Jurgen Comics Contest


Comics Code, Parental Advisory Clean Lyrics, Motion Picture Production code logos

DO THIS!  DON’T DO THAT! – Codes, Censorship and Conflict

When writers, artists and performers try to make a living, they often face an unpleasant reality:
What do you mean I have to change my work? 

And at this intersection of art, commerce and freedom, creative industries, government agencies, and even private groups have tried to simplify the answer:
Just follow the code and we’ll give you a seal of approval.

But creativity and living in society are rarely simple. One group wields their code to ban a work, while another group pushes back with a code of ethics and intellectual freedom that opposes censorship. People enjoy the power they hold when enforcing a code. Some people resist any and all restrictions. Sometimes the codes are unwritten. Conflict seems unavoidable.

VCU Libraries invites VCU students to create a single-page, multi-panel comic telling a story centered on codes, censorship and conflict. Students’ comics may be fictional or nonfictional, but should explore issues or instances of attempted or successful censorship related to a code. Students from all departments, working individually or in teams, are invited to enter the competition.

Deadline for submissions: 11:59 pm Eastern, February 9, 2023


  • Grand prize $1,000 along with print and digital publishing with VCU Publishing
  • 2 runners-up $250 each along with print and digital publication
  • Up to 5 honorable mentions $100 with digital publication
  • First-Time Comic Creator category $100 with digital publication — for folks who have a story to tell, but may not think of themselves as visual artists. Stick figures are ok!
  • All entries considered for digital publication

Submission requirements

Full page Gasoline Alley comic
Gasoline Alley by Frank King, 1934

Eligibility: VCU students enrolled in 9 or more credit hours during the Fall 2022 or Spring 2023 semesters, including students who are December 2022 graduates. 

Part-time VCU students, including university employees who are taking classes, are also encouraged to participate. Their entries are eligible for digital and physical publication, but will not be considered for cash prizes.


  • Single-page, multi-panel, vertical format comic in the spirit of the “Sunday funny pages” 
  • Submitted as a digital file; sized as an 11″ x 17″ original, 300 dpi JPG or PDF
  • Artist’s name should appear in type at the bottom of the page along with the words “Jurgen Comics Contest, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2023.”
  • Submissions must include a panel-by-panel transcription of the text of your comic. Indicate the name of the font used in your comic, if it’s not hand-lettered.
  • Indicate in which category you wish your entry to be judged:
    First-Time Comic Creator
    ($100 top prize) or Grand Prize ($1,000 top prize)
  • Email submissions to LibJurgen@vcu.edu by 11:59 pm Eastern, February 9, 2023

Winning entries will 

  • Skillfully and engagingly tell a story centered on codes and censorship
  • Demonstrate innovative use of the single-page comic format
  • Ask readers to consider larger questions about censorship and self-censorship, the business side of the creative arts, and the tension between freedom and community standards.  

Deadline for submissions: 11:59 pm Eastern, February 9, 2023

Judging: completed by week of March 13, 2023 

Our panel of judges may include representatives from

  • Professional comic or graphic artists
  • VCU Libraries
  • The Cabell Associates
  • VCU students
  • VCU faculty

Winners will be announced: In-library exhibition April 2023 

Artists will retain copyright to their creations, and grant a non-exclusive license to VCU Libraries for publication.  

VCU Libraries reserves the right to refuse to award prizes should no entries meet the judging criteria. 

Questions about the contest? Email VCU Libraries at LibJurgen@vcu.edu 

How to begin

Learn what a code is. Choose one or two codes that interest you.

Take a deep dive into industry self-censorship, legal codes that define obscenity and libel, and codes of ethics that guide and support librarians facing censorship challenges.

Codes appear throughout the history of censorship, as groups write down, or codify, ideas, images, or language they consider acceptable. Sometimes these codes articulate shared values and principles–like a code of conduct.

At other times, codes are lists of rules that are used to control political speech, artistic expression, or criticism of authority.

Industries sometimes establish codes for self-regulation because they don’t want the government to step in. Then, artists who want a company to publish their comic book or make their movie have to follow the industry’s rules.

Industry codes can be useful because they help consumers feel confident about what to expect, and they help companies make money while avoiding legal risk. But, as a mechanism of control, industry codes can also be abused. 

Another type of code–coded language and imagery–has been used to evade or satisfy censors while signaling another meaning to people “in the know.” Coded imagery and language are similar to a secret code. 

Stick figure artist navigates the obstacle course of codes, but fails to reach the money prize at the end. GAME OVER!

Tell a story about codes and censors. It can be fiction or nonfiction, set in the past, present or future. It can be a story of codes and censors in another world.

Looking for inspiration? Here are some examples of codes.

From 1956 to 2011, censors funded by the comic book industry enforced rules about acceptable content known as The Comics Code.

Apple Podcasts Content Guidelines seek “to provide a delightful, trusted experience for listeners, and rewarding opportunities for creators to distribute and monetize their shows.” iTunes uses labels to indicate “Explicit” or “Clean.” These labels come from the Parental Advisory Label (PAL) standards set up by the Recording Industry Association of America.

As “pre-code” filmmakers pushed the boundaries of what stories would appear in film, the self-imposed Motion Picture Production Code – known as the Hays Code (1930-1968) – was created to restrict profanity, violence, and depictions of sexuality.  

Librarians’ Code of Ethics calls on library professionals to “uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” 

Obscenity and libel charges brought against books and other works of art are based on definitions and laws such as may be found in the Code of Virginia.  

Comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were arrested after articulating the unwritten code of words that couldn’t be said.

During wartime, federal broadcast censorship codes worked to protect the United States and its troops. After World War II, the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters (1952-1983) was created to self-regulate in the face of parental concerns, while avoiding a proposed government Advisory Board.  

NAB Seal of Good Practice. The "TELEVISION CODE"
Additional resources

Not familiar with full-page “Sunday comics?” Wondering what you can do in a single page?

Sunday comics page
Little Nemo in Slumberland, November 26, 1905

Try these links for inspiration.

Copper by Kazu Kibuishi

Incidental Comics by Grant Snider

Art Spiegelman  “One-page graphic novels

Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay

Lynda Barry – non-artists can create! Find a copy of Barry’s book, Making Comics

Explore VCU Libraries Comic Arts Collection located in Special Collections and Archives

Take a look at previous winners’ comics

Questions about the contest? Looking for a writer or artist to collaborate? Email VCU Libraries at LibJurgen@vcu.edu

About the contest

The Jurgen Banned Art Comics Contest will be an annual VCU student competition dedicated to telling the story of banned art – books, music, film and more – and encouraging discussion of the complex relationship between art and society. The inaugural competition (Fall 2021-Spring 2022) focused on the events and issues surrounding the banning of James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice. The contest is sponsored by VCU Libraries with generous funding from the James Branch Cabell Library Associates

brightly colored lino-cut of two figures on horseback
Jurgen in Lino-cuts by William John Bernhard
Special Collections and Archives, VCU Libraries