Thursday, September 15, 2011
When I found out in making plans months ago with Tom Neely to share a table at SPX 2011, which happened last weekend, that we would also be representing Dylan Williams's Sparkplug Comics (my favorite publisher), I was giddy as a school girl. As it became apparent to me that he was in ill health, the giddiness gave way to a dark cloud, yet Tom and I, and I think most everyone who knew him, had so much faith in who he was and what he represented, there was light in that dark cloud as we all believed he'd make it...because we needed him to make it. The news came in toward the end of the first day of SPX that Dylan had died. What occurs to me in pondering his passing, is that, because of who he was, there is still light amongst the dark clouds.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of Dylan's death to me is that I never met him in person (I've spent most of my life "land locked" in Kentucky, far away from the centers of zine and comics culture). Yet, knowing him from a distance, as far as I can remember, began with the issue of Destroy All Comics which featured an interview with John Porcellino and Dylan's article on Bill Blackbeard. I wore that issue out in the 90s, reading and re-reading it. It caused me to take note any time I saw Dylan's name in print connected to comics. As Sparkplug developed throughout the oughts, I followed its progress and came to see that I admired Dylan's work as a publisher more than anything in comics besides simply the work of individual artists.
I kept up a correspondence with Dylan via mail, email, and Facebook. I treasured Dylan's Facebook postings so much I remember being upset when he'd get taciturn about it and disable his account for a while. If I never got to meet Dylan in person, I certainly treasured our correspondence. Whether it was bonding over obscure zines from the 90s we'd both read, or whether it was discussing horror movies and Dylan saying he'd repeated my musings at his store, Bad Apple, and jokingly confessing he didn't give me credit when "stealing" my ideas, or whether it was a discussion of the metal band Flotsam & Jetsam spiraling out into long autobiographical digressions into metal and music that devolved into statements of shared personal philosophies, Dylan, six years older than me, was like an older brother whom I much admired so that when we got on the same page, it gave me great joy.
When I started to do comics reviews in the past year, I ordered some Sparkplug books. When Dylan realized what I was up to, he sent me a huge box of books for free, which I did not want him to do. Even as I explained to him it was my intent to pay for all the books I reviewed, he wouldn't listen to me. Even as an arch critic of comic book culture, in microcosm, and the culture at large in macrocosm, Dylan always struggled to be big-hearted, inclusive, and generous, instead of giving in to cynicism. When Dylan went on record to say nice things about my work, it meant more to me than any review or any other sort of accolade (and even when he had criticism or disagreed with my approach, it always resonated). Did I tell him this? I don't think I did. I should have. I thought I would have a decade, two, or three to get to spend time with him in person; it didn't work out that way. The tragedy of untimely death.
On Sunday evening after SPX sitting outside with a group of folks, I remarked to Tom Neely that it was apparent that in 41 years Dylan had done a life's work. "More than a life's work," Tom corrected me.
To aspire and to be inspired to be more like he was, we can bring the chilling use of the past tense next to his name out of the past and into the present tense. Dylan did what he was born to do. The burden to do and be better, following his example, is on us.
Everything I will do in comics...the memory of Dylan Williams will be close to my heart.