Kim Thompson, Dean Mullaney, and Gary Groth, SDCC 2008
Kim Thompson, who most of you know as the co-owner and influential editor of Fantagraphics, lost his battle with cancer this morning. Kim’s many professional accomplishments will be justly lauded today and in the future. My thoughts of Kim, however, are more personal. Two years my junior, he was one of my oldest friends in comics. Nearly forty years ago I decided to published a fanzine and contacted the ten fans who, during the previous twelve months, had the most letters printed in Marvel lettercolumns, inviting them to join the fun. All lived in the U.S., except one — some guy in Montpellier, France named Kim Thompson. The fanzine (“Woweekazowie!”) was eventually published but it didn’t last long. Kim and my friendship did. I soon learned that his father was an American contractor overseas and that his mother was Danish.
We became pen pals in the day when that was a literal description. Kim loved language and playing around with words literally. When he came to New York City for a visit and we drove around in my 1974 Toyota Corolla, he would point to road signs, reading each abbreviation phonetically. “Bklyn-Qns Expy” (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) became — in Kim’s jargon — “Bklin_Qns-Expweee.” (I have to admit that forty years later, I still find myself, to the consternation of anyone in the car with me, emulating Kim’s method of reading road signs.)
Another time, when Mark Gruenwald and I shared an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Kim came for a visit at a most opportune time. It was a hot and sticky summer night in July 1977. We decided to go on the roof of our five-storey building to try to cool off. Part way up the stairs, the lights went out. We felt our way up the remaining stairs to the access door to the roof and to our surprise, the neighborhood was black. Not only our neighborhood, but as far as we could see north, south, and east. Only west, across the Hudson River in New Jersey, were there lights.
It was the great NYC blackout of 1977.
Mark, always the ringleader for wild and crazy things, suggested that we walk the thirty-or-so blocks down Broadway to Times Square. What a cool thing to be in Times Square with not a single light on! We started walking and people were joyous. At every intersection, a local resident took it upon him or herself to direct traffic. Total cooperation. It was too hot to stay indoors so it seemed like everyone on the island was walking the pavement.
When we finished our mile-and-a-half walk, we stood at the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street (this was long before it was gentrified) when — POW — all the lights came on at once. Every theatre, every marquee, every window light. All at once. It was one of the most remarkable things we’d ever seen. Fifteen or thirty seconds later, the lights went out again — and stayed that way.
Mark had another idea (remember, he was the “wild and crazy guy”): how many opportunities would we ever have to “throw a moon” in Times Square? Not many, we all agreed, so right there and then, Mark, Kim, and I bared our bottoms to a decided uninterested and unimpressed crowd.
Kim, Mark, and I each went on to — if I may humbly say so — achieve some pretty significant goals during our lives in comics, but Kim recently told Eric Reynolds that that event in 1977 was one of the greatest nights of his life. And it was for me, too.
Here’s to Kim and Mark, both physically gone, but always with us in spirit and love.