in front of their winning comic.
Photo by Katharine DeRosa

Wanda Felsenhardt’s comic “The Right to Read: Censorship in America’s Prisons” won the $1,000 grand prize in VCU Libraries' Jurgen Comics Contest.  

In its third year, the 2023-24 academic year contest invited VCU students to use an historical incident of art suppression or censorship and create a single-page comic that tells a story or explores issues raised by the event. "The Right to Read" shines a spotlight on the vast number of titles banned by state prison systems and reasons given for keeping books out of prisoners' hands.

"I enjoyed this process because I learned a lot about a topic I knew nothing about. I had no idea how many restrictions there are around accessing books in prison." said Felsenhardt, a first-year graduate student studying experience design at the VCU Brandcenter. 

  • Naomy Cardoso-Perez and Gillian Grunenfelder received the Artistry prize ($250) for “Monument Woman.” Their comic tells the story of Nazi attempts to control art and of the bravery of Rose Valland, a French art historian and member of the Resistance, who secretly documented Nazi art theft. Cardoso-Perez is a third year Painting and Printmaking major. Grunenfelder is a third year Communication Arts major.
  • This year's Storytelling award ($250) went to Winston Broiles for “Spider-Man, Terror of the Comics Code Authority." Broiles' entry recounted how Spider-Man comics emboldened the comics industry to reject oversight and censorship by the C.C.A. Broiles is in his second year as a Communication Arts major.
  • Hannah Diment's “Allegory of Artemisia” received the Research award ($250) for a comic examining the challenges faced by the talented 17th-century woman painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. Diment is a senior majoring in Communication Arts.
  • Two comics received Honorable Mention and will be published online in VCU Scholars Compass: “America’s Sailor Moon,” by Cici Eltermann, a senior majoring in Communication Arts, and “Dystopian University,” by Ayla Bramblett, a first-year art foundation student. 

The Jurgen Comics Contest focuses on telling stories of banned art as a way to consider the complex relationship between art and society and the long history of censorship. The inaugural competition (2021-22) looked at the events and issues surrounding the banning of James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice. Cabell is the namesake of VCU's Monroe Park Campus library. 

The annual contest is sponsored by VCU Libraries and supported by the generosity of donors.

Included in the contest design is mentorship of a student editor. The current student editor  Julia Martinez, who is pursuing a degree in mass communications, presented online information sessions, designed posters and a special edition Jurgen Comics Contest newspaper that celebrates the winners.

Karen Bjork, head of Digital Libraries and Publishing remarked, “It’s exciting to see how  the students' research and creativity come together to tell complex stories through comics that highlight real-life instances of art suppression and censorship. I’m proud to be a part of a contest that not only continues to recognize student excellence but recently received statewide attention when VCU Libraries received the Virginia Library Association’s inaugural Intellectual Freedom award.”

Prizes in the Jurgen Comics Contest were awarded by a diverse panel of judges that included Rena Bridge, VCU graduate and grand prize winner of last year's Jurgen Comics Contest; Bizhan Khodabandeh, comics artist and faculty in Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences; Scott Wegener, comics artist and faculty in Communication Arts of VCU School of the Arts; Chris Irving, comics historian and faculty in Communication Arts of VCU School of the Arts; John Zeugner, member of the Cabell Associates; Chrystal Carpenter, head, Special Collections and Archives; and Carla-Mae Crookendale, arts research librarian.

In the weeks and months ahead, VCU Libraries will be celebrating these award-winning student artists with exhibitions and publications. Winning entries are on exhibit on the first floor of James Branch Cabell Library and published in VCU Scholars Compass. A Jurgen Comics Contest newspaper celebrates the contest’s connection to the Golden Age of newspaper comics, and free copies will be available in coming weeks. Beginning in January 2024, images from all contest entries will be displayed in an exhibit on the Cabell Screen–the 25-feet screen on the exterior north facade of Cabell Library.

"Every year of this contest brings something new," said Alice Campbell, digital outreach librarian and Jurgen Comics Contest manager. "There seems to be no end to the story of artists pushing boundaries and someone pushing back. But even as the reasons for censorship vary over the years, one constant is artists' and censors' belief that products of our human creativity and skill impact society. In an odd and often unwelcome way, censorship tells us how much art matters."



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