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Kim Thompson. Photo via Lynn Emmert

Kim Thompson, the pioneering comics publisher who along with Gary Groth helped define the comics book industry though their Fantagraphics publishing house, has died of lung cancer at the age of 56.

“Kim leaves an enormous legacy behind him,” said Groth, who worked alongside Thompson for 36 years. “Not just all the European graphic novels that would never have been published here if not or his devotion, knowledge, and skills, but for all the American cartoonists he edited, ranging from Stan Sakai to Joe Sacco to Chris Ware, and his too infrequent critical writing about the medium. His love and devotion to comics was unmatched. I can’t truly convey how crushing this is for all of us who’ve known and loved and worked with him over the years.”

Born in Denmark in 1956, Thompson joined The Comics Journal in 1977, one year after it was founded by Groth and Mike Catron.

“Kim loved the energy around the Journal and the whole idea of a magazine devoted to writing about comics, and asked if he could help,” recalled Groth. “We needed all the help we could get, of course, so we gladly accepted his offer. He started to come over every day and was soon camping out on the floor. The three of us were living and breathing The Comics Journal 24 hours a day.”

Fantagraphics, which publishes The Comics Journal, originally started in Maryland before moving to Connecticut and LA, finally settling in Seattle. The company’s storefront in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood is now a destination for comic book lovers.

Thompson believed in bringing the best of European comics to the U.S.  According to an obituary on the Fantagraphics blog, Thompson selected and translated a number of European graphic novels, including Herman Huppen’s The Survivors: Talons of Blood, for the American audience. He later went on to become editor of the magazine Amazing Heroes, which he led until 1992.

GeekWire columnist Frank Catalano, an early columnist for The Comics Journal, published by Fantagraphics, said that Thompson was a force in the comics book industry.

The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics definitely did something early on that no one else appeared wiling to do: not just criticize comics intelligently, hilariously and often pointedly, but then eat their own dog food and actually publish comics that stretched the boundaries,” said Catalano. “Thompson was a big part of that for decades.”

Thompson is survived by his wife, Lynn Emmert, his mother and father, Aase and John, and his brother Mark.

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