Charles Vess has been an artist since he was a small child. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1974, took his first professional job as an animator for Candy Apple Productions in Richmond, Virginia. He stayed at this position for about two years before moving to New York in 1976. There, he worked as a freelance illustrator, contributing to publications including HEAVY METAL and THE NATIONAL LAMPOON. It was in this early period of his career that he published The Horns of Elfland for Archival Press in 1977, which Vess both wrote and illustrated. From 1980 to 1982, Charles worked as an instructor at the Parsons School of Art and Design.
By the late 80's, Vess had made a mark in the field of fantasy comic art with titles such as The Raven Banner: A Tale of Asgard published by Marvel in 1985 and The Book of Night, published by Dark Horse in 1987. Eventually, his mainstream success was affirmed by his illustration of SPIDER-MAN: SPIRITS OF THE EARTH from Marvel in 1990, and a ten issue run as illustrator of SWAMP THING for DC in 1993.
In 1989, Vess began his best-known collaboration to date, with Neil Gaiman, illustrating "The Land of Summer's Twilight", one of four episodes in the original BOOKS OF MAGIC, a DC mini-series,and also worked on three issues of Gaiman’s SANDMAN. SANDMAN #19, an adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" won the prestigious World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 1991. It was the only comic book to ever hold the honor, as award organizers consequently amended the rules to exclude comics.