James O’Keefe Comic Contest honors top artistic talent


Shane Louis

Adam Bessie speaks at the fifth annual James O’Keefe Graphic Litererature contest awards on March 19, 2015

Daniel Maraccini, Features editor

For the fifth year, the James O’Keefe Comic Contest honored the best student-made graphic literature at Diablo Valley College.

The ceremony, which was held in the Business and Foreign Language Conference Room, honored the 14 award winners and featured guest speakers Joe Fields, owner of the local “Flying Colors Comics,” and New York Times notable author Thien Pham.

The Grand Prize was awarded to Lizbeth Brown, 24, for her short comic “Marla and the Tea Sprites.” The story follows a woman named Marla who finds a friendly sprite in her cup of tea. After being separated from his wife, the sprite enlists Marla to find her.

“I plan on doing two more volumes,” Brown said. “It’s a three part series, and they’re all going to be six pages long.” 

The comic’s illustrations were inked and watercolored, a process, Brown said, that takes meticulous work.

“Since I’ve been in and out of school and work, it took me six months to ink it last year,” she said. “And it’s taken me all of this year to do the water colors.”

In addition to the Grand Prize, Brown also won the Brian O’Malley Award, named for the author of the popular “Scott Pilgrim” comic series.

Like O’Malley, her artwork puts a unique spin on anime illustrations.

“Lizbeth’s work has some kind of manga qualities but it’s not (the same). It’s really her own voice, and she imports various styles,” said DVC English professor and James O’Keefe Prize judge Adam Bessie. “It’s just a remarkable piece of art and writing.”

The Pendleton Ward Award, named after the creator of the popular TV show “Adventure Time,” went to Bret Ward, 28, for his comic “The Diary of the Last Human in the Universe.”

For Ward, comics are an opportunity to connect art to a wider audience. 

“A lot of it was I was initially interested in painting, and just found that a lot of my peers. I guess no one I knew would be able to afford my paintings if I was selling them in a gallery,” he said. “The people I liked, I would have to give them my art, and I kind of thought maybe I should make art for people that I relate to, and comics seemed like the avenue for that.”

While praising the winners, Bessie and the other judges spoke of the improvement in quality found in this year’s submissions.

“There were people really just spending a lot of time trying to make something substantial, something meaningful … not only artistically, but in terms of the story,” said DVC art instructor Arthur King. “I think that happened because we always make available the past examples. The ideas are letting students know what’s worked in the past and what’s doable.”

To see the winning submissions or to find information for next year’s contest, students can visit the contest’s official webpage. 


Editors note: Lizbeth’s name was previously misspelled.