VCU Alum Talks about Career Success in Comic Industry

by Lauren Colie

Kerry Talbott introduces guest speaker Reilly Brown at VCU Communication Arts comic forum. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Kerry Talbott introduces guest speaker Reilly Brown at VCU Communication Arts comic forum. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Virginia Commonwealth University alum Reilly Brown spoke today in a forum hosted by the Communication Arts Department about his success as an artist for Marvel Comics. In the VCU Commons Theater, Brown presented a slideshow and lecture on his professional career to more than 100 students and faculty. Brown engaged the audience with images of superheroes and amusing anecdotes.

Brown graduated in 2003 from VCU. An editor from Marvel invited him only two years later to contribute to the holiday special edition. Brown attributes this quick success to a strong portfolio developed in the VCU Communication Arts program and networking at comic conventions. Drawing laughs from the audience, he said one of the best ways to network is buying drinks at the bar after the conventions for editors and other professionals. Brown said he has worked on illustrations of Thor, Cable and Deadpool, Hulk, Spiderman and Hercules. He said it is an honor to be part of the Marvel legacy through drawing characters with more than 50 years of history.

Brown speaks about personal illustration projects. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Brown speaks about personal illustration projects. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Kerry P. Talbott, adjunct faculty and freelance illustrator, said he has known Brown since the early 2000s. He taught Brown in a Graphic Essay course. “He was always an excellent student and you could see he was going to find success somewhere, but to break into Marvel Comics and stay there is quite an accomplishment,” Talbott said. “I hope he can show the students not what it takes just to become a comic artist, but more importantly, a professional artist.”

Communication Arts students in the audience rallied for the question-and-answer portion of Brown’s presentation. Some asked about Brown’s preferred artistic materials; others asked about his creator-owned projects like Power Play Comics, designed to be read on an iPhone. Brown encouraged students to strive for success because he was able to create a sustainable career through drawing comics. He said students should focus on networking and develop a web presence in order to break into the field. Brown’s top portfolio suggestion for an aspiring comic artist is to include examples of his or her dream project to represent skills as well as desires.

Brown's presentation and storytelling engage the audience. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Brown’s presentation and storytelling engage the audience. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Dan Nacu, sophomore scientific illustration student, said comic illustration is not what he wants to do as a career, but he is interested in how a comic creator might think. “The ability to draw is integral to all arts,” he said.

Brown’s presentation left many laughing and intrigued by the future of comic artists and Marvel. He said the field is opening to those able to utilize the technology available.

Brown answers questions at the end of his presentation. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Brown answers questions at the end of his presentation. Image by Lauren N. Colie

Sally Vitsky, adjunct faculty in the Communication Arts Department, said comics are not her genre, but she admires the industry. “I think you have to know a whole lot about design, composition, color and anatomy…and it’s a really great storytelling mode,” she said. Vitsky said she loves to hear success stories come out of VCU’s School of the Arts. “I think we’re really lucky to have these forums where people who have a passion for something show how they’ve succeeded,” she said.

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