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Dylan

I met Dylan when I was around 16, at Al’s Comics in San Francisco. A couple months before we met, I had walked into Al’s and bought REPORTER #1, and loved it. There was a note written on the inside cover from Dylan to his readers, with a little drawing of an fashioned comics artist at a drawing table.

Immediately that drawing said so much about Dylan. Just this true love for comics that he always let you in on in small ways. That was a small, insert drawing but it had this real love for comics in it. I guess that is poetry, right? Something that communicates a feeling so strong that you can’t miss it. Dylan’s whole life towards comics was a bit like that.

So this time I walked into Al’s, and Al said ‘hey Austin, let me introduce you to the guy that draws Reporter.’ There was Dylan browsing through comics. It’s so fitting that the first memory of Dylan I have is him in a comic store. Dylan LOVED comics in the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen someone love something. He used to say, when I complained about working at Forbidden Planet sometimes (sorry Jeff—it happened from time to time), that ‘selling comics is God’s work.’ There was an ample bit of humor in that but also a lot of real belief in the idea.

I had just started drawing comics when I met Dylan, and when we met in Al’s, Al handed Dylan a copy of one of my first mini comics (it was a comics biography of thelonious monk). Dylan , within a short amount of time, wrote me a warm letter about the comic–we’d talked for just a few minutes, but I think for Dylan, a teenager like myself making weird mini comics (if you aren’t keen on my crude drawing now, just imagine it at 16) was something that was, without question, to be encouraged.

A while later, I picked up Reporter #3. There was a little bit on the back, a little text piece that Dylan had written out. It either said ‘from a letter to ted may’ or ‘from a letter to kevin huizenga.’ Anyway, it was, I assume, Dylan saying the following to one of these cartoonists, and it’s always stuck with me: ‘everyone says you gotta draw like dan clowes. everyone says you gotta draw like jaime hernandez. but comics are…’ I can’t remember the rest exactly. But it was a statement about how comics are never what anyone says they must be. That has stuck with me more than I can say—Dylan rejecting the dominance of those two cartoonists in hopes of encouraging people to draw comics their way in spite of his great respect for the two cartoonists in question.

I have always always just wanted to make art, but for most of my life, I thought I would do it pretty privately…sending out zines to friends and artists I admire, but never give into it as much as I wanted because I was too embarrassed of the oddness of my work to try to fully stand behind it. When Dylan wrote to me, out of the blue, to publish a book of my work (whatever work i wanted to make into a book was fine), I really never turned back. That commitment to my own work is really 100% from Dylan. And the thing is, Dylan had that effect of SO MANY people. I mean–today, I love drawing so so so much more than I did when I started because I’ve committed to it so much and forced myself to push my art as hard as I can. And that is a thrill, every day and it fills me (corny as it sounds but Dylan would appreciate the honesty here) with satisfaction. But I never would have been able to make it to this point without Dylan’s CONSTANT belief and encouragement. Dylan’s support was always unwavering and for long stretches of time he was the ONLY PERSON who seemed to have any remote interest in my work. And Dylan believed in treating people this way, respecting them in this way. He knew it was the right thing to do. I tried to tell him over and over again how much it meant to me, and I hope when he shrugged me off and said ‘yeah sure, ok’ that he really did hear what I was saying.

But, for the countless people that Dylan encouraged as artists, we all cared for him more as a friend because Dylan WAS everything people say about him. He was a really, really, really wonderful friend—the kind of friend that always called you when you were going through something tough—a breakup, a grueling job, whatever it was. You didn’t have to call him and lay out what was going on. He’d almost always do the work and make the call and be there for you. Dylan had a high tolerance and was accepting of a lot of bullshit from his friends, myself especially included. He certainly had his limits but Dylan expected you to be sincere with him, which is maybe the best thing a friend can demand.

When I heard about Dylan’s passing today, the selfish stab of pain I had was that I wouldn’t be able to talk about John Huston movies with Dylan—I have just been watching a ton, really only because I wanted to talk about them with Dylan when he got better. Dylan loved art and movies so much that it made you want to see things just to hear his opinion on them. It was just so unbelievably pleasurable to talk about art with Dylan and I can’t fucking believe I won’t be able to do that anymore. Dylan was the kind of guy that read everything, saw everything, listened to everything—not because he had felt obsessed to do so but because he genuinely loved art of all kinds. He loved it more than anyone I know really and often when I see something it doesnt feel real until I talk with Dylan about it.

Once Dylan came into the store I worked in to talk comics and pulled a new book from the shelf—a big gaudy hardcover by an artist I always had a secret liking for but never had the guts to say. Dylan just immediately told me how much he loved this guys stuff—and I’d never, ever heard anyone really give this guy his due in the way Dylan was doing. He always made a point of that—being upfront about the artists you care for.

I remember last summer, I was staying in Portland. I saw Dylan a lot, watching movies at his house. One night he was driving me home (what a gentlemen, right?) and I was saying how silly it feels sometimes to be so sincerely interested in comics—for instance, I wanted to read that brendan mcarthy spider-man comic, but didnt want to support marvel. I think I said something really dumb like ‘jeez i should be more concerned with the welfare of palestinian children then whether marvel makes money off from me buying this dumb comic’ or something equally stupid. Dylan said ‘yeah but comics is what we make our lives around. its not stupid to think about that stuff—if we’re invested in making comics, we should care about all our choices related to them.’ Y’know—you should care about what you’re involved in.

That summer Dylan both picked me up AND drove me to the airport, bookending my trip there. The last time I saw him, we were eating salad at a restaurant in the airport with Emily. I think what happened was, Dylan bought some salad thing and got a  really great deal on it—like a bunch of salad for 3 bucks! I had bought a bagel or something like that and I regretted my purchase so much. Dylan knows how cheap I am and gave me a hard time about how much I would have enjoyed this cheap delicious salad. Then he and emily walked me to the security checkpoint and we all taked about  how Emily and Dylan had to visit me in Sweden. Nothing would have made me happier. That was one year ago almost exactly and Dylan was just full of life. Seeing him in Sweden seemed so likely and possible. This—the reality of today—does NOT seem possible.

Dylan had been fighting cancer for years. Maybe 7 years? There were many, many scares during that time but Dylan always downplayed them. It was sometimes hard to figure out what was going on—he’d tell you he was having problems but that they weren’t serious. And then, miraculously, you’d see him and he’d look wonderful. So—I think we, all his friends, were very very worried the minute we saw Dylan speaking in public about what was happening this time.

Dylan is just of towering importance in my heart and I just tried to ignore it all at first. It was too much and I just wanted to believe hed beat it. But it just became impossible to ignore. The last time I talked to Dylan was over Skype—he was sitting in the hospital with Tom Neely visiting him. Calling was more for me then him—I needed to hear his voice! And Dylan, of course, was so considerate despite what he was going through. You could hear how sick he was but that true Dylan Williams kindness and consideration for how YOU were feeling was there. That same day I sent Dylan a ton of pages of art for him and Emily. I started getting emails from people visiting him in the hospital saying he was going better…it really seemed hopeful for a moment there!

Clara and I moved from Sweden back to New York yesterday. I had just set up my drawing table and was working on ‘My Friend Perry’ which I’ve been drawing all summer. I took a break and went over to my email (filthy habit). Two really ominous messages from Bill Kartalopoulos and Jesse McManus were in my inbox—‘just heard about dylan–can’t stop crying.’

I have a lot of problems with writing about this stuff on the internet but Dylan meant so much to me, I just can’t help but pour it out. If nothing else I hope Dylan’s friends appreciate hearing some of this. I could go on and on, and I sort of want to so I don’t have to lay down and think about Dylan being gone. Writing about him being alive is so so so much better.  There are jsut so many Dylan stories to tell…but I think that is enough for the internet. The rest I’ll save for the real world.

My heart goes out to Emily. Thanks to the both of you for welcoming me into your home and life.


24 Comments on “Dylan”

  1. joncroaker says:

    Austin, reading this has brought rivers of tears down my face. Love you, man. We didn’t go to SPX so call us if you want to cope together today.

  2. Shannon OLeary says:

    Thank you for this, Austin. xo

  3. This is really beautiful, Austin. I’m happy you and Dylan were able to work together for so long.

  4. the 1st time i met dylan was at a mocca years ago. it was one of the first places i was able to go after being trapped in my apt for over a month getting over a massive onslaught of chemo. i was an emaciated hairless waif and most people stared that awkward, damn… i hope he is okay pity that hurts near as much as the disease that forced it. but not dylan. i had emailed him about some comics i wanted and he made sure they were there. and he spoke about them with such reverence, almost like they were his family.
    i had no idea he had been fighting cancer. had no idea he likely saw someone in similar shoes as his. i just got an overwhelming warm welcome from him and it made me like him so much more.
    i saw him 2 or 3 more times since then, but always went out of my way to say hello and pick up some members of his family.
    while i never knew him outside those momentary interactions, this news leaves me with a very dry mouth and tears running down my cheeks.
    i am glad others knew him as an amazing person.
    that small gift of kindness he gave me by not gawking at me in my most fragile condition will never be forgotten.

  5. Sarah says:

    Thank you for writing this Austin. It’s beautiful.

  6. Dunja Jankovic says:

    Thanks Austin for writing all this down. You made Dylan alive in so many of these sentences. He was the kindest, most genuine, supportive, modest person I have ever known. A real angel. He’s still going to be in all of us and that’s one thing that comforts me.

  7. Susie Cagle says:

    Thank you Austin.

  8. Grace says:

    Austin, I’m deeply saddened by this news. You know, you and Dylan exist together in my memory –remember SPX 2006 when you guys shared the table with Zak? That was the first time I met you both. And the last time I saw Dylan at APE, you were there too. I feel lucky that I got to know Dylan. He was such a warm and generous person and I’ll miss him. Thank you for your wonderful tribute. Let’s talk soon.

  9. Aron Steinke says:

    This is a very loving tribute Austin. So many great things can be said about Dylan and I think you truly spoke to who he was and what he meant to so many of us. He was a dear friend and an inspiration in many, many ways. Ariel and I saw him in the hospital on Monday and he was just as generous and considerate to us as he always was. The visit itself was probably more for us than for him. I will always remember him jogging through my neighborhood. He loved to run. His memory will forever remain deep in my heart.

  10. Yumi says:

    Dear Austin, what a beautiful tribute. I’ve only met Dylan twice (Indy Euphoria 2010 in Sacramento, Stumptown in 2011), but I will never forget his kindness, his support of my work and his immense dedication to spreading his passion of comics and zines to so many people. All my condolences to his family and loved ones.

  11. Eamon Espey says:

    Thank you Austin for writing this down and sharing your stories.

  12. […] can find some rather moving tributes to Williams from Elijah Brubaker here, Austin English here, Brett Warnock and Landry Walker […]

  13. Thank you so much for voicing what we all are feeling sitting stunned in our little apartments that suddenly feel a whole lot bleaker.

  14. Jaz says:

    Austin, I can’t thank you enough for sharing all that. I’ve been in tears all afternoon myself–Dylan was the biggest inspiration to me, and it’s really touching to see how many people’s lives he made so much better.

    Last time I saw Dylan, I’d just lost my job and was really anxious about my future, and he seemed to be very disappointed in the world that I wasn’t teaching Comics History 101, or writing every day [the first “professional” writing I ever did was for LONGBOX, a zine that was never published cuz it coincided with D’s first round of cancer treatments], or running a hip store like Bad Apple, and that I felt like I had to have a dayjob forever… You could tell he wished everybody he loved could do what THEY loved and have a comfortable time at it.

    Sparkplug was even going to publish the zine I’ve talked about doing for years… I wish I could say I’m going to wake up tomorrow and feel inspired by how much this man accomplished in his too-short life, and pay his memory tribute by doing the things he knew I could…but I know I’ll wake up tomorrow and cry again. What a loss.

    Much love to everybody in Dylan’s world–I know many of you knew him better than I did, and I can only imagine the depth of your pain. Give Emily a hug from Jaz and Sarah.

  15. You were the first person I thought of when I heard the bad news, Austin. Thanks for sharing these stories. I’m sending a big mental hug your way man.

  16. dave kiersh says:

    He made cartooning his business but approached it foremost with an unparalleled passion and love for the medium. I first encountered Dylan’s work through his mini-comic series Hi-Horse in the mid 1990’s. At the time, it was one of the first self-published works I had ever seen. An inspiration! And then his wonderful articles in Destroy All Comics Magazine introduced me to a whole new world. Remember his interview with Bill Blackbeard? What I loved about Dylan was that he was a champion of such a wide range of work and influences. His Crime Clinic and Reporter comics perfectly fused a contemporary aesthetic with a love for pre-code and noir material from the past. With Sparkplug, he sold work by legends such as Steve Ditko next to virtually unknown newcomers. Thank you Dylan, for discussing the drawings of Alex Toth and Fiona Logusch in the same breath. You will be missed by many.

  17. Julia Wertz says:

    austin, lets get together this week, call me. I love you buddy.

  18. Nick Abadzis says:

    You must really be going through it, Austin. So sorry. Wish you strength.

  19. Bevan Kay says:

    Austin, thanks for posting this.

    I appreciate you laying it out and am sorry for you loss.

    It was brave of you to write but I want to thank you for sharing it. I have never met Dylan in person but somehow kept in touch with him over the internet for a long time (he sent me a box load of comics once and joked about taking me to metal concerts if I was ever in Portland. I could not believe it, he just such a sharing guy. And undoubtedly the most un-cynical person I have ever met). I am shocked by this news but your piece has helped.

    So thank you.

  20. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. It means so much to be reading all the memories of Dylan from the other people who loved him. Thank you.

  21. Steve Lafler says:

    Austin, a fine homage to your friend and publisher. It’s amazing how Dylan’s love of the medium and matter of fact integrity touched so many people. I love the bit about how he put out the idea that one should draw in their own hand, not trying to ape Dan Clowes or Jaime. Of course I love those artists, but hell why would you want to draw like them?! They already draw like them! Lots of love to you Austin, I’m so happy that Dylan backed your work with such enthusiasm and devotion.

  22. […] work.’ There was an ample bit of humor in that but also a lot of real belief in the idea.—Austin English, Windy […]


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