Kim Thompson — co-publisher of the influential Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books known for celebrated alternative comics, graphic novels and comic-strip anthologies — has died.
Fantagraphics announced Mr. Thompson’s death Wednesday, four months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 56.
Fantagraphics has been publishing since 1976, beginning with literary works and comics, journalism and essays, and then comics, graphic novels, anthologies and translations of works from other languages. Many of its titles are some of the best known among readers and collectors of graphic novels and books, with works like “Love and Rockets” by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World” and the “Acme Novelty Library.”
Mr. Thompson was born in Denmark and moved to the U.S. when he was 21 in 1977. Soon after arriving, he met Gary Groth and Michael Catron, who founded Fantagraphics. He began contributing to “The Comics Journal” soon after.
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Along with Groth, Mr. Thompson was one of the leaders in bringing adult themes and diverse characters into comics, while also stripping the focus on superheroes.
“It’s a whole generation of guys who came along … in the mid-1970s, they decided to see more and better comics, not just gutter media, lowest-common-denominator media it had become,” said Tom Spurgeon, who worked with Mr. Thompson in the 1990s at “The Comics Journal” and now runs the website The Comics Reporter.
“He thought comics could be anything — it’s just words and pictures together, why not have stories with themes and ideas and represent people of different nationalities, genders, sexual orientation, race?”
Mr. Thompson, however, appreciated the superhero comics, too, Spurgeon said. He edited Fantagraphics’ “Amazing Heroes,” a bi-weekly magazine that focused on mainstream publishers like DC and Marvel, as well as other houses like Comico and Eclipse, in the 1980s.
“Kim loved the energy around the Journal and the whole idea of a magazine devoted to writing about comics, and asked if he could help,” Groth said in a statement, recalling the days he worked out of an apartment.
“We needed all the help we could get, of course, so we gladly accepted his offer. He started to come over every day and was soon camping out on the floor. The three of us were living and breathing ‘The Comics Journal’ 24 hours a day.”
Fantagraphics built a reputation for quality work, eventually winning publishing rights for hardcover anthology editions of classic strips starring Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson and Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts.
Mr. Thompson’s fluency in languages helped him translate several key editions of European titles into English, giving works by creators like Jacques Tardi, Ulli Lust and Guy Peelaert a wider audience for their creations.
Howard Boyd, a manager at Zanadu Comics on Third Avenue in Seattle, said he met Mr. Thompson several times.
“Kim worked with a lot of the local artists, getting them introduced and editing their work and getting them up to professional standards,” Boyd said.
He credited Mr. Thompson with bringing Stan Sakai, who created Usagi Yojimbo, a samurai rabbit that appeared with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, into the limelight.
“He was very friendly. He was always willing and able to share his knowledge with the world,” Boyd said. “His writings for the comic journal brought comic scholarship up to a level of respectability in the United States.”
Jim Woodring, a cartoonist who has been published by Fantagraphics since 1986, said Mr. Thompson
kept a relatively low profile in an industry filled with “flamboyant and immature people,” so many may not know the extent of his efforts to champion cartoons as art.
But, he said, “anybody who loves comics and is grateful for the place that they’ve obtained at the cultural table can thank Kim for that as much as anybody because he worked hard to make that happen.”
“He was just a rock. He knew his stuff, had good taste and had great integrity,” he said. “With Kim’s passing, a lot of people have lost a good friend and a champion.”
Mr. Thompson is survived by his wife, Lynn Emmert; his mother and father; and a brother.
Seattle Times reporter Colin Campbell
contributed to this report.