Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kim Thompson - An Appreciation

Gary Groth (left) and Kim Thompson
On Wednesday we noted the death at age 56 of Kim Thompson, co-publisher (with Gary Groth) of Fantagraphics Books, under whose imprint we've graced the world with three Flora anthologies. (A fourth, The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora, arrives in September.)

Kim served as the company's editor and point person for my (and Barb Economon's) Flora books. He conferred with us and designer Laura Lindgren during development and production, ensured we met deadlines, proofread and edited the final manuscripts, and shepherded the books through the crucial printing process. These tasks sound clerical, but without the involvement of Kim (and Gary), these books would not exist. Book publishers—especially in the arts—don’t last 30+ years by luck; they endure because of leadership. Kim co-helmed the company, and the success of Fantagraphics depends on artists and authors delivering quality material. Quality has to be nurtured, and sometimes imposed, from above. Kim and Gary held us to a high standard, and since we had immense respect for them—and for the reputation of the company they founded—we labored to meet their benchmark. That our relationship with Fantagraphics has lasted ten years and a quartet of books indicates we succeeded.

Kim would have supervised the development of The High Fidelity Art, but as research and writing ramped up earlier this year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. (Gary stepped in and oversaw the project.) We received periodic reports from Kim's wife, Lynn Emmert, while he was in treatment at Seattle's Virginia Mason Hospital; some reports were upbeat, but the prognosis looked grim. On June 6, after five weeks of treatment, Kim returned home for hospice care.

In our communication (virtual, phone, face-to-face) over the years, Kim was a gentleman and a professional. He saw the big picture but could focus intently on detail. Once we were two weeks late on a deadline. We apologized, and his (paraphrased) response was, "Considering the deadlines chronically and widely missed by so many of our artists and writers, 'two weeks late' is early."

We never got the sense Kim was doing his "job"—he was doing what he loved, in a community of colleagues who shared his passions. He was unusually talented and singularly compelled—as such, perhaps something of an outsider. At Fantagraphics, he co-created a universe where he was an insider. Many people segue into make-work careers to bag a salary and justify themselves with 35 or 40 hours of weekly employment. That wasn't Kim. He had a vision and a mission. He wasn't at a desk; he co-piloted command central of an idiosyncratic publishing empire. Fantagraphics has outlived Kim; so intense was his dedication, we suspect he would not have contemplated the reverse.

We wish Gary the best, as he perseveres with the next generation of Fantagraphics staff, who are maintaining a legacy Kim co-founded. Gary has an energetic, committed team, but Kim will be irreplaceable.

Kim and Gary were always supportive and cooperative. They let us make the books we wanted to make, with no editorial interference and only helpful suggestions. Because our new book will soon be off the presses, it's too late to add a line of copy. So we'll publish it here:

The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora 
is Dedicated to the Memory of Kim Thompson


Lisa H. said...

A touching remembrance - especially the dedication.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear this, Irwin.
What you wrote about Kim is beautiful. xx bbob

Javier Garcia said...

Very inspiring words to live to. The work of Jim Flora was revived thanks to Kim and all the team involved and thus I'm very grateful of his hard work. My deepest condolences to his family.

Laura Lindgren said...

Kim was a comrade in arms in publishing. He was not only a skillful production manager, he was an expert reader: swift, accurate, and always immensely good spirited. I very much missed getting to work with him on the new Jim Flora book. Fantagraphics has lost not only a dear friend but an invaluable veteran in old-school publishing: Kim's deep, comprehensive knowledge and skill was evident in every stage of bringing a book to fruition. My heart goes out to Gary and to everyone at Fantagraphics and to Kim's family.

Steve Barton said...