Images © Charles Vess.
I’ve been a fan of Charles since we first met around 1978 in New York, where he was then living and I was working at DC Comics. I think I met Charles through Michael Kaluta, they were often together. He showed me some of the art that would appear in his early book “Horn of Elfland,” and I found it charming. Little did I know that we would work together a number of times, or how accomplished he would become, but Charles’ love of fantasy and faery stood out then, and still does, subjects I’m also drawn to.
This large, handsome hardcover art book is a great tribute to Charles and his career. It covers a variety of work from his earliest through about 2007. It’s not a complete collection but a good representational sampling, including many you won’t have seen before, like the one above, even if you’re a Vess fan. It also, by example, shows how Charles has grown in skill and moved from just accepting whatever assignments he could find to charting his own course with projects that excite him. There are many fine artists who never seem to reach that stage, and I applaud Charles for it.
Some of the elements I like best about Charles’ art are his eye for naturalistic but magical landscapes, the depth and scope of his illustrations, and his love of small details that give a viewer lots of things to come back for. There’s a warmth and charm about much of the work, too that invites the viewer in and fills one with a longing to go to the places pictured, if only we could. His use of color and lighting is superb, his figure work has grown from hesitant to accomplished over time, and this book shows his mastery of many more media than I expected. Vess’s art is not flashy, but it’s often epic and full of wonder. Sylistically he looks back to illustrators from the past like Arthur Rackham, but with a modern sensibility that appeals to the viewer of today. His work is never predictable, and always enchanting. The only downside for me to a book like this is the guilt I feel when I don’t have the time to study each page for the cool details I know are there. But then, I can always go back and look again.
Very highly recommended!