A tribute to Kim Thompson (1956-2013)

Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson. Artwork by Michael Netzer.

Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson. Artwork by Michael Netzer.

It has been already a week since the shocking news of Kim Thompson's passing. Before the dust starts to settle on a sad and untimely event whose impact will no doubt continue to be felt for a long time, I wanted to get a chance to express my appreciation for the man who had been an inspiring collaborator for the past two years and played a crucial part in bringing Guy Peellaert's The Adventures of Jodelle back to life in all its former glory.

When Kim first got in touch by email—a short time after Peellaert lost his own battle against cancer— to express interest in publishing new American editions of the landmark Pop Art graphic novels Jodelle and Pravda nearly 50 years after their original publication, I had no idea who he was but I remember thinking to myself that there was someone way ahead of the whole comics game. Despite acquiring iconic status over the years, gracing the walls of several museums throughout Europe and never failing to inspire a wide variety of artists operating in all mediums, both works had remained out-of-print collectors items since the 1960s and they were very much ripe for a resurgence. For all kinds of impenetrable reasons, all previous attempts to publish "definitive" or "commemorative" editions of the books, whether in the US or in Europe, had yet to come to fruition and Peellaert himself had grown content with the occasional tribute, exhibition or special project devoted to his acclaimed yet elitist pre-Rock Dreams accomplishments.
That Kim wanted to bring these long overdue titles to Fantagraphics wasn't surprising in itself, but his knowledge of the works ran impressively deep —who else in America knew about The Game, She & the Green Hairs or Carashi! , Peellaert's more overtly experimental, drug-fueled comics that were serialized in the French counter-cultural bible Hara Kiri in the late 1960s and that Kim also wanted to publish in a separate third volume ?
Right from his very first message, Kim exuded the kind of unbridled enthusiasm which, when coupled with a discerning eye for all the technical challenges that this level of restoration work would bring, makes you intimately confident that a delicate masterpiece is in the best of hands thanks to a single fundamental value proposition : passion and the uncompromising commitment to excellence that comes with it.
Kim even convinced me to let him produce an all-new english-language translation, no small feat given that Jodelle had been previously published and translated stateside by the great Richard Seaver of Grove Press at the height of his powers in 1967.

Throughout the making of Jodelle and for more than two years Kim and I communicated almost daily, exclusively by email (never heard the man's voice!) , and not once did he lose his cool as the planned 20-page supplement soon turned to 40, 60, and finally 80 lavish pages tracing Peellaert's "Pop Years" from the original publication of Jodelle to the final comics of the late 1960s, a period of whirlwind artistic experimentations far beyond the realm of comics that Kim discovered with a renewed sense of wonder as I sent out chapter after chapter, image after image.
The project thus became a whole different animal, and our insistence on producing "the best work that we possibly could" (his words) caused a few worrisome delays :  the book was ultimately released in April 2013, more than a year after gracing the cover of Fantagraphics' Spring 2012 catalogue. The long-awaited release happened only a few weeks after Kim was diagnosed with cancer and had to suddenly step back from his day-to-day responsibilities in order to seek treatment. In the last emails we exchanged, shortly before the sad news broke, he expressed how happy he was with the book that would soon turn out to be his last major accomplishment as publisher. "I like to just flip it open and just stare at it", reads one of his last messages, "now let's just hope it sells". Now, without his contagious energy and enthusiasm who knows whether it will "sell", all I know is that the book is indeed as perfect as it could be, that my famously perfectionist father would have been satisfied and that I am proud to have collaborated with Kim Thompson to produce what Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth called his colleague's "crowning achievement". 

All my thoughts and prayers go out to Kim's family, the "real" one and the one at Fantagraphics (no less real of course) as they are faced with a tremendous loss.  It's been an honor and privilege.

—Orson Peellaert, Paris, June 27th 2013