Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tony Luke (1966-2016)

Tony Luke, best known for his Japanese-inspired manga-meets-death-metal character Dominator starred in comic strips and an animated movie, died on 17 February 2016, aged 49. I knew Tony for twenty-five years and for fifteen of them he had been suffering from mesothelioma cancer, a rare form usually associated with exposure to asbestos. Diagnosed in 2000, he was given 8 months to live, but survived thanks to surgery at St. Barts Hospital where he had his right lung removed and his diaphragm and cardial linings replaced with plastic.

During this incredibly painful period of his life, Tony continued working on an animated project that would eventually see Dominator make its movie debut at Cannes Film Festival in May 2003. Unfortunately, ill-health dogged him and he suffered a series of mini-strokes in 2008 and 2011, and in 2014 he was again diagnosed with cancer. It was hoped that chemotherapy would be able to keep the cancer in check, but Tony was aware that his illness was now part of him and he would never be free of it. Despite the pain, he kept in contact with friends and fans through social media.

Born Antony John Luke in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 8 October 1966, Tony was educated at Manchester Polytechnic Film & TV school where he earned a BA with Hons. in 1987. Although he trained as a stop-motion animator, he found work in comics, creating Dominator for Metal Hammer in 1988. Tony collaborated with Pat Mills on a Nemesis photo-story for the 1987 2000AD Scie-Fi Special before joining forces with Alan Grant to write Middenface McNulty, Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson stories for Judge Dredd Megazine.

His output included work for video producer Manga Entertainment (Hellkatt) and NBM Publishing (Sin 7), as well as concept art, card art (Wizards of the Coast's Netrunner), cover art (DC, Vertigo, Marvel) and scripts for Psychonauts, illustrated by Motofumi Kobayashi and published by Marvel in Japan and the USA. Tony also directed and animated music videos for Wolfsbane, CreamingJesus, Urusei Yatsura, Shout Bamalam, Nectosanct, Digitalis and others.

Dominator had found a fan-base in Japan where the character was published by Kodansha in 1993-96. In 1995, Tony co-founded Renga Studios with Grant, artist Yasushi Nirasawa and actor Doug Bradley. He co-wrote (with Grant) and co-directed (with Kevin Davies) the live-action/stop-motion animated Archangel Thunderbird (1998), starring Bradley as a reclusive scientist who discovers that creatures from ancient myth are about to destroy the planet (one, Baal, was voiced by Neil Gaiman).

Broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel, the half-hour feature was made for "the price of a fridge" but inspired Sci-Fi to put up £10,000 towards a full-length movie, out of which came Dominator, filmed on a total budget of around £20,000. Voice talent for the film was provided by Dani Filth (from Cradle of Filth), Doug Bradley, Ingrid Pitt, Liza Goddard, Mark & Lard and Alex Cox.

As recently as 2015, Tony hoped to revive the Dominator character for Aces Weekly but his poor health meant that progress on any project was painful and slow. That said, he retained his sense of humour and humanity to the end, telling friends in 2014 "Enjoy your life. Live it. Don't waste a second. Tell your family and friends what they mean to you. Be nice to each other, or I'll come back from the dead and haunt the living crap out of you."

Comic World cover by Tony from 1994


John Freeman has shared a 6-second test piece from a story he wrote for Tony to animate: "Daleks versus Rocksnakes".

Alan Grant has posted a brief tribute on Facebook: "Tony was inspiring and lived life to full, always looking at new ideas, always full of new plans and schemes. We worked together on Dominator and, thanks to Tony, were the first non-Japanese creators to have a Japanese comic book produced in Japan... all down to Tony's hard work and belief in himself and others. A true talent and an inspiring individual." Full text here.

From Liam Sharp: "Tony was a kind of legend. He had imitators in Brighton - not of his work, but of his actual self. He was a photoshop pioneer, an independent movie pioneer, and a comic innovator. The cover work he did with Glenn Fabry was particularly memorable. Everybody knew Tony, and Tony knew everybody.
      " But he was also a kind man and a generous spirit. He gave credit where it was due, and helped people however he could - even in his worst bouts of ill health.
      Tony deserved more breaks than life dealt him. He deserved better, and he should have lived much longer." Full text here.

More tributes can be found at Down the Tubes.

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