Richard III discovery inspires host of artwork and illustrations

The University of Leicester’s discovery of Richard III has inspired a succession of Richard-inspired graphic novels, cartoons and comic strips

University of Leicester archaeologists’ discovery of the remains of Richard III has proved to be a great source of inspiration for artists, illustrators and comic book makers.

In February, a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), School of Archaeology and Ancient History and School of Genetics confirmed that the remains found under a Leicester car park were indeed those of King Richard III.

Richard III was one of the most controversial Kings in English History – and the discovery has prompted a host of illustrators, comic book artists and cartoonists to take up their pens and pencils to put forward their take on the medieval monarch’s life.

Richard-inspired artwork has appeared everywhere – including exhibitions, graphic novels, newspaper cartoons, online comic strips – and even advertising campaigns.

Richard III graphic art
By Emma Vieceli with Kate Brown and Paul Duffield

For comic book artist and long-term Ricardian Emma Vieceli, the news of the University’s Search for Richard III was particularly exciting.

“A lot of my friends know how interested I am in to Richard III. When the news broke about the Grey Friars dig, five friends emailed me all at once asking ‘have you heard the news?’,” said Emma, who was commissioned to put together a series of graphic panels telling the story of Richard’s life and death for the University’s press conference.

The panels feature evocative and atmospheric vignettes, framed in medieval-esque borders. The collection even includes images of University of Leicester archaeologists Richard Buckley and Dr Jo Appleby uncovering the king’s remains at Grey Friars.

The panels serve as a teaser for her upcoming graphic novel, which will tell the story of Richard’s life from his childhood and teenage years at Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire, through to his years on the throne and death at Bosworth.

“It was so exciting getting to go to the press conference,” said Emma. “I can remember being in the hall and feeling the excitement in the room as they mentioned the scoliosis of the spine. I was so, so chuffed – not just that they found Richard, but also to be involved in the project.

“Richard has been an obsession of mine for a long time. I remember when I was in senior school we studied the Tudors, but there was only a brief mention of Richard – simply to say he was a villain! I can remember even as a kid thinking ‘that seems a bit dismissive’.”

Richard III graphic panel
By Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown, Paul Duffield.
She is working with her husband Andrew Ruddick on the three-part graphic novel, while also working on a range of other major projects - including the latest Vampire Academy comic and the Alex Rider graphic novels.

“My only wish was that I did not have as much work on when I found out about the discovery,” Emma admitted. “We have been writing the books for a while now. We have a draft script completed of book one, and the character designs are all done. We are happy to take our time and do it right. We want it to be perfect, but neither of us predicted that a phenomenal discovery like this would come around while we were still in planning stages - who could have?”

Emma, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield have recently completed another Richard III project – this time for The Tower of London. The tower has been indelibly linked with Richard’s reputation – as it is widely held that Richard arranged for his nephews to be imprisoned and murdered there.

The team’s artwork currently adorns the scaffolding hoarding round the building, and depicts life-size versions of Richard III and the princes.

John Swogger cartoon
By John Swogger
The news of the discovery also sparked the imagination of freelance archaeological illustrator John Swogger, who started work on a comic entitled “So Who Was Richard III?” immediately after the announcement of the skeleton’s identity in February.

The comic shows a picture of Richard in full regalia, and also depicts the bones found at Grey Friars and Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley presenting the results of the University’s research.

He put the comic on display for National Libraries Day in his home town of Oswestry, Shropshire – just a few days after the news had broken.

“The Richard III story had vaguely been at the back of my mind to use as the basis for a comic, but I hadn't planned anything beforehand,” explained John.

“It was the excitement of the announcement on February 4 that really suggested the idea of a comic. The story has very visual subject matter - like the bones, the tests.

“I put the Richard III comic up along with other work on National Libraries Day - but it was the Richard III comic that people wanted to talk about. Everyone was asking ‘how did you manage to do it so quickly?’.”

John produces many comics relating to archaeology and medicine, as well as reconstruction illustrations for excavation projects, museums and for publication.

“One of the reasons why I did it was because it just struck me that Britain’s past very rarely comes up in terms of national debate. Almost immediately, there were people squabbling over the burial place – and that just doesn’t happen in Britain very often. That really grabbed me.

“Archaeology can be very dull at times, as it is usually about very small things. It is very rare for an English king to pop out of a burial. It is also really nice to have Richard Buckley so firmly identified with the discovery. It is rare in archaeology to have archaeologists fronting individual discoveries – so it is nice to give people that human connection with the study.”

John Aggs artwork
Artwork by John Aggs, commissioned by Leicestershire County Council for the exhibition Richard III: The making of a myth.
The search for the lost king also prompted the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre to put on an exhibition to coincide with the February announcement.

Graphic novel artist John Aggs -  a friend of Emma Vieceli - produced a striking series of pieces for the exhibition, entitled Richard III: The making of a myth which depicts the life and dramatic death of Richard III.

“The show was great fun to do,” said John. “Going into it, I assumed it would be a historical account, like a historical painting - but really, it was more of a reportage of the events that happened 500 years ago.

“I only had less than a month to do all 19 illustrations, so it was quite rushed - but comics are always a rush to complete. The centre first told me about it in early January, and had until the end of January to get it finished in time for the announcement.

“There was a lot of research material I went through to make sure each picture was correct. I was concerned to make sure all the banners were accurate! The detail was very important – especially as the historical details are the most important and exciting part of this study.”

John Aggs artwork 2
Artwork by John Aggs, commissioned by Leicestershire County Council for the exhibition Richard III: The making of a myth.
Richard Knox, Heritage Development Manager at Leicestershire County Council, was keen to feature the artwork as a way of presenting the historical accounts in an accessible way.

“We commissioned this striking artwork from John Aggs to tell the story of Richard III in an accessible and flexible style,” said Richard. “The exhibition combines John's colourful and exciting graphic-novel style artwork - which he produced to a very tight deadline - with up-to-date information on the Richard III story and shows the few highs and many lows in Richard's life and short reign.

“It also discusses some of the contradicting legends about him, such as the fate of the Princes in the Tower and the conflicting traditions of his final resting place, which the graphic-novel style can deal with more easily than conventional illustration. As a result the exhibition has been popular with a wide range of audiences. We hope to do more work with John in the future, telling more of Richard’s life story.”

The exhibition will remain in place until December 31 – with free admission for the public.

Richard III-related cartoons have also popped up all over the place in newspapers and websites – including satirical pieces in The Guardian and The Observer. The discovery has been a regular feature of the Leicester Mercury’s Vicky Park comic strip, drawn by cartoonist Rachael Smith.

Vicky Park cartoon Sept
By Rachael Smith, for the Leicester Mercury's More magazine, September 2012
The comic strip – which tells the story of Leicester student Vicky – first featured Richard III after the news broke of the discovery of a skeleton at Grey Friars. The strip showed Leicester scientists using rather intuitive ways of deciding the skeleton's identity.

Richard has since made a succession of appearances – and even inspired Vicky’s sister Abbie to dig up her garden looking for her late cat Sparky.

“I try and make Vicky Park a bit topical, because anyone reading the strip is likely to have been reading the news stories from the Mercury that week,” explained Rachael, who began the strip when the Mercury’s More magazine was launched in 2011. “When the story broke, it seemed silly not to feature it in the strip as it is such a big news story for Leicester.”

You can read Vicky park every week in the Leicester Mercury's More Magazine.

Vicky Park Feb
By Rachael Smith, for the Leicester Mercury's More magazine, February 2013
The Search for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society

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