KIM THOMPSON was born in Denmark, but everything changed when he arrived in America for the first time, at age 21. On the fertile soil of Virginia, a massively influential comics career took root.
“Kim's parents settled in Fairfax [Va.] when they moved back from Europe,” friend and co-publisher Gary Groth tells Comic Riffs on Wednesday. “I was living in College Park — having attended the University of Maryland — when I met Kim, and we worked out of my apartment, editing The Comics Journal.”
In 1976, Thompson and Groth — working for the first two years with Michael Catron — launched a fanzine that would help transform journalistic coverage of comics. Their friendship would lead to the birth of the influential Seattle-based indie publisher Fantagraphics Books, which has featured the work of a galaxy of comics stars, including Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, Stan Sakai and 2013 Eisner Hall of Fame inductee Spain Rodriguez.
But in those early years, editing the Journal “was a full-time job, on top of the other jobs we had in order to keep our heads above water — since the magazine didn't make a profit or pay us a salary,” Groth tells Comic Riffs. “We would frequently go to see movies at ... the Kennedy Center, or the old Telegraph in Georgetown, when we could pull ourselves away from editing and pasting-up the latest issue of the magazine.”
Thompson was an enthusiastic comics reader as a teenager in Europe, Groth recalls, even writing fan letters that Marvel published. But once in the Washington area, he found a home where his young fandom could thrive.
“There was a comics-fan community in the D.C. area full of serious collectors and a number of professional artists, such as John Fantucchio, Sal Buscema and Steve Hickman, so we felt very comfortable there,” Groth tells us. “We only moved to Connecticut when the magazine started running more serious journalism, because New York City was the comics hub at the time.”
Even after leaving the area, though, Thompson’s impassioned work would bring him back for frequent pilgrimages.
“He was one of the our annual regulars who would come to every show to man his tables for Fantagraphics,” Warren Bernard, executive director of Small Press Expo in suburban Washington, tells Comic Riffs.
“Kim helped bring some of the greats in comics to the forefront, such as Chris Ware, Jacques Tardi and the Hernandez Brothers,” Bernard says of the Fantagraphic-published creators. “The comics world is a much better place because of Kim’s efforts over the last 35 years of the comics continuum.”
Even when you begin to cite the names he nurtured, any short list seems insufficient. Andrew Farago, curator at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco says he couldn’t even begin to list all of the artists and publishers who were directly and indirectly influenced by Thompson and his efforts.
“As co-publisher of Fantagraphics, he was instrumental in growing the audience of people who could appreciate great comics, too,” Farago tells Comic Riffs. “I can’t imagine comics taking hold in libraries, classrooms and bookstores without Kim’s efforts.”
Ruben Bolling, creator of the comic “Tom the Dancing Bug,” echoes the breadth of Thompson’s influence.
“Kim was a guiding force in the alternative comics movement — one of the most important developments in comics history,” Bolling tells us.
Or, as “Zippy the Pinhead” creator Bill Griffith puts it succinctly to Comic Riffs: “Kim was Fantagraphics in so many ways.”
“Believe it or not, one of my favorite parts about finishing an issue of ‘Love and Rockets’ was e-mailing Kim back and forth, working it out to the last minute to hit a particular deadline,” Jaime Hernandez tells Comic Riffs. “Kim was always on top of it.”
“ ‘Love and Rockets’ would not have lasted this long if it weren't for Kim and Gary,” Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime’s brother/collaborator, tells us. “Kim's involvement in production and basic support for the comics Jaime and I did for 30 years can't be minimized.”
Kim Thompson died Wednesday morning, four months after receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer, Fantagraphics Books announced. The publisher said he is survived by his wife, Lynn Emmert; his mother and father, Aase and John; and his brother, Mark.
He was 56.
“Kim will be sorely missed by all in the comics community ...,” SPX’s Bernard says, “and it’s a sad day for all of us.”
“He was so easy to hang around with,” Gilbert Hernandez tells us. “Our last conversations together were not about comics at all, but about our mutual admiration for the pop artist Pink.
“He had the heart and soul of a young man, and will always live in mine.”
Here are fuller thoughts on Kim Thompson, from several top industry figures (as quoted to Comic Riffs):
“He was the guy [at Fantagraphics] I dealt with on the nuts-and-bolts level for everything production-wise. And he was an amazingly great spellchecker and editor. He caught every one of my textual missteps for over 20 years — even when they were in French. Especially if they were in French. He never tried to change what Zippy said — he just made Zippy a better communicator.
“I always thanked Kim for his meticulousness. I told him Zippy's audience needed all the help they could get. I'll really miss him.”
— Bill Griffith
“Kim sent me a Krazy Kat hardcover a year or two ago, unexpectedly. When I wrote to him and asked about it, he said it was in part because I’d provided some materials for another Fantagraphics book, but the main reason he sent it was because he knew I’d appreciate it. That’s his legacy right there, making great books and doing whatever he could to get them into the hands of people who would appreciate them.”
— Andrew Farago
“Kim was a guiding force in the alternative comics movement, one of the most important developments in comics history. Fantagraphics has had and continues to have a huge impact on so many cartoonists, whether they are published by the company or not. Personally, I’ll also remember Kim fondly as perhaps the only mature, reasonable voice in the early, wild days of bitterly argumentative cartoonists on the internet.
— Ruben Bolling