Richard III Craze Inspires Comic Art

One of a series of panels depicting Richard III's life and death. (Image credit: By Emma Vieceli with Kate Brown and Paul Duffield)

The discovery of the long-lost bones of Richard III has sparked new interest in the controversial king — and with it, comics to illustrate his legacy.

"Richard has been an obsession of mine for a long time," comic artist Emma Vieceli said in a statement. "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.'"

Vieceli, who is working on a graphic novel about Richard's life, was commissioned to put together a series of panels telling the king's story for England's University of Leicester.

Last summer, archaeologists from the university found the lost medieval church Grey Friars buried underneath a parking lot in Leicester. And in February, researchers announced that a mutilated skeleton found in the church was confirmed to belong to King Richard III through DNA testing and other measures. [Gallery: In Search of the Grave of Richard III]

Richard became England's monarch in 1483 after his brother King Edward IV died. Declared bastards, Edward's two young sons weren't seen in public after Richard became king, leading to speculation that he had the princes murdered.

Illustration from 'So Who Was Richard III?' (Image credit: John Swogger)

After Richard III died in 1485, in battle during the War of the Roses, an English civil war, the Tudors took power and smeared his name. William Shakespeare used these evil portrayals of the king as inspiration for the hunchbacked, sinister protagonist of his play "Richard III," cementing the monarch's bad reputation.

Richard III may have been vilified after his death, but he has coalitions of defenders today, known as Richardians. The grave discovery reinvigorated the debate about the king's true character and his final resting place. All that fanfare also inspired archaeological illustrator John Swogger to make a comic titled "So Who Was Richard III?"

"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," Swogger said in a statement."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," Swogger added.

Artwork from the exhibition 'Richard III: The making of a myth' shows how the king's bones were found. (Image credit: John Aggs)

Another set of comic art was commissioned by the Leicestershire County Council for an exhibition titled "Richard III: The making of a myth," which is now on display at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. Panels by graphic novel artist John Aggs illuminate the king's complicated life and legacy and bring the story to recent archaeological search for Richard's remains.

Richard Knox, the Leicestershire County Council's heritage development manager, said in a statement that Aggs' work "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," Knox added.

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Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.