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Artwork by Kelly Alder
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Artwork by Josh George
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Artwork by Shawn Yu
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Artwork by Bizhan Kohdabandeh
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"Swamp Thing" by Stephen Bissette
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Artwork by Jeffrey Alan Love
“Monstrous Optimism: In Memory of Kerry Talbott,” is a special event opening at Artspace gallery in Plant Zero on Friday (Aug. 22) from 7 to 10 p.m., produced by artist Kelly Alder and Patrick Godfrey, owner of Velocity Comics. The exhibition is created to alleviate medical bills that accumulated during Talbott’s treatment for brain cancer. He died last October at age 49.
“Kerry’s family was left with insane medical bills,” Alder explains. “Patrick and I, and the community, want to help them out the best we can.”
Talbott’s illustrations appeared on numerous pages, including Richmond magazine. This one for a real estate piece during difficult times captured nervous anticipation in the characters' faces. He worked as a graphic artist on staff at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until the newspaper’s recession-induced downsizing. He was also a comic book artist and adjunct professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University Communication Arts department. At the time of his illness, he had no health insurance, nor did his wife, Christy, also an artist.
Some 60 artists are contributing work specifically designed for this show. With one important exception, these are digital prints, going for $20 per image.
Stephen Bissette is contributing two original images. He drew The Swamp Thing written by the great Alan Moore. Alder says, “[Bissette] hasn’t drawn The Swamp Thing in decades, so hopefully this piece will command a good price. When we approached him, he was a sweetheart. He just sat down and did the drawing of Swamp Thing, and the dinosaur from his comic book Tyrant.”
Alder recalled seeing Talbott’s work for the first time in comic books under Velocity’s Odd God Press imprint. “I was like: He’s here? How can this be possible? His work is just amazing.” Talbott assisted Alder in penciling for a comic book commissioned by a company as a conflict resolution manual. The subject was mundane but the process memorable.
“He was a great guy dealt a [rotten] hand,” Alder says. “His students loved him and anyone who worked with him did, too.” Alder and Talbott drew from the same well of inspiration, a combination of old comics, good-bad movies and lowbrow pop culture. “He was always unassuming about this talent,” Alder says, “He downplayed it — but he was one of the best cartoonists I’ve ever met.”
Part of Talbott’s legacy is in the students who are now blooming as artists in their own right. “A number of the young artists who studied under him, whom he helped to cultivate, has a good, strong representation in this show. Kerry taught [at VCU] for at least 10 years, including artists I don’t even know. Easily about half the work in the show is by artists who had him as a teacher.”
The instruction given to the artists was for print size 11 inches by 17 inches and subject matter “near and dear to Kerry's heart: monsters, robots, aliens, super heroes, weird stuff.” The other stipulation was to not include corporate or political representations or statements, but present energetic images that are “monstrously optimistic. “
Patrick Godfrey arranged also through Talbott’s family to display six full-color originals, a portfolio of his comic book art from which 10 pieces will be selected for display. “And important to comic book geeks,” Alder explains, there are 8-inches-by-11-inches rough thumbnails of original comic pages and 8-by-11 photocopies of the tighter pencils. “The object here is to show the process. The work is phenomenal. Seeing these color originals the first time — I was not prepared for that. They’re amazing.”
Beyond the aspect of raising funds for the Talbotts, the exhibit, from an artistic standpoint, will show the variety and diversity of graphic and illustrative talents working in the area today. Alder says, “Richmond has an incredible comic book community that’s grown exponentially. It’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of strong, young talent out there.”
Alder adds, “I tell you, being in Richmond for 30 years, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d see a day where this work is in a gallery. Things from that standpoint have changed in a good way.”