R.I.P. James Vance

I am so sorry that I missed this. Earlier this month James Vance passed away.

I interviewed Vance twice over the years and we exchanged emails a few other times. I hadn't talked to him in years, though

Vance was a playwright originally. He was part of the generation that came to comics not because they wanted to write superheroes, but because they saw it as an artistic medium, a form that they could use to tell stories. Not because he wanted to write Batman or whoever, but because he wanted to be a storyteller.

The two books that Vance made with artist Dan Burr, Kings in Disguise and its sequel On the Ropes, are quite simply among the best graphic novels ever made. Kings in Disguise won the Eisner and Harvey Awards when it came out and it remains a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story of a young boy during the Great Depression, it is a dark and deeply humanistic portrait of a young man and of a country that is teetering on falling apart.

It's a story that I think is more important now than ever, concerning as it does the labor movement of the early 20th Century, the violent response to the demands of working people. It's about homelessness and hopelessness, about violence and strength. It is a great American story. And it is not talked about nearly enough.

Vance wrote a number of comics over the years. He wrote Batman and Aliens, Predator and The Crow. Probably his most notable work for hire project was when Vance wrote Neil Gaiman's Mr. Hero, The Newmatic Man for Tekno Comix.

Gaiman's name helped to sell the book - Tekno Comix was made up of celebrity-crafted Intellectual Property. Isaac Asimov, Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Spillane, Gene Roddenberry were the big names above the titles. People like Vance, Kate Worley, Max Allan Collins, Rick Veitch, Bryan Talbot wrote the books - initially, at least - and the art was a mixed bag of talented artists, and, well, less impressive ones.

The result was something of a mess. A few years back, in a lengthy series of blog posts, Vance explained what he was trying to do in the series and the many problems he encountered - problems that explain why the book was a failure. It would have been a very different project.

The other significant work of Vance's was Omaha, the Cat Dancer. Kate Worley and Reed Waller are responsible for the series, but to complete the project, Vance took Worley's notes - the two had been together for more than a decade before she died of cancer - and scripted the final volume of the series. Vance and Waller completed the project together, which concluded in 2013.

Vance passed away earlier this month at the age of 64 from cancer. He was an immense writer, with a gift for character and dialogue, who had a social conscience and crafted stories that were not didactic, that were far more than morality tales. His best work continues to have meaning and resonance. His work will live on and he will be missed.

A GoFundMe page was created to help provide for his children and people were asked to donate in lieu of flowers.


Articles Published the Week of June 18th

Dean Motter on Mister X, Terminal City, and How Cities Inspire Comics

Dean Motter is one of the most important, influential figures in North American comics in recent decades. He also doesn't get enough credit for that. He wrote The Sacred and The Profane, which is an important graphic novel from the eighties, he wrote and drew an authorized sequel to The Prisoner, the legendary TV show. But he's best known for Mister X and Terminal City. I talked to him about both series which look at cities and urbanism in very different ways.

Articles Published the Week of June 11th

Famed Spanish Cartoonist Paco Roca Talks About History, Memory and Dreams

Paco Roca is a star of European cartoonists and in the past year two of his books have been published here in the US. Wrinkles is an amazing book about dementia and old age and was turned into an award winning animated film. The Lighthouse is a fable about a soldier fleeing the Spanish Civil War. Both are incredible and I recently had the chance to talk with Roca about his work, memory, the Spanish Civil War and its long shadow, and his forays into animation.

You Might Be an Artist If...You Find Lauren Purje's book all too relatable

I love Lauren Purje's comics, which I call the equivalent of editorial cartoons about the art world. Top Shelf has collected a lot of them into the book "You Might Be An Artist If..." and it is smart and funny and relatable and cringeworthy and just a great read.

Reflections on Bloomsday

Last week I did an event with Sea Tea Improv for Bloomsday. Which yes, means that a group of improvisors made comedy out of James Joyce's epic novel. They were very funny and there were a few truly inspired scenes in the show. Anyway I wrote up a few thoughts about Joyce and Ulysses and posted them on medium.

Articles Published The Week of June 4th

Y; The Last Man Artist Pia Guerra Talks Trump, Politics and Editorial Cartooning

Lately Pia Guerra, the penciller and co-creator of the acclaimed Y: The Last Man has been working as a political cartoonist. Weekly on The Nib and more frequently on her own site she's been taking aim at the current administration and American politics. We spoke recently about her work, politics, and the very different mindset required compared to drawing Black Canary.

Mike Norton Takes on Trump, Guests on Astro City

Mike Norton is at an interesting career crossroads. He's finished a number of longform projects and he announced that he wants a different career going forward. So he's writing and drawing a Battlepug comic, he's collaborating with Sean McKeever on a project that isn't out yet (and doesn't have a publisher - HINT HINT), and he launched a webcomic Lil' Donnie, to work out some of frustration about the state of the country. He's also drawing an upcoming issue of Astro City so we talked about politics, frustration, art, and more.

Articles Published the Week of May 28th

In Conversation with Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang's debut collection has a lot of truly exceptional poems and I talked with her for The Brooklyn Rail and we covered a lot of ground - like her poetry - about personal history and collective memory and audiences and I'm so glad that it's now out.

The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project: Max Allan Collins

I've interviewed Max Allan Collins a few times over the years, but in April he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, their lifetime achievement award. To mark the occasion I spoke to him for The Rumpus and we didn't talk about specific books so much or what he's working on now, but on his time at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Richard Yates, the Vietnam war, the influence of music on his life, and how his recent health issues and becoming a grandfather has changed him and what he wants to do next.


Lynda Barry in The Family Circus

Last weekend at the National Cartoonists Society held the 71st annual Reuben Awards in Portland, Oregon. Lynda Barry was given the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. It's chosen by a unanimous vote of the society board and it places her in good company - Charles Schulz, Jules Feiffer, Sandra Boynton, Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Ralph Steadman.

(I know, it's eclectic company, but if you hang around cartoonists long enough, you'll see they'll pretty eclectic people)

But I think it's worth noting that while she may have been given that award by her peers in a black tie event, an award presented by her longtime friend Matt Groening, it's not the biggest honor she received last weekend. You see, she appeared in The Family Circus:

The Family Circus is a comic strip that people like to laugh at and be snarky towards, but Lynda Barry has spoken very eloquently about how much the strip meant to her as a child. How it was this stable, happy world where parents loved their children and it was so unlike her world as a child.

The strip was created by Bill Keane and it's now written and drawn by his son Jeff - who was the original inspiration for Jeffy in the strip. So in the strip, Jeffy is bringing Lynda home and making his friend part of the family. And there's something so very touching and sweet and meaningful and loving about that. Because Jeff Keane knows what this means.

Lynda Barry commented on this the other day on her tumblr page:

"Know this: Love is ALWAYS cool."