JAMES VANCE OBITUARY
James Vance, an award-winning playwright and graphic-novel author, died Monday, June 5, in Tulsa. He was 64 and had been battling cancer for more than two years.
Born April 2, 1953 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Vance studied theater in Chicago and became a presence in the Tulsa theatrical community during the 1970s, while studying and working at what was then Tulsa Junior College. Encouraged by Carlton Winters, who ran the theater program for the school, Vance began writing plays, often directing and acting in them as well. He was especially fond of a lavishly mounted version of the Robin Hood story that played outdoors in a Tulsa park and included, among other things, live horses.
Another acting venture came when he was cast as the young male lead in the Tulsa-produced feature Blood Cult (1985), generally recognized as the first made-for-home video movie ever made. He also starred in two other locally produced pictures, Bio-Kill (1994) and Cafe Purgatory (1999).
One of Vance’s earliest successes as a playwright was the one-act Stations, a look at the societal influences of televangelism. First staged in 1980, it went on to win regional and national competitions, ultimately representing the United States at the International World Theatre Festival in Monte Carlo. He also wrote Halls of Ivory, the true-life story of the attempt to integrate the University of Oklahoma Law School in the 1940s. Produced by the Tulsa Junior College Community Theatre in 1987 as an official event of the Bicentennial Celebration of the United States Constitution, Halls of Ivory continues to be periodically revived.
A Vance play from 1979, On the Ropes, became the inspiration for Kings in Disguise, a six-issue comic-book series from Kitchen Sink Press that found Vance collaborating with artist Dan Burr. First published in 1988, this story of a 13-year-old boy riding the rails as a hobo in Depression-era America went on to win both Eisner and Harvey Awards, the two highest honors given in the comics industry. Kitchen Sink collected Kings in Disguise into a one-volume trade paperback in 1990; by the time it was issued by W.W. Norton in 2006, it had been recognized as one of the top graphic novels ever published, praised highly by creators like Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman, with Italian and French as well as American editions.
Seven years later, Norton published On the Ropes as a sequel to Kings in Disguise, with Vance working from his original play and Burr once again doing the artwork. On the Ropes also received a warm reception from critics and readers. Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, called it “as layered and encompassing as the classics of Steinbeck or James M. Cain.”
During the 1990s, Vance wrote issues of Batman, Aliens, Predator, and The Crow, and the
entire run of Mr. Hero: the Newmatic Man. Following the death of his wife, writer Kate Worley, in 2004, Vance stepped in and finished editing and scripting her long-running series, Omaha, the Cat Dancer, with artist Reed Waller.
In 1992, he was commissioned to write a monograph in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution touring exhibit Climbing Jacob’s Ladder; his script for the related public-television documentary, Hope is the Last Thing to Die, was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Also in the ’90s at various times, Vance worked both as an entertainment writer for the Tulsa World newspaper and an editor for Kitchen Sink Press. From the 1980s until the end of his life, he periodically wrote text pieces and other material for a variety of publishers. One of his most unusual – and attention-getting – creations came in 1992, when he paired with artist Mark Landman on the election-year Republicans Attack! trading-card series from Kitchen Sink Press, a politically themed parody of the Mars Attacks! bubblegum cards of the 1950s.
In 2010, Vance was inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame, and his work was nd featured in the Oklahoma History Center exhibition The Uncanny Adventures of Okie Cartoonists.
He was preceded in death by his parents Margaret Davis Vance and James H. Vance, Jr. and his niece, Natalie Baine. He is survived by his wife Jodi (Jo) Vance & 8 children: Brigid Vance and her husband Javier Sagel, Kaitlyn McBryde and Josh Arehart, Jacob Vance, and Sarah Vance all of Tulsa, OK; Jenny and Blake Peper, Davin and Alesha Blake, Julianne and Joe Malchow, all of Adair, OK; Jessica and Ronnie Stamps of Choteau, OK; his sister, Janet Korowitz, and her husband, Bill Korowitz, of Roswell, GA; 12 grandchildren; His mother-in-law, Susan Osland of Pryor, OK; Sisters-in-laws Alicia Porter of Stoddard, WI, and Jamie Berg of Fargo, ND; brother-in-law Korey and Ester Berg of Springfield, VA and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.
In lieu of flowers, his friends and fans are being asked to donate to a GoFundMe site that has been set up to help with the mortgage on the Vance family home.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
By Henry Scott-Holland