As reported by numerous sources, influential comic-book publisher Kim Thompson died Wednesday morning, after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 56.
Thompson is best known as the man who, along with partner Gary Groth, turned the Seattle-based comics publisher Fantagraphics from a bedroom enterprise in the ’70s into one of the most innovative and visionary champions of graphic narrative. Thompson’s accomplishments are numerous. Most visible among them, he and Fantagraphics helped nurture the careers of up-and-coming creators who are now leaders in the medium—Hate’s Peter Bagge, Eightball’s Dan Clowes, Acme Novelty Library’s Chris Ware, and Love And Rockets’ Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez representing just a small sampling.
It was Los Bros Hernandez who helped put Fantagraphics on the map in the early ’80s, when the publisher—already notorious for its uncompromising prose periodical The Comics Journal—began putting its money much more forcefully where its mouth was. The idealized standards of artistry and integrity to which Fantagraphics held the industry chafed as well as inspired—and those standards became the bedrock of Fantagraphics’ own comics output. The result was a gradual flourishing of alternative comics, one that gained a subcultural foothold in the ’90s and mainstream respectability in the 21st century.
That success did not come easy. Thompson, a native of Denmark, had already been heavily involved in comics fandom before immigrating to the U.S. in 1977 and joining forces with Groth. The latter became known for his outspokenness and occasional abrasion in the pages of TCJ, but Thompson more quietly cultivated Fantagraphics’ burgeoning line of comics in the ’80s—including a groundbreaking wave of European imports—that fought for a place on the shelves and in the hearts of the industry. It took many years for the world to catch up with what Thompson and Groth had expressed all along: that comics was a medium, not a genre, and as such was capable of everything film or literature were.
That said, Thompson never turned his back on the conventional superhero comics he grew up on. From 1982 to ’92, he edited Amazing Heroes, which fixed a constructively critical eye on mainstream comics. As Jaime Hernandez said yesterday via Twitter, “While Gary’s the in-your-face ballbuster, Kim was the quiet ballbuster. Both were needed to save comics. Good job, Kim.” Thompson’s humbleness belied his immeasurable contribution to the medium he’d devoted his life to bettering—something of which even one of Fantagraphics’ youngest rising stars, The Hypo’s Noah Van Sciver, is well aware. “The first time I saw Kim was when he was loading some boxes into his car after SPX 09,” Van Sciver tweeted yesterday. “It was like seeing a celebrity. A legend in comics.”