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Vance, James 1953–

Vance, James 1953–

PERSONAL: Born 1953.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Kitchen Sink Press, 320 Riverside Dr., Northampton, MA 01060.

CAREER: Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Harvey award, for Kings in Disguise.

WRITINGS:

(With Dan Burr) Kings in Disguise (originally published as six-issues comic-book series; includes new material), Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1990.

(With Alexander Maleev) The Crow: Flesh and Blood, Kitchen Sink Press (Northampton, MA), 1996.

Author of one-act play Kings in Disguise, and a comic-book series adaptation of that same title.

SIDELIGHTS: James Vance first wrote Kings in Disguise as a play, then with illustrator Dan Burr as a comic-book miniseries. The six issues were then collected in one volume with an additional ten-page story. Kings in Disguise is set in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. In Marian, California, the Bloch family is falling apart. The father, a widower, is unable to find employment and becomes caught up in alcohol abuse. Albert, the teenage son, also unable to find work, is hurt while trying to steal in order to buy food. Younger son Freddie finds himself alone when his father abandons him, and eventually, with his father's last known Detroit address in hand, he heads east to find him.

As he travels, Freddie meets Sammy, an older and sickly vagabond, who calls himself the King of Spain and who teaches Freddie how to survive. Together they find food and travel the country in boxcars as they develop a close friendship. Freddie learns how to read the hobo signs that indicate which home is friendly and which is not, where a handout is probable, and also where a vicious dog may threaten them. A reviewer for American Heritage wrote that Vance "has been scrupulous about thirties hobo slang…. This is an entertaining primer of hard times."

Vance's story depicts events of the period, including the violent and divisive labor riots. In a School Library Journal review, Phillip Clark wrote that the book "gives a frightening picture of what happens to ordinary people in a nation gone mad." Freddie observes people who have lost hope, and although he and Sammy fend off attacks by others, including the police, they also meet people who show them kindness when the two young men reach out during this period when so many are struggling to survive. Among them are a couple whose son is killed by the police, a female union leader, and another hobo who claims to be Jesse James. Ultimately, Freddie has a better understanding of life and how it can be changed by circumstances.

Matthew Surridge reviewed Kings in Disguise for Comic Book Life online, saying that Vance "uses his playwriting experience to good effect, especially in differentiating between the voice of the young Freddie we see and the older Fred who tells us his story…. Kings in Disguise skillfully navigates through a minefield of politics and emotion. There's warmth, but there's also an unblinking view of reality that is, at times, almost brutal." Surridge called the story "realism at its best."

Publishers Weekly contributor Penny Kaganoff wrote that Vance's award-winning story "of a young man forced to become an adult is touching," and called Kings in Disguise "an outstanding example of mature comic book storytelling."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Heritage, April, 1994, review of Kings in Disguise, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, Penny Kaganoff, review of Kings in Disguise, p. 227.

School Library Journal, March, 1991, Phillip Clark, review of Kings in Disguise, p. 228.

ONLINE

Comic Book Life Web site, http://www.comicbooklife.com/ (November 24, 1999), Matthew Surridge, review of Kings in Disguise.

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