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.

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