There are a certain few people who work their whole professional lives in comics, but chances are that you barely know their names. These men and women are fans who've spent all of their adult lives employed in the frequently chaotic and uncaring comics industry, exercising their always powerful creative visions to shepherd material that they love into the hands of readers.
Those men and women are usually not creators, at least not in the ordinary sense of that word. They don't write or draw the stories about which they care so passionately. But the influence of those people on the larger creative and fan communities is often extremely deep and incredibly broad. Those men and women drive tastes, they support material that's unheralded, and they advocate a particular approach and attitude towards comics that helps to shape a generation of readers.
It's an tremendously rich and fulfilling life when one of those very special people get to live their dream.
Kim Thompson got to live his dream.
Kim was many things. In the short time I knew him personally, over 20 years ago, he always struck me as a walking contradiction in so many ways. He was brilliant yet slovenly, a man of piercing artistic vision but with a profound enthusiasm for often ridiculous funny animals. He was an accomplished editor and amazing traffic scheduler when I worked with him for around a year on the late, much lamented Amazing Heroes magazine, but he was also a man who appeared to be eternally, chronically overextended.
Kim was a memorable guy when I had the chance to work for him back in 1989 and 1990.
I have so many indelible images of Kim: me showing up at the dilapidated Fantagraphics offices in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of Seattle, with the whole building seemingly stinking of developer chemicals and a carpet that looked like it had last been vacuumed in the 1960s. I showed up wearing a sweater vest and tie and my massively thick glasses for my job interview with Kim, who was happily ensconced in his office in his comfortable old sweatsuit that was oddly imposing. I was a really young and unconfident kid – I was fresh out of college and painfully earnest – and Kim was so smart, so sarcastic, so ready to run intellectual rings around a kid who, he said, "dressed like Michael J. Fox."
I sometimes wonder why Kim ended up hiring me for the oh-so-prestigious job of Assistant Editor on Amazing Heroes. The interview couldn't have gone well due to my extreme nervousness. I imagine Kim had a few good chuckles at me and my tongue-tied manner (I remember when he asked me why I liked Peter Bagge's comics so much, the best I could muster was that they were "neat stuff" – a not exactly clever allusion to Bagge's then-current series). The simplest reason I could figure that I was hired is that I was a happy guy who represented cheap labor (Fantagraphics paid barely above minimum wage) and a demonstrated bottomless passion for sequential art. But I was delighted to come on board and have a chance to toil at the dream factory.
The thing that was immediately obvious about Kim from spending time with him was his tremendous enthusiasm for most everything. Kim loved his music (late New Wave was Kim's favorite type of music during our time together, and when he was in the office we listened to an awful lot of The The, Debbie Harry and The Clash – and I remember his getting a bit angry at me when he played the Rocky Horror soundtrack and I couldn't stop reflexively calling out lines), among many other things.
But more than anything, Kim loved comics. And when I say he loved comics, I mean he adored all kinds of comics. He talked up Daniel Clowes before Clowes was a well-known genius (he was thrilled to publish "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron", Clowes's breakthrough strip), but also his passion project of Critters, a monthly anthology of funny animal strips that spawned a wonderful but very low-selling group of spin-off series. And Kim also was a master translator, turning out brilliant versions of European graphic novels that were as vivid and fascinating in English as they were in their native languages.
I left Fantagraphics basically when Amazing Heroes breathed its last, but Kim never stopped working in comics. How could he not stick around? He was a comics lifer. He contributed to fanzines in the late 1970s and continued translating cartoonists such as Jacques Tardi and Jason up until very recently. He took part in the many booms and busts that Fantagraphics experienced and, along with Gary Groth, helped pilot the direction of North America's finest publisher of comics and graphic novels.
For comics lifers, their lives can be assessed in light of the material that they abetted in creation. Kim's career encompassed a multitude of amazing projects, from the amazing fanzine Omniverse in the late '70s, to his empathetic writing and editing on The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes, to all the dozens of comics and graphic novels that he brought to print in the US: Fission Chicken and I Killed Adolf Hitler, New York Mon Amour and Eye of Mongombo. Kim treasured comic art with the kind of omnivorous earnestness that only a true fan could feel. His passion for creator-driven material was boundless.
My favorite memory of Kim happened on a lazy spring afternoon. I'd just finished typesetting the letters page for an issue of Amazing Heroes when I wandered down to Kim's office to ask him a question. Walking in, I found Kim in his favorite position: sprawled out on the floor, reading a favorite comic book, laughing his heart out and totally immersed in his passion.
That's the remembrance of Kim that I'll carry with me as I mourn his loss. Kim passed away on June 19th. He was only 56 years old. He was much too young to go.
– Jason Sacks