James Vance


James Vance, a former Tulsa World writer, as well as an award-winning graphic novelist and playwright, died June 5.

He was 64.

A private service was held Thursday. Rose Hill Funeral Home handled arrangements.

A longtime Tulsa resident, Vance was perhaps best known outside of Oklahoma for his graphic novels, including the Depression-era “Kings in Disguise” and its sequel “On the Ropes,” both based on plays he had written.

“Kings,” published in 1988, is considered a landmark of the genre. Vance teamed with artist Dan Burr on both novels.

By the time he discovered the medium, Vance was already an accomplished playwright.

Among his best-known plays were “Stations,” which Theatre Tulsa premiered and which represented the United States at an international theater festival in Monaco; and “Robin Hood,” a family-oriented adventure that was performed in Mohawk Park for several summers.

Vance was actually thinking about plays when he got his introduction to graphic novels.

“I thought I would check out a comic-book store to see what was big in popular culture,” he told the World in a 2013 interview. “Instead of material for a play, I found a medium in which people were starting to do some pretty sophisticated, adult storytelling — really complex stuff that was moving the medium in new directions.”

He discovered, he added, that there’s not a lot of difference between writing for actors and for comics.

“Both are about putting words and images together,” he said.

Former Tulsa World writer John Wooley, a close friend, said Vance was “an absolutely brilliant writer and playwright and one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever known, a quality that shone through in everything he created.”

Vance’s graphic novels, he added, have been compared by critics to the work of author John Steinbeck.

“That’s not hyperbole,” Wooley said. “Like Steinbeck, Jim had a poet’s eye, a huge heart, and a soul that was repelled by injustice and tyranny. He was the kind of artist we’ll always need more of.”

Vance was born in Muskogee, but he lived most of his life in Tulsa and was a 1971 graduate of East Central High School.

Over two stints with the World, Vance had been an entertainment writer, including reviewing local theater, before writing for the newspaper’s weekly TV World magazine.

Vance was married to Kate Worley, herself a well-known comic book writer, until her death in 2004.

He was also preceded in death by his parents, James Vance Jr. and Margaret Vance.

Survivors include his wife, Jodi Vance; four children, Brigid Vance, Jacob Vance, Sarah Vance and Kaitlyn McBryde; four stepchildren; one grandson; 11 step-grandchildren; and a sister, Janet Korowitz.

To plant a tree in memory of James Vance as a living tribute, please visit Tribute Store.

Tim Stanley



Twitter: @timstanleyTW

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