Dennis Eichhorn was best known for his autobiographical comic book series “Real Stuff,” published by Fantagraphics. He also worked for alternative music newspaper The Rocket and got a shout-out from Hunter S. Thompson.
Dennis Eichhorn, a writer who lived his life as colorfully as the comic panels it inspired, died Thursday, Oct. 8, in Bremerton. He was 70.
“Colorful is way too mild a word,” said Seattle writer Charles. R. Cross, who as editor of The Rocket, a biweekly music newspaper, worked with Mr. Eichhorn in the 1980s.
“He was a wonderful, gregarious guy with just incredible, wild stories. Of which half of them were probably true,” he said.
Mr. Eichhorn was best known for his autobiographical comic book series “Real Stuff,” portraying salacious and hardscrabble stories of his younger days in Idaho, and illustrated by cartoonists that Mr. Eichhorn chose himself.
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Born in the infirmary of the Montana State Prison in 1945, Mr. Eichhorn was adopted and grew up in Boise, where he was a multisport athlete and member of his high school chess club. Achieving a perfect SAT score, he attended University of Idaho on a football scholarship and graduated in 1968.
Mr. Eichhorn’s youth, friends and family said, was filled with fighting, substance abuse and other misadventures that would later provide material for his writing.
While living in Idaho in the 1970s, he became a licensed minister through the Universal Life Church. His widow, Jane Rebelowski, said Mr. Eichhorn then put on what he called the Universal Life Church picnic — which was actually a rock concert — at northern Idaho’s Farragut State Park. While suspicious local officials tried to block the permit, then-Gov. Cecil Andrus approved it anyway, and what some called “Idaho’s Woodstock” was under way.
Soon after, Mr. Eichhorn moved to Western Washington where his daughter, Sarah, was born in 1977. He held a wide variety of jobs, from private investigator to taxi driver to blood courier.
He landed at The Rocket, where his work led him to write about counterculture figures like Hunter S. Thompson and Abbie Hoffman. A few successful collaborations with artists who illustrated Mr. Eichhorn’s wild, real-life stories led to “Real Stuff,” which Georgetown alternative comic house Fantagraphics published in 1990.
“Real Stuff” comprised 20 issues over five years before a falling-out with the editorial staff led Mr. Eichhorn to leave Fantagraphics.
“Denny could be difficult,” Larry Reid, curator of Fantagraphics and former roommate of Mr. Eichhorn, said. “But we all had a soft spot for him.”
His influence can be felt in the large outpouring of grief by the local comic-book writer and illustrator community. He was often compared to autobiographical writer Harvey Pekar, known for “American Splendor.”
Art Chantry shared this memory on The Comics Journal website: “Denny was at a press conference at the UW for Hunter Thompson. Some idiot reporter asked him, “Dr. Thompson, what exactly IS ‘gonzo’ journalism?” Hunter Thompson was obvious higher than a kite and he got this disgusted look on his face and started to rave, “You wanna know what gonzo is? Talk to that guy right there — Denny Eichhorn! He’s gonzo. Ask him!” With that, he left the stage. Poor Denny was suddenly swamped by amateur bad reporters asking him STUPID questions about gonzo. He had no idea what was going on.”
Mr. Eichhorn met his third wife, Jane Rebelowski, in Olympia in 1994 through a newspaper ad. During their courtship, he would give her a different issue of “Real Stuff” on each date so that she could get to know him.
“He was so different than what some people portray him to be,” she said.
“He did a lot of things very quietly,” whether sending letters every day to friends, encouraging young artists he admired, or bringing home a stack of books related to something she had mentioned in passing.
“A doting grandfather,” she said of Mr. Eichhorn’s relationship with his grandson, Knox, born in 1994.
“They were constant companions when Knox wasn’t sleeping or in school,” as evidenced by a road trip around Eastern Washington and Idaho they embarked on one summer in order for Knox to meet his old friends.
“He lived long enough that his grandson’s never going to forget him,” she said, referring to what Mr. Eichhorn was most proud of.
Dennis Eichhorn had friends far and wide, kept thousands of their names organized in a Rolodex, and lived a life worth writing about, she said.
“Denny found an adventure everywhere, and he’d just walk into it.”
In addition to his wife, daughter and grandson, Mr. Eichhorn is survived by a brother, Tom, of Elmira, Ore. A memorial for friends is planned for December.