In the early 2000s, the now-defunct Comics Journal message board was a rough and tumble corner of the Internet. While many smart folks regularly posted there, it was often overrun by a few angry and misguided know-it-alls, who knew very little yet believed deeply in their pronouncements on comics and the world.
Enter Kim Thompson.
Kim was the rock-solid antithesis of these windbags. He was smart: he could systematically dismantle their arguments without breaking a sweat. He was knowledgeable: he spent his whole life immersed in American and European comics, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge far beyond that of his hapless interlocutors. He had real-world experience: when discussing comics and publishing, he knew what he was talking about, with years on the front lines, editing, printing, distributing, marketing, and selling comics.
They never had a chance.
It was always a pleasure to dial up the message board and watch Kim go to work. While his combatants likely thought of these exchanges as self-validating contests of masculine wills, Kim had a much broader, more vital agenda (though I’m sure he had fun demolishing stooges). He was setting all of the message board’s readers straight, taking all of us to school. He was a strong voice of intelligence, experience, and information.
I was in awe of Kim’s thick skin and tenacity. Many times I started typing a reply to a post, only to delete it. I didn’t want to get into an endless scrap with some dude who likely had more perseverance than I did. Then, maybe an hour or two after backing out of posting, I’d check the board to find that Kim had said what I wanted to say and more — all of it expressed with a force and clarity I never could have mustered. On a few occasions, I was one of Kim’s targets. But what he had to say, even when I disagreed with him, was always worth considering.
Think about that: How many people have you known whose comments are always worth considering? That’s right. Not many.
In these ways, Kim was more than a publisher or an editor: he was an educator. North America, and the world really, learned about comics and art through his message board posts, the anthologies and comics he edited and/or translated, the cartoonists he and Gary Groth published, and his writings, which I always wished there were more of.
Though I only met Kim a few times and exchanged a few emails with him, from reading so much of his writing I think I have a pretty good idea about what made him tick. Kim was never shy about revealing his personal investments in his writing. He meant what he said, and said what he believed without hesitation or deception.
This is Kim Thompson as I knew him: extremely smart, ferociously (and thoughtfully) argumentative, deeply knowledgeable and experienced, and a tireless advocate for comics when the medium so desperately needed him.
[Above image: back cover detail from Daniel Clowes's Eightball #18, 1997]