A volume of remembrances are surfacing across the comics community. Most are being gathered in a Collective Memory link-post at Comics Reporter, a good place to get a feeling for how Kim’s remembered in his departure. These two posts list books affiliated with Kim that are most loved by CR readers. The Comics Journal posted this intimate biography along with some magnificent key tributes, including wonderful early photos. This guided stroll through Kim’s work is a treasure, as is this awesome obituary.
I mentioned in an article that accompanied a portrait I drew of Kim recently, that I can’t recall having met him. I knew about his joining Gary Groth and Mike Catron on The Comics Journal early in my career, and I remember being impressed with his devotion by way of how he became a partner in Fantagraphics. But I can’t recall a specific encounter, thought it’s not unlikely that we met or were in a very close vicinity during one of the conventions back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a smaller and more intimate community then. I remember a Fantagraphics table at some of the events but I was young and restless (I got over the young part in the meantime) and might not have been attentive about the “who’s who” behind the tables. I suppose such desires to know rose to the surface very late for me, when I was finally able to catch up with the history I’d missed and the people who made it, by way of the internet beginning early last decade, after a nearly 20 year disconnect. What I do feel is that I came to know Kim mostly through an interview at Comics Reporter in 2008 that prompted a greater curiosity. I then started paying more attention to mentions of him, digging a little deeper here and there when possible.
So I don’t have any stories or anecdotes to tell. Most of what I know about Kim comes from what others have said. I tend to generally rely on people’s thoughts in such cases, though I don’t think it’s a naivete where everything is accepted at face value. I do however think it’s possible to discern sincerity, insight and a mature view, even if it comes by way of text on a monitor. Heaven knows that colossal mistakes can be made there, especially when passions rise and tend to trap escalating angst into a self-recycling brew. In the case of Kim Thompson, discussion about him was most always of a reverent nature, seemingly careful of its humanity in addressing him, devoid of the type of cynicism that can be a hallmark of internet interaction. This quality, by which Kim was regarded by his peers, was maybe also due to the particular character of the alternative comics community. By way of its nature, it seemed always a little more humane and mature, nowhere near as virulent as its sister mainstream crowd. This isn’t meant as a judgement, because it seems that both these groups are meant to be just as they are in advancing the medium, while projecting a candid image of the collective art form that could not and should not be anything other than what it is. Kim Thompson’s devotion exemplified the best of both. He was loved and held in dear regard across the cultural divide. Said to be soft spoken, he didn’t hesitate to take a firm position when moved to. An example that comes to mind was with Dave Sim, when talk of Fantagraphics publishing some of Dave’s work was on the table. A rare moment where it seemed we could get a glimpse of how Kim thought and operated with pinpoint purpose, and the personal investment he made into a project he believed in.
The comics art form in America has transformed beyond recognition since the days Kim first found a home at The Comics Journal. What was then a relatively local expression has expanded to adopt a more collective global feel, drawing influence from its sister cultures abroad and giving rise to a more colorful array of domestic works that have helped the medium, including the mainstream, come into its mature own – all made possible through his tireless work. Kim’s European roots, knowledge of the source languages, and inter-cultural sensibilities, along with a determination that withstood the suspicion of a sometimes reluctant home front, led to a flood of creativity spearheaded by Fantagraphics, and an inspiring glimpse at what comics can be, by way of translations of the finest that other cultures offer. His contribution to helping American comics burst out of its genre cocoon cannot be overstated. The void he leaves behind cannot be reconciled.
The gratitude poured out in his departure tells how the legacy that Kim Thompson imprints into our cultural consciousness transcends all we’ve believed to be within one man’s ability to perform.
Have peace and Godspeed, Kim. Heart-felt condolences to the family, and the family of Fantagraphics.