Renowned illustrator Rousseau left UMass Dartmouth feeling more prepared than ever to face an evolving arts industry.
Thirty years ago, Craig Rousseau ’93 was an illustration student that played a supporting role in the university’s legendary transition from Southeastern Massachusetts University to UMass Dartmouth in the 1990s. Prior to the rise of the digital era, he trekked to the entrance sign and hand-placed letters on it, welcoming UMass Dartmouth students, faculty, and others to a timeless university.
Back then, Rousseau never thought a flashing digital sign would do all the hard work for him one day, colorfully greeting passersby in blue and gold. As a young scholar with an affinity for comic books, it was difficult for him to imagine technology more advanced than the Apple IIC computer and monochrome printer he used to craft his own witty comic strips.
Since graduating from UMass Dartmouth, the Internet evolved into a tool for artists like Rousseau to master and gain notoriety for his comic books and artwork. He commented on the drastic, modern shift in the arts industry, “It’s all about having an online presence. Now, you can make a comic strip online and bam, it’s done in minutes. When I was a student, you had to photocopy it and just hope for the best. It was a lot of running around campus and trying to get everything done on time.”
Despite the lack of modern resources, Rousseau spent his time as a UMassD student learning about the endless possibilities for him as an illustrator. With a digital renaissance on the horizon, Rousseau left UMass Dartmouth equipped with a dynamic skillset and rounded approach to his artistry that unknowingly prepared him for a comic book industry bound for abundant change.
From UMassD to Marvel Comics and more
Torn covers and missing pages. Dog-eared corners and fading images. These are the comic books that a young Rousseau fell in love with, fabled stories devoured by creative minds alike. When he decided to attend UMass Dartmouth as an aspiring professional, he knew the expansive illustration program was exactly where he belonged. Rousseau said, “I knew I wanted to be an illustrator for as long as I can remember.
“When I came to UMass Dartmouth, I realized there are so many options in illustration, so I started exploring different styles and real world uses of it,” Rousseau continued. Part of his artistic exploration included being a comics contributor for the UMassD Torch Newspaper, a student-run chronicle of current campus culture trends and university news. Along with a classmate, he regularly published a comic strip called College Norms. “I thought about continuing my work with magazines or newspapers outside of UMassD, but I always came back to comic books. I just grew up loving them.”
While there were many faculty members willing to offer their guidance, Rousseau recalls one instructor that exposed him to the many paths he could take as an artist. A whimsical and sports illustrator, Robert Barry was like a mentor to Rousseau that showed him real world applications of illustration firsthand. He wrote a children’s book that was optioned by the Muppets, titled Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree. Clinging onto a source of inspiration, Rousseau still has his copy of Barry’s book that was gifted to him as a scholar.
“Bob would bring in various other artists from different fields, so I got a good feel for what it’s really about and the real-world applications of illustration,” Rousseau added to his experience as Barry’s student. Rousseau was also in the fine arts program that strengthened his basic artistic skillset, including drawing, painting, and sculpting. “I was getting a more well-rounded approach to illustration and plenty of feedback on what was possible with my artwork at the time.”
As the end of his college career neared and his portfolio was nearly perfect, Rousseau used a valuable connection to a Marvel Comics employee to land his first gig as a comic book artist with the infamous company, ramming the door wide open for endless possibilities to follow. Since his initial job with Marvel, he’s been a freelance comic book artist for DC Comics, Disney Adventures, Beckett, and Image Comics to produce cover art and strips for comic books. He’s well-known for his work on Harley Quinn, Batman Beyond, and Impulse comic books.
While some artists had an issue staying relevant at the start of the digital revolution, Rousseau didn’t skip a beat due to his well-rounded education at UMass Dartmouth. Keeping an eye on the internet’s mounting significance, he launched his own website and began managing his social media accounts to leverage his artwork and maintain an engaged audience.
“I like to create. I like to draw, and if I don’t draw, I feel I’m not doing what I should be doing,” Rousseau said about his profession as a freelance comic book artist. Abiding by timely deadlines, his career grants him the flexibility to work whenever creativity strikes, whether that be at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. As part of being a comic book artist, he attends national and international comic book conventions, including one in Copenhagen last summer.
“While I was at the convention in Copenhagen, people told me they were purchasing my comic books online,” Rousseau said, making strides to capture his audience’s attention and turn them into fans for life. “For international citizens, you can’t walk into a local shop and pick up my book. They have to pay for shipping fees and wait for delivery, so they have to really want my work to purchase it.”
Rousseau credits his practical learning experiences at UMass Dartmouth for giving him a solid foundation to grow into a successful artist poised for unexpected twists. Given the wide range of helpful faculty feedback and industry exposure needed for an artist’s growth, he had to learn how to be flexible and make changes to his artwork based on audience criticism and industry trends. When the cyberage finally arrived, that flexibility he developed as a student made it easy for him to switch gears without hesitation, granting him a prosperous arts career.
Continuing the Rousseau legacy
The last time Rousseau stepped foot onto the iconic campus wasn’t as a student or alum. It was to bid his son, John Rousseau ’26, farewell as he began his freshman year at UMass Dartmouth. An art history major, John will follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional in the arts industry and as a Corsair.
“I chose UMassD because my father came here,” John commented. Although on a slightly different career path than his father, he hopes to work in an art museum upon his graduation from the College of Visual and Performing Arts in 2026. “His passion for comic books grew at UMassD, and that really impacted my decision to attend.”
John always took an interest in art since his father’s occupation as a comic book creator was an unintentional factor in his budding social life as a teen. None of his peers could withstand the excitement of meeting their favorite comic book superstar in the flesh. He fondly remembers, “My friends recognized my dad from his comic books all the time. They thought it was really cool to meet someone they look up to, and I do too.”
“It’s always meaningful to have people make comments about things you’ve done that mean something to them,” Rousseau remarked as a smile spread across his face, prideful of the impact he’s made on his audience. “Twenty or thirty years from now, someone will be sifting through a 50-cent comic book bin and find one of mine. My work is out there and I’ve created it because of the UMassD education that helped me understand my artistry and how it fits into the industry.”
Based on his memorable student experience, Rousseau has high hopes that his son will experience the same UMassD education that gave him a sturdy cornerstone to build the rest of his career as a thriving comic book artist. The Rousseau pedigree of prosperity will continue on at UMassD, fueled by an arts curriculum that shows students how to pave their own career paths and succeed without limitations.