After putting the blog on hiatus for a while I was planning on posting a few things starting this week. Then came the sad news that Dylan Williams had died. A lot of people have written moving tributes to him, which is a testament to the all lives that he touched and how deeply everyone cared for him. I’m sure that almost everyone who follows this blog has their own great memories of him.
A lot of other people knew Dylan better than I did. I don’t know that I have anything new to add — just another voice in the chorus. It doesn’t hurt if what I say about him is redundant. He was such a special person, he deserves every tribute he gets, and thousands upon thousands more. Thinking about it now, I guess the impulse to write about him brings him back a little bit, just for a moment. Which is really what I want. So read on if you want.
I mentioned the blog being on haitus — I actually put the blog aside a few months ago because I wanted to focus on a project that was for Dylan and Sparkplug. A few years ago I made a comic using photographs of cardboard models. A quixotic project which didn’t seem to generate much of a response. I know it took a long time to sell the 100 or 200 copies that I made. At some point I showed a color version of the book to Dylan and he was excited about it, and came back a little while later saying that he’d like to publish it.
I had moved on in my head at that point. I felt the comic was flawed to begin with, but was excited at the prospect of a do-over to improve it. It was something both in form and content that I have been grappling with for a long time. For all sorts of reasons it never seemed to reach a point where I could be satisfied with it. But like I said, I had moved on and wanted to wrap up some other projects before revisiting this one.
The other stuff that I wanted to wrap ended up taking longer and longer and longer. The whole time I had been writing down notes and sketches for this thing for Dylan, but three years later and still nothing material. Here is where we get to the point of this story: Dylan could have simply let it drop, or given up on me, or at least made a snarky comment or two. I certainly would have deserved it. Instead, every now and then he’d gently ask me if we could put out the book sometime soon.
This is what made him special to everyone. His love for art and comics was so genuine. I wouldn’t have given my own book a second chance, let alone a third or fourth. But Dylan did. Honestly I still don’t think this particular book would have been a “smart” choice on his part. I don’t think that was ever the point to him however. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t know what he was getting into.
It got to a point where I had to produce this comic to do justice to Dylan’s generosity if for no other reason. This year was going to be the year. I was determined put everything else on hold and to spend the few hours left over after work and baby to get this thing done. And I was doing it, but now Dylan is gone. There’s no lesson here. That he ultimately didn’t get to see it isn’t the point. The point is that after I was willing to let this thing go, he wasn’t. That’s the kind of guy he was. A better friend to artists than they are to themselves sometimes.
It’s nerve-wracking attending conventions and putting yourself at the mercy of everyone strolling by your table, especially after the months invested in making the weird little books up for consideration. Something that I realized this weekend contemplating the loss of Dylan was that just his presence at conventions came to be for me, and I’m sure many others, a calming force to counteract the jangled nerves. You could take a break, walk by the Sparkplug table and he’d greet you with a wisecrack. Or he’d come to your table and do that sidling penguin walk, make a joke with his lopsided grin, and then back away with a self-deprecating “Sorry! Sorry!” If you knew Dylan, you know what I’m talking about.
A nice thing about moving to the West Coast for me is to have had the opportunity to see him more at the conventions and so get to know him a little better. I can’t say that I ever had a really long intense conversation with him. The only thing I regret is not pressing him harder about his thoughts on Reporter. But anyway, on my personal mental snapshot of the annual convention calendar, APE and SF Zine Fest came to represent bright spots where he’d be in town, opportunities to simply recharge by being around him at the show, at brunch, or at dinner.
Recharge because Dylan embodied the ideal of what I wanted out of comics in the first place. I missed out on the Spit and a Half thing in the 90’s which was too bad, but the letters section of Eightball, Hate, and Dirty Plotte created this reassuring notion in the pre-internet days that there was at least a few kindred spirits out there who appreciated comics. And that none of these people could have been doing it in hopes of any kind of material reward. In my head that made it more genuine and made me love comics all the more. Way back then, that is what I wanted to find if I ever were to be a part of a comics scene.
After managing to find this scene, Dylan came to stand out in it as the embodiment of that idealistic spirit. From his tribute to Bill Blackbeard: “I love almost all of the first generation of comics fans, the ones who did it because they liked it, not because they wanted to make a buck or get a publishing deal”. So yeah, that’s what he was about and just being around that recharges the idealism that should be in any artistic endeavor.
You’d get glimpses of how he’d grapple with the meaning of his business. The impressive thing is that he’d come to a conclusion and it seemed as if from that point on it was out of his hands. No fudging on what’s right or wrong, no procrastination. Once the right course of action was determined for him, that was how it had to be. It’s one thing to be idealistic, it’s another to carry through, avoiding compromise. Plus he fun. Never strident, not judgmental.
And so if his life was cut short, at least he lived it right. It hurts to have lost him. Conventions are now always going to carry a reminder of his absence. He was an inspiration, and he’ll always be an inspiration. He made the world a better place.
Condolences to his family. If you haven’t already, you can help offset his medical bills by ordering some books from Sparkplug.