Student’s research leads to DC Comics internship

August 19, 2019

Thea Cheuk at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California
Thea Cheuk at Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California

The research paper Thea Cheuk wrote last spring on the DC Comics character Dick Grayson did more than combine Cheuk’s interests in graphic arts and gender studies, it also led to a coveted internship at one of the comic industry’s largest publishers.

Cheuk, a senior studying communication arts in the School of the Arts and gender, sexuality and women's studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, wrote the 72-page paper to explore the ways Grayson — the fictional superhero known as Robin and Nightwing — has been subtextually coded queer since his comics introduction in 1940. In April, as Cheuk was presenting the research at VCU’s annual undergraduate research symposium, the Honors College student also was applying for summer internships at DC and Marvel Comics.

“When I got interviews for both, they wanted to know a little about what I had written — just to gauge my knowledge of comics and my interest,” Cheuk said. “Being able to have that research and demonstrate that I had put in a fair amount of work in comics — that I know what I’m talking about — was a really big plus for me.”

Cheuk accepted an offer with DC, and spent 10 weeks earlier this summer in Los Angeles. The editorial internship was a window into how comics are created — meetings with writers, editing scripts, working with letterers (the people who add text and sound effects to drawings on the page), proofing pages and routing drafts through a meticulous approval process. Occasionally Cheuk was asked to help with reference work — when an artist needs to feature a character they haven’t drawn before and wants archival materials to help draw that character accurately. Cheuk, who spent months conducting research on Grayson, enjoyed those assignments.

“There isn’t a perfect system to find [the reference material] so you are looking in tons of different places,” Cheuk said. “It’s actually real fun, but a little bit of a challenge. I really enjoy it.”

Cheuk said the internship, the people at DC and their passion for the work — desks and workstations in the office “are bursting with figurines and comics and posters” — reinforced a desire to continue working in the field.

“It’s been a great work environment,” Cheuk said. “People are super-friendly and willing to help. It’s so clear they really care about what they are doing, and that they love comics and are passionate about it. And if you have thoughts, they are open to hearing them.

“I’d love to come back. … There are people who work in the video game and interactive entertainment industries, TV production and movies. DC is so intertwined in so many different types of media. Just being [there] opened up a lot of opportunities and a lot of different directions.”