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Farewell Kim Thompson: A Sad Day for the Ninth Art

Richard Graham's Literature as Comics
Kim Thompson

This is the twelfth installment of an ongoing series written for the blog by Richard Graham. Richard is an associate professor and media services librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studies the educational use of comics and serves as the film and art history liaison. His posts examine the connections of UNL, Nebraska, and the larger literary world with the comics medium.

The comics world lost a great figure on Wednesday, June 19. Fantagraphics co-publisher and editor Kim Thompson finally succumbed to lung cancer, just four months after receiving his diagnosis. He left behind caring family and friends and nearly four decades of work that featured a galaxy of artists and writers.

While I did not know Kim personally, in a fever of desperation I once pitched a book project to him via email. His succinct response, “It’s Mr. Thompson,” taught me a valuable lesson I’ve never forgotten. Though my impulsiveness cost me a chance to work with Mr. Thompson directly, I have collected and gazed at scores of the many other great books he was involved with. So many fans and scholars have Kim to thank for reprinting forgotten legends and gambling on emerging artists.

Through his work writing and editing the Comics Journal, Kim played a huge part in comics being accepted as a legitimate art form in the United States and throughout the fine-art and academic worlds. The Journal provided a forum and platform for many critics and historians. He was also a key force in expanding the artistic potential and the cultural footprint of comics in the United States via his republishing efforts. The list of artists whose work he has preserved for future generations is staggering: George Schulz, Hal Foster, George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Wally Wood, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, E.C. Segar…the list goes on. So many of these comics creators are a part of our cultural heritage, and Kim Thompson helped make sure they wouldn't be forgotten.

He also helped introduce Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, the Hernandez Brothers, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, and Stan Sakai to the world. Just listing some of the names Kim nurtured seems insufficient. Andrew Farago, curator at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, says he couldn’t even begin to cite all of the artists and publishers who were directly and indirectly influenced by Thompson and his efforts.

In recent years, Thompson oversaw a flowering of the classic reprints and European comics translations that he championed. In addition to returning to Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant for new collected editions, Kim was able to bring forth many European comics seldom seen in America—masters such as Jacques Tardi—to widespread acclaim. Within the last year, Thompson edited Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Crackle of the Frost and Guy Peelaert’s The Adventures of Jodelle, two critically applauded works.

It’s hard to imagine what we may never encounter due to his loss. Kim left his mark on comics and did so with grace, honor, and intelligence. As comics artist Johnny Ryan publicly remarked, “He was a soldier in the war against bullshit.” It’s a sad day for the ninth art, but especially for those who were close to him. He was 57 years old.