Dylan passed away today. I’m still processing and trying to cope with this the way adults are supposed to cope with terrible, unfair shit. I’m going through all those steps of grief and dealing with things as best I can. I can’t imagine I will be feeling any better about this any time soon so I figured I’d throw this post up before I break down into tears too much. Writing always helps me get my thoughts straight anyhow.
Dylan was a great cartoonist. I first saw his work at Danger Room comics in Olympia Washington. I found out I had moved there right after he’d moved away. I bought a copy of Reporter and really liked it. Dylan was obviously channeling some old school cartoonists but he had a story sense that fit more in line with the type of stuff I liked to read. It’s nice that my first introduction to Dylan was through his comics. Later, Sparkplug, his publishing and distribution venture took up more and more of his life and his cartooning took a back seat. Dylan did a lot to shepherd great new cartoonists into the world but I sometimes regret we didn’t get to see more of his own talent.
With People that have recently died there’s always an urge to glorify them and tell others what great people they were. When my dad died I immediately forgot any and all problems I had with him and started to think of the best parts. The truth is though, that my dad was mostly a jerk to me. I’ve had friends that were downright assholes that everyone spoke well of after they died. It’s understandable, who wants to speak ill of the dead right? The truth of the matter in this situation though, is that Dylan was universally liked as far as I know. He was a good guy all around and whatever personality flaws he might have had were never exposed to me. He was a generous and kind human being.
I think I first met Dylan face-to-face at the first Portland zine symposium. I might have said “hi” to him somewhere else but that’s the first show we talked at. He came over to my table in a manic flurry, bought a bunch of my minicomics and ran off. I only learned later that he was the guy that did Reporter. We talked a little later about this and that. I’m kind of an awkward fucker usually so it’s always nice when I can walk away from a show having actually made conversation with someone instead of just glaring down at my shoes the entire time. With every show I saw him and every time we became closer and talked for longer. Dylan became the one guy I could count on to make a comics show worthwhile for me. He had an easy-going, non-judgemental way of talking that made me comfortable.
I had a bout of confidence one year and sent a book around to publishers. Dylan was one of them but I didn’t expect much. I got some encouraging responses but the book was no good and everyone knew it. Dylan was super supportive of me while I was noodling out how to be a cartoonist. He declined the book too but he did it in a way that made me feel that I’d done the right thing in trying.
The next year I started working on Reich and my chops had improved a little. Looking back at those early issues of my book, I’m a bit embarrassed. That’s the nature of it though, I suppose. I printed up a minicomic of Reich and passed it around to people. I expected it to be another false start but Dylan was really enthusiastic about it. He said he’d like to publish it when it was finished. I was elated. For my own reasons I wanted to publish Reich as a series and, with a little coaxing Dylan agreed.
When I saw my first comic published by someone else, I almost threw up. I’m still not exactly sure what that means.
When Dylan started publishing people, it was immediately obvious to me he was filling a gap that no one knew existed. The area between zines/minicomics and the bigger guns. The people Dylan referred to as “real” publishers. Dylan ran a nice business and took some real risks. There’s no way he could be expecting to make money by publishing some of the stuff he did. Dylan knew good comics when he saw them and that’s almost all he cared about with Sparkplug. He wanted to publish good cartoonists, not cartoonists that would sell. Dylan often told me about his urge to keep Sparkplug a small business and he had a lot of good sounding theories about the business model he used. I’m not smart enough to speak on any of this, I have no idea whether he was right or not. I do think it’s worth pointing out Dylan knew what he was doing. He had considered his options and was doing what he wanted to do. Maybe that’s not such a special thing but it sure looks like it from a distance.
Every time I sit back and think I’m done writing, I find more to say. I guess I don’t have to get this all out right away though. I keep wanting to write something about how long Dylan had been working within comics and how much he cared for the history of the medium and how much he adored all the old unsung cartoonists. I don’t really know many of the details about Dylan’s life before I met him and I don’t want to do a disservice to him by being inaccurate. I do think he’d want to be remembered as someone who loved old cartoonists though. He adored them. One of my favorite things Dylan wrote was an interview published semi-recently in the comics journal with Fred Guardineer (I looked it up, issue #282 april 2007) And I really enjoyed Dylan’s Eighty-Six zine dedicated old comics and forgotten cartoonists. Recently Dylan was teaching classes at the iprc. I never had the guts to audit any of his classes because I was afraid he’d start asking me questions. I can’t imagine the people in those classes felt short changed, Dylan knew his shit.
A few years ago I had a traumatic break-up after a seven year relationship. Dylan was right there for me, he was a great shoulder to cry on. We mostly talked shop and drank tea but that was good for me. He offered me sound advice. Later, at a convention, she came by the Sparkplug table and said hello. We talked a bit and she walked away. Dylan put his hand on my shoulder and asked how I was. That meant a lot to me.
I’m not sure how to gauge the friendship we had. the past few years he and I saw each other less frequently. I’d run into Bad Apple and say hi to him occasionally or drop off pages. I valued every conversation I ever had with him. I will feel his absence every day. I’m sure there’s a lot of people in that boat with me.
I remember, driving back from a comics show with him one night, he and I were in the middle of a long rambling conversation. Dylan was talking about something pretty mundane but he said “life’s too short to be an asshole.” That sums Dylan up to me. When a guy with leukemia tells you something like that, you take it to heart.
Dylan (in plaid) with Jack Kirby at Comic Relief.