I don't want to accept that Dylan Williams was taken from us this weekend by cancer. He feels too important and complex a person to somehow not still be with us. Ever since I heard the news, I've been trying to reverse the fact in my mind, and wishing I actually had that kind of power. For those who didn't know him, Dylan was the visionary publisher behind Sparkplug Comic Books, an accomplished cartoonist, and force for good in the world of comics, art, and culture. It's painful to imagine not having his necessary influence and enthusiasm here in Portland and in the world of comics.
Before I moved to Portland, I didn't know any serious cartoonists. Making comics was something weird that I did off on my own. I had been inspired and encouraged by the kinds of books that Sparkplug had been putting out and remember being excited that I was moving to the city Sparkplug was based from. Dylan was always putting out unusual books that made the reader have to rethink and rediscover what comics could really be. Sparkplug was proof that unique and unclassifiable work could make its way onto the shelves of bookstores and be appreciated. The existence of those books inspired me during a time when the publishing world seemed like an inapproachable beast. I met Dylan not long after my arrival in Portland. He was one of those people I immediately liked and respected, but it took me awhile to get to know him. Over time I really came to realize just how much he did for those around him. So many vital voices in comics are now heard because of his belief they should be heard. I had a lot of conversations with him about running a small business, and the importance of individual, idiosyncratic, honest personal expression. He was always adamant about maintaining the integrity of his company, staying small, and holding close to the reasons why art and creative culture are important. I watched him maneuver the often tricky and perplexing dynamics of the publishing world like a gentleman. I always walked away from our conversations with a lot of thoughts in my head about the bigger picture, about making things work without bending your ideals. He was someone who really thought things over and struggled to improve himself. He was someone who really got it.
I've been thinking a lot about the road trip I went on with Dylan last summer, down to a comics show in California we were both guests at. It was the most solid amount of time I'd ever gotten to spend with him, staying with his mom in Berkley, going on morning walks together, and exploring all of his old favorite books stores with him. One of the mornings we had breakfast with cartoonist Ben Catmull. After we'd eaten he told us that we really had to see a place near his house called the Chapel of the Chimes. It turned out to be a huge labyrinth of a mausoleum, filled with pillars, weirds statues, and walls of urns. We wondered around in awe of the place's strangeness. I was taking a picture of a statue of an unidentifiable animal when Dylan walked up to me and asked if I'd take a picture of him. He lead me over to a cement wall with metal letters affixed to it that read "Life Eternal". I took the picture and we both started laughing. For some reason, taking that picture right then had felt to me like getting away with something important, and I found my thoughts going back to that moment a lot during the rest of that trip without knowing why. I told him I'd email a copy, but it remained buried behind dozens of photos on my digital camera. I'm terrible about that kind of stuff. I should be more on top of things. As far as I can recall, it's the only picture I ever took of him. Now, with Dylan taken from us, far before his time, and long before the many, many people who's lives he's touched ever thought they'd have to let him go, I've found myself thinking about that photo, about that moment, about how Dylan never got a copy of it, about what he might have been thinking when he brought me over to that wall, wanting me to take his picture. The other side of death is the deep scary mystery that we humans, even after all this time, don't really know how to truly approach or comprehend, but I need to believe that such a vivid and thoughtful person as Dylan can't just stop existing. I need to believe that this photo is some kind of message from Dylan from the other side of his life and not an irony. This photo needs to be a victory. Whatever the truth is about what is in store for us all beyond death, Dylan knows the secret now. I know that nothing can fill the void of his absence, and I feel stung by the fact that he's not down the street at the Bad Apple right now, filling out Sparkplug orders, watching a 70s Kong Foo movie, and drinking green tea. I want to stop in and say hi to him really bad right now. His wife, Emily is one of the sweetest people I know, and I feel helpless knowing that she's in so much grief right now. Every moment you spend with the people you care about is important. We all miss you, Dylan.