Dylan WilliamsPosted: September 11, 2021
Dylan Williams passed away ten years ago on September 11th, 2011. It was one of the worst days imaginable for so many people in comics, simply because Dylan was of (words can’t describe it) vast importance to a legion of cartoonists, artists and loved ones: as a friend, as an artist, as a mentor, as an example, as everything that he was. Over the years, the clearest thing about Dylan that occurs to me with greater force every day is how much of his thinking and ideas have become more and more important over time to me and many others. Dylan influenced, in a radically positive way (this can’t be overstated) everyone around him, although his actions were the reverse of saccharine. He expected a lot of people and of the world, and took pragmatic action every day of his life (making comics the way he passionately believed they should be made, putting obtuse comics he published into the mail relentlessly, spending hours on the phone with artists in his life who he felt needed to hear something that may be of value to them at a specific moment) to be an agent of that expectation in his chosen world, comics. The culture hovering around comics deeply frustrated him, but he never became cynical in action, he kept in the game with greater intensity every moment he could. I think, in this moment, while there is much in comics that would revolt him, there’s quite a bit of his ideals still wildly in play.
It breaks my heart, every day without fail but especially today, that he’s not here to talk about the good and the bad (but mostly the good) and to be unable to see what part his thought and his art would play in this moment.
All I can do today is share things about Dylan. So, what follows:
-a comic by Dylan about Alex Toth from 2007
-An interview with Dylan by Jason T Miles
-A brief oral history of Puppy Toss, which Dylan was a founding member of in the 90s
-words I wrote about Dylan the night he passed away ten years ago
Here’s a comic by Dylan about Alex Toth
An interview with Dylan Williams and Jason T Miles
A brief history of Puppy Toss, a Bay Area comics collective that Dylan helped found in the early 90s
Here are some thoughts I wrote about Dylan ten years ago on the night he died, 9/11/2011:
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.