An outpouring of sympathy and support has hit the web in the wake of Fantagraphics announcing the death of co-publisher Kim Thompson. A pioneering figure in comics publishing, scholarship and preservation, Thompson lost his battle to lung cancer at the age of 56.
"He was my partner and close friend for 36 years," Fantagraphics co-founder and co-publisher Gary Groth said in an announcement and obituary posted on the company's website this afternoon. And in those nearly four decades of working for the company he co-owned, Thompson was a key force in expanding both the artistic potential and the cultural footprint of comics in America.
Born and raised in Europe, Thompson fell in love with the form at a young age and followed a wealth of comics material in his youth from funny animal stories to longer bandes dessinées to American superhero comics. All of his early favorites informed his work as a publisher and editor.
After seeking out the home of flagship magazine "The Comics Journal" when it was in its infancy, Thompson formally joined Fantagraphics in 1978 after the departure of co-founder Mike Catron. Stepping in only two years after the then largely journalistic enterprise was founded, the editor helped define the storied publisher in its earliest comics publishing days.
While Fantagraphics is widely known for its place proselytizing for new alternative and literary comics, Thompson's presence insured that the company published only the best material from across the breadth of the medium's creators. He spearheaded reprints of Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" newspaper strip as well as E.C. Segar's "Popeye" in the early 1980s when chronological reprints of classic strips were virtually unheard of. And as editor of beloved funny animal anthology "Critters" – which introduced readers to Stan Sakai's "Usagi Yojimbo" – he helped make a place for new works in traditional comics storytelling as well as provide early translations of European comics works, one of his greatest passions across his decades at Fantagraphics.
Thompson also contributed heavily to modern alternative comics making with the acclaimed "Zero Zero" anthology, and he was instrumental in combining that brand of comics making with his favorite European formats in the beloved "Ignatz Line" of series which included hits like Kevin Huizenga's "Ganges."
And perhaps less spoken of but vitally important to Fantagraphics history are Thompson's many commercial efforts which kept the publisher solvent even in the toughest of economic times. He served as editor of "Amazing Heroes" – the superhero-focused magazine which helped Fantagraphics gain the attention of many comic shop owners when the Direct Market was almost the only sales outlet for its line – and he spearheaded the company's Eros imprint of erotic comics which aided in cash flow over many years. This is not to mention his work with Groth landing "The Complete Peanuts" as a Fantagraphics project which not only introduced a new generation of readers to the earliest days of Charles Schulz's iconic comic strip but also helped put the publisher on its best financial footing ever as it was able to expand more and more into a book market more receptive to all its works.
In recent years, Thompson saw a flowering of the classic reprints and European comics translations that he long championed on his own. He himself not only returned to classics like "Prince Valiant" for new editions but was able to bring forth editions of many European comics seldom seen in America by masters like Jacques Tardi to widespread acclaim.
CBR offers our sympathy and support to Thompson's family, the Fantagraphics team and comics readers everywhere who have enjoyed the decades of work by one of the most important editors in the industry's history.