Ed Tooks, my father would've turned seventy today. He died in 1996, a fact I actually had to look up on the internet because I've never felt the need to remember that date. But every year on the 27th of June I celebrate the old man and the many gifts he left me. (pictured below left to right George Tooks, Ed Tooks & the rest of the Genies crooning their way across Canada in the very early 60's)
He was a true renaissance guy; a painter, writer, photographer, musician, singer, composer, poet, video artist, audio-tech, screenwriter, dancer, theatre producer & award-winning playwright. He created much of this work in collaboration with his brother George Tooks, an equally impressive creator who continues to inspire and entertain folks across America with his various projects, including an ongoing lecture series on Black & Native American history. (below, Lenga Tooks, 'LenGa being an abbreviation of Lawrence E 'aNd' George A Tooks, & only bill collectors called him Lawrence)
When Dad wasn't making art he was making artists, so it stands to reason that I would grow up to be a cartoonist, my sister Kim an actress/singer/playwright/theater owner, my brother Eric the greatest unsigned rapper in history & my cousin Titus Thomas a brilliant visual artist & educator. As kids we'd get weekly assignments to 'create something', to express ourselves and engage with the world around us. Dad might say "write me a five page screenplay by Friday," or "draw me a flyer for my play" or "design me a logo" or "come sing backup harmonies on my latest recording"... or we'd help carry equipment from place to place, help him videotape weddings on the side or be willing subjects for his photography. I truly believed that every family lived like ours. I learned from him how the arts were interconnected, how things learned in one medium, (say, music) could be applied to another (like comics) and how no good idea need ever go to waste.(below, case in point- this early production sketch I made of a bar was created in 1984 for one of Lenga Tooks' plays... I later used the same drawing on the cover of and throughout my 2007 Graphic novel "Between the Devil & Miles Davis", a personal tribute)
He was my first teacher, teaching me to read & write when I was two; how to draw & take photos soon after. I was four years old when he sat me down in front of a turntable and played Sheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, and told me to imagine the stories in my head. He would spend hours talking to me about politics and philosophy, insisting that I never forget that I am an individual and that no man has a right to take a thing from me. If my moral compass was off from time to time I could always count on his. When I was about fourteen or so, I got my first rapidograph,(an expensive drawing pen) and was so inspired by the fine lines I could make that I whipped up this visceral action comic entitled "The Executioner." He wore a visor and packed a lasergun that he used to blow the heads and limbs off an army of attacking mutants. End of story. My dad strolls in, looks over my shoulder at the bloodbath I was creating, raises an eyebrow and mumbles dryly, "...well, your artwork's getting better but you're losing your mind." From that moment I tried to follow his example, creating work that is about something and that attempts to contribute more to the world than a body count. (below, The Lenga Tooks Musical Workshop, AKA our house in Laurelton NY... a million songs were recorded there, plays were written there, comics were illustrated there, productions were mounted there, meals were eaten there... thanks, Mom)
I could write volumes about the times we worked together as audio men on Videowave for Manhattan Public Access TV, or how he helped me shoot my super 8 horror film "The Diary of Dr. Zorgo" when I was in Junior High, or how he drove me out to Long Island through one of the roughest rainstorms in recorded history just to buy me a live turtle for the Science Fair, how, he & my mom, my sister, my girlfriend Nicole Willis & my friends, artists Kevin J. Taylor & Harry Candelario were all extras in the midnight-movie classic "Basketcase", or the time we wore matching yarmulkes while shooting a Bar Mitzvah ("These two Black atheists walk into a synogogue...") or the time he has me shooting transitional video footage out the window of our van between the bride's house and the chapel and SCREEECH! he rear ends the bridal limo, or how he singlehandedly tried to establish 'the Harlem Symphony Orchestra... I could talk about his incredibly talented creative collaborators like Chester Barnes, Don Thursby, Mike Dagley, William Loren Katz, Harold Waite, Beverly Bonner, Jerry Maple, comics great Billy Graham & a few really famous folk I'm not about to namedrop... but I'll save those tributes for another day. For now, let's wish my pop a Happy Birthday.
(pictured below, my father on the right with the stars of Basketcase, I'm the blurry fellow behind him in the yellow & red hat, looking over HIS shoulder for a change)