Kim Thompson, who spent more than three decades as co-owner and co-publisher of the Seattle-based comics imprint Fantagraphics Books, died Wednesday morning of lung cancer. He was 56.
Thompson was born in Denmark and came to the United States in 1977. He was diagnosed with cancer in late February. At the time, he expressed his hope and confidence that he would “lick this thing.”
After his death, his long-time friend and partner Gary Groth issued a statement defining Thompson’s legacy as not just a matter of “all the European graphic novels that would never have been published here if not for his devotion, knowledge, and skills, but for all the American cartoonists he edited, ranging from Stan Sakai to Joe Sacco to Chris Ware, and his too infrequent critical writing about the medium. His love and devotion to comics was unmatched. I can’t truly convey how crushing this is for all of us who've known and loved and worked with him over the years.”
Groth is right, of course; since its founding in 1976, Fantagraphics has been an essential innovator in the world of comics, publishing new work and reprints alike. Thompson worked on many of these projects, helping to keep the press alive at one point by pouring his own money into it, and editing artists such as Spain Rodriguez, Kim Deitch, David Mazzuchelli and Southern California’s own Joyce Farmer, whose searing graphic memoir “Special Exits” Fantagraphics published in 2010.
He could also be blunt, if not outright crusty, once telling the Village Voice: “[L]et’s face it. If you’re a shop that has any claim to carrying alternative comics and you’re not carrying ‘Eightball’ or ‘Acme Novelty Library,’ that’s stupid.”
That anyone who cares about comics now takes such a claim for granted is just one more emblem of Thompson’s influence.