Virginia Commonwealth University Grace Street Theatre - VCU invited popular artist Stephen R. Bissette to visit a cartoon collaboration class by day and lecture students and the public by night. They picked an outstanding speaker. True, his work is worthy - but as readers of this column know, there is more to success than talent. Bissette displayed real personality and even a degree of showmanship in his talk. No mere studio artist, earlier this evening he regaled the audience with tales of his career and humorous anecdotes that elicited laughter and applause.
English professor and national author Tom De Haven introduced Bissette. No less a luminary than M. Thomas Inge was in the audience to hear the talk of this popular figure in the illustration and comics fields. An animated speaker who has no need for a microphone, Bissette began with a slide show of a number of his accomplishments and projects, from a Rondo Hatton award to an upcoming Imprint for E-Books, ON/IN Comics. He really is a businessperson as well as a storyteller, which is partly why his presentation was so inspirational. He has edited anthologies, published his own work and is a champion of Creator's Rights. As a horror fan and artist, he contributes to recognition of the original copyright holders of cult-favorite film "Night of the Living Dead" - indeed, much of his discussion focused on copyright protection and advice for aspiring artists and writers on how to seek recognition while protecting their developing "brand". Comics fans love the accessibility of people like Bissette, who overcome obstacles to find success and seek to help others who have the same love for the craft.
No opportunity was lost for a "teaching moment" by this faculty member of The Center for Cartoon Studies, and the guest speaker displayed two short comic stories of his own authorship and artistry from his preferred genre, horror, and analyzed the elements of the work: characters, pacing, and, most importantly, inspiration, an element he learned from one of his heroes, Edgar Allen Poe.
A member of the first graduating class of the famous Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Bissette certainly had memories of towering figures in the field to share, from working with Legends such as Kubert himself to meeting the great Al Williamson. In spite of the termination of their friendly relationship, Bissette had numerous words of praise for famed author and former Swamp-Thing collaborator Alan Moore. He kept negativity and ego out of his entire presentation, which helped elicit numerous questions from the students at the question and answer session. In fact, he was still on stage answering questions at the conclusion of the event. However, attendees were moving toward the lobby to get copies of their books autographed, and Bissette eventually found his way to the next group of fans and aspiring professionals - to cheerfully answer more questions.