Graphic novelist, cartoonist
Lance Tooks was born into a family where art was as essential as brushing your teeth before bed. "[My father] saw all the arts as being completely interconnected," Tooks recalled in an interview with Denise Sudell for the on-line comics magazine Sequential Tart. From almost the time he could speak, Tooks was given creative assignments to complete—plays, paintings, poetry. It gave him a wide range of artistic talent, but one driving desire. "I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller," Tooks revealed to Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). To do that he chose a single art form—comics—since the age of 16, he has worked diligently on his craft, filling hundreds of sketchbooks with his ideas, self-publishing critically acclaimed comics, and making a name for himself in the emerging genre of graphic novels with his award-winning Narcissa. By 2007, with half a dozen projects on the horizon, Tooks was poised to reach success as a major talent in comics. However, committed to further pushing his own creative boundaries, he told CBB, "I'm proud of the work I've done but humbled by how much I've still ahead of me to learn."
Groomed to be an Artist from Childhood
Lance Tooks was born on September 15, 1962, in Brooklyn, New York, and raised, along with siblings Eric and Kim, in a home simmering with creativity. "My father, Ed Tooks was a painter, photographer, musician, singer, playwright, and theater producer," Tooks told CBB. "He would give my sister, brother, and I weekly creative assignments. We loved him for it and never imagined that other kids might be raised in a different fashion." While his mother Hazel held down the practical side of the household—Tooks told Sequential Tart, "She was the civilian, so basically she kept reminding my father that the bills had to be paid"—his father employed the children as back up singers in his basement recording studio, taught them to write plays and stories, and encouraged them to explore creativity in all its forms. "I learned from my father that all of the arts are one," Tooks told CBB. "Storytelling is the basis from which they all spring, and the differences between media are superficial at best. An artist can tell the same story of a love affair through song, a painting, a photo, or a movie."
His father had taught him to read before he was two, and Tooks developed an enormous appetite for books at a very young age. However, he happened onto comic books almost by chance. "I think the first ones I saw were in a recording studio where my father was doing a session," he told Sequential Tart. "And I think just the fact that they were stories that were told with pictures was something that interested me." By the time he entered New York's High School of Art and Design, he had decided to focus his talent on comics, partly in reaction to his father's refusal to stick with just one art form. He explained to Sequential Tart that his father's interest in so many mediums was both a strength and a liability. "You know, he would be interested in photography for many years, and then painting would take his attention away from that, and so I figured I wanted to choose the one that I felt the most connection to. Which turned out to be comics—I thought that all the interests that I had, I could funnel through comics."
At the age of 16, Tooks landed an internship at Marvel Comics. Two years later, after graduating from high school, Marvel hired him as an assistant editor. Tooks has since referred to his time there as Marvel University. Though he never worked as an artist for Marvel, he told Sequential Tart, "I was drawing all the time. And by far, the best thing about being there was having access to the brilliant artists who worked there, who had been doing it for years, and who I could show my art work [to], and they would tell me to work on my anatomy, or tell me why something works better in a panel, design-wise." One of the best pieces of advice he received while working there was to draw every day. Tooks committed himself to doing just that and since 1982 he has filled two hard-bound sketch books per year with drawings, sketches, and ideas.
Found Success in Graphic Novels
At the age of 21, Tooks was fired from Marvel and for a few years toyed with the idea of getting into film. "I thought a good way to get into filmmaking would be to—well, first, watch a lot of movies," he told Sequential Tart. He did this by working a series of jobs in video rental stores and movie theaters and building up a personal video library that he has estimated at over 10,000 films. However, after a disappointing run at the Director's Guild Trainee test, he decided to return to art. He got his foot back in the door by becoming a messenger at Broadcast Arts, an animation studio most famous for Pee-Wee's Playhouse. When he found out they were also working on the animated opening credits for the Madonna film, Who's That Girl, Tooks brought his sketchbooks to the production office. "And so within about two weeks, I stopped being a messenger, and was an inker on this animated film," he told Sequential Tart. This led to 15 years of working in animation at dozens of production companies including MTV and Nickelodeon, including collaborations with such names as George Lucas, Bill Cosby, Spike Lee, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He has estimated that his work has appeared in over 100 projects from commercials to music videos.
As his career in animation evolved, Tooks also kept his creativity peaked with other projects. He designed album covers for the reggae record label PowWow, did set design for theater, briefly worked as a movie stuntman, and sat for two years as a juror on the Queens Council of the Arts, a seat vacated when his father died. Throughout all of this, Tooks never stopped drawing. He not only continued to fill his sketchbooks, but also started publishing original comics such as Danger Funnies and Divided by Infinity. His comic work regularly appeared in national magazines and comic anthologies. He also illustrated books such as The Black Panthers for Beginners by Herb Boyd. Though his name was not unknown in comic circles, he jokingly recalled to Sequential Tart, "I thought only me and my mother knew [my comic books] existed." He was wrong. In 2000, Deborah Cowell, an editor at Random House/Doubleday tracked him down and asked him to contribute a book to their new line of graphic novels—novels told in comic form with drawings and text.
At a Glance …
Born on September 15, 1962, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Lawrence Edward (playwright, musician, and artist) and Hazel Tooks; married, Suni. Education: High School of Art and Design, New York, NY.
Career: Marvel Comics, assistant editor, New York, NY, 1979-82; Broadcast Arts, animator, New York, NY, 1987-93; freelance animator: Music Television (MTV), Nickelodeon, Liberty Studios, Pan Productions, Curious Pictures, and Critical Mass, 1998-2000; graphic artist, 2000-.
Awards: High School of Art and Design, Art Excellence Award, cartooning, 1980; Publishers Weekly, Best Graphic Book, for Narcissa, 2002; GLYPH Comic Awards, Best Writer, for Lucifer's Garden of Verses: Darlin' Niki, 2006; GLYPH Comic Awards, Best Female Character, "Niki," for Lucifer's Garden of Verses: Darlin' Niki, 2006.
Addresses: Home—Madrid, Spain. Web—www.lancetooks.com.
Given complete artistic freedom, Tooks created Narcissa, the story of a young, black filmmaker who flees to Spain after being given only a week to live. Published in 2002, it won an award as Best Graphic Novel from Publishers Weekly and opened the door for Tooks to develop more works in this genre. Tooks particularly enjoyed the genre. He told Karen Juanita Carrillo of the New York Amsterdam News "I love storytelling in general, and this the best way I've found to tell stories." From 2005 to 2007, he published Lucifer's Garden of Verses, an award-winning four-part series that features the Devil himself as a protagonist in stories involving love, art, and Miles Davis. By mid-2007, Tooks was busy with several more projects including graphic adaptations of works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde. He was also hard at work on another original work, Anansi's Dreambook, the story of a skateboard messenger who gets lost in his daydreams. On reflecting on his success, Tooks who moved to Spain fulltime in 2004 told CBB, "I've come nowhere near the kind of success I'd like to achieve, however. I hope to someday create a work that communicates to all people equally."
Narcissa, Random House/Doubleday, 2002.
Lucifer's Garden of Verses, The Devil on Fever Street, ComicsLit, 2005.
Lucifer's Garden of Verses, Darlin' Niki, ComicsLit, 2005.
Lucifer's Garden of Verses, The Student, NBM Publishing, 2006.
Lucifer's Garden of Verses, Between the Devil And Miles Davis, ComicsLit, 2007.
New York Amsterdam News, February 6, 2003, p. 33.
Publishers Weekly, September 23, 2002, p. 52.
"Following His Own Beat: Lance Tooks," Newsarama, http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?s=0d9124a14a1f45d6b5dec2bb144e1365&threadid=11805&highlight=narcissa (June 29, 2007).
"Getting Graphic," New York Public Radio,www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/2003/05/23 (June 29, 2007).
"Giant Dog, Single Mothers, and Groucho Bronte: Lance Tooks Draws Like Himself," Sequential Tart,www.sequentialtart.com/archive/mar03/ltooks.shtml (June 29, 2007).
Lance Tooks,www.LanceTooks.com (June 29, 2007).
Additional information was obtained through an interview with Lance Tooks on April 25, 2007.
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