Saturday, June 22, 2013

SHIPS BUTTING HEADS IN THE NIGHT

As egregious as the mixed metaphor is, that's how I can best describe my memories of Kim Thompson, editor and co-publisher with Fantagraphics Books, who passed away of lung cancer June 19. 2013. 

Though I could look up a lot of the dates involved in these ruminations, at present I don't see the point of so doing, given that my contact with Thompson, and his with me, comprise no more than a pair of blips on our respective radars.  But one site did inquire about my fandom history from that period, so I may as well sum up the content of those "blips" from my perspective.

My first published work for THE COMICS JOURNAL appeared in the June 1977 issue , though it's my recollection that the essay was accepted at least a year before printing.  In those pre-Internet days, one's only avenue of communication with fans not residing in one's own city was through snail mail, and usually it only happened if a comics-company printed a lettercol-writer's full address.

Writing to complete strangers to talk funnybooks was a big thing in that era: I got my share of people writing me from my letters, but I initiated contact with some.  In Thompson's case, I liked something he said in a CAPTAIN AMERICA lettercol.  I haven't tried to re-locate the letter, but it was a complaint about the low quality of Jack Kirby's version of the hero, so it was also probably in middle-to-late 1976 or early 1977.  I wrote Thompson, and we kept up a correspondence for a little while, probably less than a year.  The venture was a little more expensive than I'd bargained for, since at the time Thompson lived in Europe-- the Netherlands maybe?-- something I hadn't been able to distinguish from the mailing address in the lettercol.

In the course of that correspondence I learned that Thompson was, like me, a fan-writer.  It's my memory that he recommended to me a zine to which he had submitted, WOWEEKAZOWIE.  A little later, both of us appeared in WOWEEKAZOWEE #4.  I in turn recommended "my" zine, since at that time Thompson had not heard of the JOURNAL.  On the site referenced above, I joked, “I’m the guy who introduced Kim Thompson to The Comics Journal, which might earn me a spot in Harlan Ellison’s circles of hell.”  Thompson responded on the site that Frank Lovece was more worthy of the honor, since he introduced Thompson to Gary Groth, but I wasn't particularly serious in coveting that distinction.  Obviously a knowledgeable fan like Thompson would have found his way to the JOURNAL's door one way or another. 

The correspondence tailed off when Thompson moved to the U.S. sometime in 1977; at least I don't remember getting any non-European letters from him.  My submissions to the JOURNAL probably went along smoothly enough, so far as I recall.  However, as I've mentioned elsewhere, during that period I came close to arguing in the JOURNAL's lettercol with nearly every other writer-- and Thompson was no exception.

The dust-up was Frank Miller's fault.  He came out with the first issue of RONIN, and Thompson reviewed it-- I'll say in 1984.  I rebutted KT's points; he rebutted mine.  I wrote a second letter-- possibly with an inflammatory tone; I haven't looked at it in close to thirty years.  Thompson replied with a two-word epithet.  At the time I was amused at the effectiveness of the strategy.  Who could respond to that with a lot of terminological arguments, without looking like a dweeb?  So there the matter rested, and we did not communicate again until the Glory Days of the Internet.

Oddly, Thompson's epithet led me back to his cyber-door in circuitous fashion.  I'd fallen out of "love" with the JOURNAL by the early 90s, but the only place I could castigate the magazine was in the lettercols of CEREBUS.  Then, round about 1998-99, a fan with a long memory-- Robert Young, who was (or became?) the publisher of THE COMICS INTERPRETER-- alluded to the 1984 epithet in a Comicon.com conversation with Thompson.  Thompson of course defended his action.  I wasn't reading Comicon.com or any comics-forum at the time, but a comics-reading friend informed me that **MY NAME** was mentioned, so of course I tuned in.  Ironically, at first blush I was a little ticked at Young for bringing the matter up, but I changed my mind and wrote for issues of INTERPRETER (see here for ordering info). 

How long did I stay on Comicon.com, taking shots at Thompson's positions?  I couldn't care less, since I try to put Comicon.com out of my mind whenever possible.  He did leave before I did, so maybe he was smarter than me in that regard.

And thus ended the period of "butting heads" with my former correspondent.  I was at a couple of San Diego Cons he attended, but I didn't see any point in touching base with him, given our acrimonious history.  I heard about his recent diagnosis of lung cancer this year, but the announcement of his recent death was still a shock.  I won't be dishonest and say that I'd never wish lung cancer even on my worst enemy. I probably would, actually, if I thought there would be no bad karma-effect afterward.  But of course Thompson was not a real "enemy" as such.  He was just a guy I butted heads with.

I'm not going to attempt a summation of his place in comics, partly because I didn't know him, partly because I'd have to include some negatives with the positives.  I don't agree with the JOURNAL's style of "warts-and-all" obits such as they gave to Will Eisner and Julie Schwartz-- at least, I don't agree with putting out such obits immediately after an individual's passing-- so, better to say nothing.

I don't envy Gary Groth the task of making that summation. 

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