Kim Thompson 1956-2013

Early yesterday, Kim Thompson died at the age of 56.

I never met him but do know that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better friend to comics literally worldwide. North American readers were grateful to him for having exposed them to work from Europe, and European creators were grateful for that exposure.

Thompson met Gary Groth in 1977 shortly after Groth and Michael Catron began publishing The Comics Journal. He soon joined Groth as co-owner of Fantagraphics Books, which in addition to publishing the critically focused, critically acclaimed magazine about comics that was TCJ began publishing comics of its own in 1981. Strike that; “comics of its own” is a poor choice of words because Fantagraphics was/is about translating stuff from overseas into English, preserving classic material, and giving voice — or really, just a microphone — to independent, so-called alternative cartoonists in the United States. Fantagraphics may be known best as the vessel for such work as Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez’ Love and Rockets, Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, Peter Bagge’s Hate, Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits, and Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, but it’s published everything from Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo to Jessica Abel’s Artbabe to, in a series of deluxe reprints, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Those projects right there would be an excellent foundation to any comics library, and hardly a mask or cape in sight.

In my younger days the work of Thompson’s with which I was most familiar was Amazing Heroes, a magazine about comics that, as the title suggests, took a more focused look at American publishers and traditional fandom than did the increasingly expansive Journal. My own interest in the medium widened greatly as I got older, however, and while not all of the stuff was to my taste I kept an eye on anthologies like Zero Zero, edited by Thompson, not only to be able to make conversation or recommendations in my job at the comics shop or to write knowledgeably for industry publications but to experience the art form being pushed in wild directions.

Thompson’s passing from lung cancer at such a young age has rocked the comics community hard, and thoughts are with his wife, family, friends, and everyone else who feels his loss. Groth, his friend and business partner for 36 years, offered an obituary that froze the Fantagraphics website for much of last night. You’ll surely find many deep and worthy remembrances of Kim Thompson and what he meant to comics in days to come.

Cover to Zero Zero’s first issue © 1995 artist Gary Panter.

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