Thinking about Kim Thompson, life and death

Kim Thompson-american virus.jpg

(Photo from and © American Virus)

When I moved to Los Angeles in the 80s, I lived in West Hollywood at the height of the AIDS crisis. I was a sheltered young woman without much in the way of life experience, but I was to get it in a hurry. My neighbors were dying like flies around me, beautiful young men wasting away everywhere. There was one guy on my floor who would walk his dogs dragging an IV trolly behind. I lost friends, mentors, confidants, co-workers. It was a horrible yet life affirming time. And then thank god, Magic Johnson made people realize anyone could get HIV, the drugs got better, and the plague slowed down—in the US at least.

I’d always had a “live in the moment” philosophy, but this background set it for good. For better or worse, I’m a grasshopper, not an ant. I guess I’ll end up penniless and freezing to death in a cardboard box, but I’ve had a good run. My death haunted youth gave way to the more normal pattern of death in life—some sudden, some expected, some a just reward, some a tragic waste. And now I’m older and so is everyone I know…and the drumbeat is picking up. In recent months the passings of Bob Morales and now Kim Thompson are a reminder that, as the poet said, youth is a series of hellos, and growing older is a series of goodbyes.

Yeah, I know that’s the most cliched observation in the world. But it comes so suddenly. I’ll throw in here that I had somehow missed this horrible news that Kourtney Keiser, the ex-wife of Zenescope writer Raven Gregory was killed in a hit and run, leaving behind four children. All condolences to Raven and his family. (This weekend there will be a charity car wash in Glendale, AZ to help raise money to pay for her funeral. There’s also a silent auction and if you are not local you can bid on some art.) I’m friends with Raven on Facebook and his recent posts have been pretty painful to read, as you might expect. Losing someone you never got to say goodbye to is a terrible, terrible thing.

Welp, anyway, if one person reading all this maudlin outpouring does something they were putting off, or says one thing they always meant to, I’ll have done my good deed for the day. I’m bracing myself for the long winding road of loss to come, but I’m going to try to squeeze in as many good times before then as I can, even if it just means sitting outside on a sunny day eating an ice cream cone…the best times, really.

So Kim Thompson. Kim was really really smart and knew comics like no one else did in those early days of discovery and the invention of indie comics. We all knew that there were these French comics that were good, but Kim had actually read them and spoke French and knew ALL about them.

It’s ironic that they just just announced the reprint of Marada the She Wolf because it was a review of that great piece of literature in The Comics Journal that was my very first published work…also the very first thing I ever wrote and sent to a magazine. It was Dwight Decker, then managing editor of the Journal, who fished it from the slush pile, but then Gary and Kim took me under their wing. Kim hired me to write for Amazing Heroes which lasted as long as the magazine did, but then I think I got too soft and read too many mediocre comics along the way. But before that, I have to say, Kim’s tastes and mine were very similar, though his was way better than mine. He was a Barks guy, and I was a Barks gal and we both loved that kind of rock solid, eight panel funny animal stuff. Kim edited Critters, which gave rise to Usagi Yojimbo, and Albedo and other books that reflected post-Walt Kelly world building.

Kim was behind Fantagraphics’s early Euro-comix explorations, like Hermann Huppen’s The Survivors. French comics have always been a hard sell in the US for the most part, and it took until the most recent graphic novels explosion for Kim to finally get his Tardi on, which was something he had been talking about for a while. Jason, Ulli Lust, Mattotti…it’s a pretty incredible list of creators, and that’s just the last few years.

Of course, Kim and his partner Gary changed comics forever—not just US comics but comics everywhere. Love and Rockets, Hate, Eightball and Acme Novelty Library—thanks to Fantagraphics and Raw, by the 90s the energy of comics had shifted over to the US. (As an aside, I remember working on an Amazing Heroes Preview Special Back In The Day and Kim telling me about a great new book called Lloyd Llewellyn.)

The next few days will be full of testaments to Kim’s fantastic editorial skills and wonderful translations. I’d like to say I’ll also miss him on the message boards. Believe me we had squabbles and knock down drag out fights on the TCJ boards or elsewhere, and I rarely won, if I ever did. Like all of us, he had mellowed a bit, but he could still deliver the killing blow when he had to. (See the Cerebus kerfuffle of last year, which is painful for many reasons, but also Kim in full message board action.)

At recent SPXs I’d usually catch up with him on the patio after the Ignatz Awards and learn more about what was coming up and the history of comics and other good things to talk about at SPX. That was the most contact I had with him in the recent jet setting age of comics, but they were moments I greatly enjoyed. I wish there had been many many more of them.

Anyway a few links, a very few. Craig Thompson posted the above postcard from 1997.. Mark Evanier recalled working with him on the Pogo reprints:

He had a passion for presenting the best material Fantagraphics could get its mitts on and presenting it in the best possible way. I knew this before Carolyn and I started working with him to bring forth the collections of Walt Kelly’s Pogo…but I don’t think I expected to like working with Kim as much as I did. He met every problem with grand spirit and you could hear the gears whirring as he tried to figure out, “Okay, how do we solve this and make the book better?”  That was always his first concern.  I’m not sure he even had a second concern but if he did, it was a distant second.  It’s so sad to lose a guy like that.  So sad.

Michael Cavna has more memories and quotes and the photo which I knicked.

You’ll be hearing more and more about Kim Thompson’s accomplishments in the comics industry in the coming days. We won’t be getting any more of the marvelously translated and edited books that only he would have produced, but thanks to his efforts we have a comics industry that will support and appreciate these books and those—inspired by Kim’s work—that will surely follow.

Comments

  1. Jeremy Holstein says:

    The Fantagraphics page has updated most of their upcoming Tardi reprints to “indefinitely postponed.” I adored what Kim Thompson was able to do with the translations, and now feel lucky I was able to tell him so at last fall’s SPX. I told him how much I was looking forward to new Adele Blanc Sec translations, and he assured me they were coming.

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    The Age of Editors is ending.

    Since 1976 was his first professional work, I hereby nominate him for next year’s Eisner Hall of Fame voting. (Gary Groth should be on the ballot as well.)

  3. jacob lyon goddard says:

    Kim’s work and influence is the reason i continued to read comics past the age of 12.
    i wonder what he and Bill Blackbeard are talking about right now.

  4. An amazing write up, Heidi. And SO true that some of us are getting older in that *zone* when passing on becomes more frequent. Thompson was an oak tree in a garden of weeds.

    Recently, I’ve been approaching my heroes at conventions and telling them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me. I have grown all too tired of missing opportunities and using that damned phrase, “I used to see him / her at cons all the time.”

  5. Great article and remembrance, Heidi.

  6. Bill Gatevackes says:

    Great article. Absolutely great and moving.

  7. “Losing someone you never got to say goodbye to is a terrible, terrible thing.”

    You’re so absolutely, dreadfully right.

    And: “if one person reading all this maudlin outpouring does something they were putting off, or says one thing they always meant to, I’ll have done my good deed for the day.”

    Just saying it is a good deed. Heidi. These are the times when we’re all suddenly reminded. I hope folks are listening.

  8. Randi Mason says:

    Thanks for writing this, Heidi. On many counts.

  9. Robert Dahlen says:

    One minor correction to an otherwise-excellent piece: Albedo was actually self-published by Steven Gallacci, came out before Critters, and had the honor of hosting Usagi Yojimbo’s first appearance in issue #2. Kim Thompson does deserve the credit for recruiting both Gallacci and Stan Sakai for Critters, and then being smart enough to see Sakai’s talent and giving Usagi his own book.

  10. John Shableski says:

    Heidi, thank you for such a thoughtful post. The comics world is a better place because of Kim’s works. He’s leaving behind an incredible and indelible legacy. I agree with Torsten that Kim belongs in the Eisner Hall of Fame.

  11. george says:

    Great post, Heidi.

    I’ll always regret that I never sent an email to Gene Colan’s website, to let Gene know how much his work meant to me when I was growing up. Too late now.

  12. Shawn Kane says:

    Great article, Heidi.
    I know how you feel, George. I was at Heroes Con the last year that Dave Cockrum was there. I passed on meeting him because the line was too long. I figured I’d just try to meet him next year. The bit about growing older being a series of goodbyes is very true.

  13. george says:

    I also wish I had contacted Steve Gerber, another of my heroes, when he was blogging and reachable online. I knew he was in a hospital during his last weeks — he wrote about it on his blog — but I didn’t know how serious it was.

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