June 20th, 2013 at 9:22 am

Kim Thompson, Goodbye

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My heart sank at the news of Kim Thompson’s death Wednesday morning. Since the announcement of his lung cancer diagnosis several months ago, there’s been virtual silence on the subject of his condition, which didn’t bode well. But when the news came, it was still a shock.

Years before I met Kim, I liked the idea of him: smart as a whip, a clean and accessible writer and an early champion of comics and graphic novels – “albums,” in those days – from Europe and other points around the globe.

In those days, Fantagraphics amounted to little more than The Comics Journal, and Kim and Gary Groth were those smart-ass boys who delighted in calling out anyone in comics they perceived to be charlatans or mediocrities. The “Blood and Thunder” letters pages were frequently the scene of verbal bloodshed as wounded mainstream comics creators and their friends and fans wrote in to complain of the Journal’s treatment of them, and Kim and Gary responded, giving as good as they got. The exchanges frequently dissolved into tedious displays of name-calling and hair-splitting, to the point that “Blood and Thunder” often became virtually unreadable. It all came to a head in one issue when an aggrieved correspondent, clearly burning with frustration from previous exchanges, launched into a tedious diatribe that was the epitome of venomous nerd rage, building to a tear-stained and self-satisfied climax that dared his oppressors to top him now. The brief reply was one of “Blood and Thunder’s” great moments.

Kim Thompson responds: Fuck you.

It cracked me up, the image of that correspondent trembling with anger and embarrassment, spittle still flowing down his chin, simultaneously dismissed and revealed for what he was by Kim simply shrugging and refusing to play.

Over the years, Kim seemed to move further and further away from the image of that smart-ass boy, though the razor-sharp wit lurking behind his soft-spoken façade never dulled. He was the guiding force behind some of the company’s most memorable anthologies, and helped engineer projects ranging from Amazing Heroes to the Peanuts series that essentially saved Fantagraphics in moments of financial desperation. He became a fine translator who brought his beloved European albums to domestic readers in sharp new editions. His good taste, gentle demeanor and capacity for hard work deservedly earned him the reputation of a genuinely beloved figure in comics.

We never worked together, but for several years it seemed as though we were always running into each other at one convention or another, and I always enjoyed his quiet humanity and subtle humor. Reed and Kate worked with him on Critters and during the time that Omaha moved to Fantagraphics, and they always spoke highly of their dealings with him. And I remain grateful for his kindness when Kate died of the same disease that would eventually take Kim, too.

We stayed in touch, in recent years mostly through emails when some particularly notable lunacy would show up in the comment threads of the new Journal site. The last time was just a few months before his diagnosis was made public. Taking a break from writing on a weekend evening, I sent a note to him thinking that he’d find it the next day. Within seconds, he’d fired a reply right back at me, and we chatted back and forth for a while. What sad sacks we were, said Kim, to be hard at work on a Sunday night. But that was one of the things I respected about him, his willingness to go that extra mile to get the job not only done but done right.

I hate the idea of Kim not being here any more. We’ll continue to value his accomplishments for years to come, but as fine as those accomplishments were, it’s small compensation for the loss of a talented and decent human being. Kim Thompson dead at 56 is a terrible waste. Kim dead at any age would be. It’s everybody’s loss.

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