The first funeral I ever attended wasn’t for a family member; it was for a cartoonist.
Dylan Williams passed away in 2011, shortly after I’d spent a formative semester as his student in the IPRC’s Comics Certificate Program. He’d battled leukemia for many years, but I didn’t know him as someone struggling with a disease. I knew him as a generous teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure and unsung cartoonists, a champion of small press creators, and a source of quiet humor and encouragement.
I’m almost certain that the first time I met Jesse Hamm—or maybe only saw him—was at Dylan’s funeral.
I realize, looking back, that Steve was there, too. And Greg. And probably countless other Portland comics people who would come to feel like a patchwork family in the years that followed. I was just a newcomer to that crowd at the time, still trying to find my place within the medium, but the funeral left a huge impression on me. I ended up drawing my thesis comic about that year in the IPRC program, and my first convention experience, and Dylan’s death, which led to my first Kickstarter, which led to my becoming an intern at Helioscope (then Periscope Studio), which led to the career I have now, ten years later.
I remember using this portrait Jesse drew for his memorial post about Dylan as reference when working on True Believer. It was uncannily accurate and tender, as were his recollections of Dylan as a publisher and community member.
Toward the end of his post Jesse wrote:
Dylan understood that comics are really for and about people — that people are what give comics value. Like he said elsewhere in that interview: “Encouraging people is like the greatest feeling in the world.” And he did encourage people. One blogger recalls: “He was able to say …the things I needed to hear in a way that I actually heard them. [H]is support and encouragement changed my life.”
It felt so true to what I knew of this man, even if I’d only known him for a short while.
I was in the middle of writing a difficult email yesterday morning when I opened the Studio’s Discord page and saw that Jesse was dead. A blood clot in his lung. Sudden and unexpected and impossible and awful and so far away from me at this laptop in California. Far away from my studiomates. Far away from the cemetery where we had buried Dylan a decade ago—the same one where another dear friend buried his mother late last year.
Seeing the outpouring of love and grief on Twitter from cartoonists who’d known Jesse through his threads of advice and educational PDFs, I found myself reaching for that old post about Dylan.
Rereading it this morning wrecked me all over again, because so much of what Jesse wrote about Dylan echoes what people have been saying about him: that he was impossibly knowledgeable, and fucking funny, and deeply opinionated in a quiet sort of way. That he wanted to encourage people. To help us see and appreciate all the thoughtfulness and knowledge that goes into practicing this craft.
I’ve felt distant from the idea of the Comics Community for a while now, trying to figure out my place in an industry that’s changing so rapidly, caught between different generations and genres of creators.
But this loss, like Dylan’s loss, feels like a smack in the face; a radical recalibration toward what brings us to this practice. What binds us to each other as a wider community. How lucky we are. What a wealth of information and knowledge there is out there. And of course, as with any death, the question of who we are. What we’re doing. How we’re impacting the people around us.
I kept thinking about how much Jesse knew, and what a staggering loss that is, but then yesterday a studiomate told me she’d just drawn a page earlier this week with a piece of his advice in mind. “I literally think of him every time I use it.”
That’s how this works, if we choose it. We share our knowledge and our enthusiasm and we welcome people to the fucking table so they can make the things they came here to make.
Dylan couldn’t have said it better. And now we have to keep saying it for both of them.
Thank you for everything, Jesse. We love you.