Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dylan Williams R.I.P.

I'd like to belatedly say a few words about my friend Dylan Williams who died last month. It's been a great comfort to me being able to read other people's thoughts and remembrances and I thought it couldn't hurt to add to the communal memory of Dylan by offering a few of my own.

I didn't get to hang out with Dylan much these last couple of years but there was a period where I really felt like he was one of my best friends. Becoming friends with Dylan Williams was like falling in love. As our friendship bloomed I couldn't help but think of him always. I felt like we needed to see each other once a week, needed to talk on the phone every few days. One time I was even out shopping with my wife Allie when I was excited to find a present for Dylan. She shook her head at me in dismay and suggested I bought more presents for Dylan than I did for her!

Once Dylan, Emily, Allie and I were close he bashfully let us in on one of his secrets: he was living in the shadow of cancer. I had my own private crisis when I heard the news. "No! I can't lose Dylan" I thought. He had so quickly become such a huge part of my life that the idea of losing him was too much to bear. Of course, Dylan lived such a healthy life-style and lived his life with so much spiritual vigor, that my panic eventually faded. Even as we watched him suffer through illness after illness this last year, I was convinced he'd make it through, that he'd keep plugging away.

We met Dylan about five and a half years ago through the comics scene. With no savings or money, Allie and I impulsively opened our own business, Guapo Comics, out in the commercially dead zone of our neighborhood Foster Road. As any good comics fan would, Dylan had come into Guapo to check out Portland's latest comic store. I'm proud to say we were carrying Dylan's Sparkplug comics before we even knew him (or of Sparkplug--I ordered them blindly thinking they sounded cool.) Dylan quickly became a friend and a hugely important booster and supporter of our store. Dylan was the Zelig of indie comics. He somehow seemed to know everyone and be involved with everything. When we opened Guapo, Allie and I didn't have a single friend that liked or was involved with comics. We were completely isolated in our love for the medium. Thanks to Dylan, we were introduced to an entire community of cartoonists and comics fans--many of whom moved to Portland in his footsteps.

Dylan set up panels at events like Stumptown and invited me to participate. We planned readings and parties together. I helped copy edit many of his Sparkplug releases. I took him to my alma mater Reed College to do a presentation on mini-comics and self-publishing. Tim Goodyear and Dylan put together a Guapo comic anthology for our first Stumptown party. It compiled work by all the readers and included a brand new two-page comic Dylan wrote and drew about our store cat Macky just for the occasion. Dylan graded a box of old comics someone gave us to sell in Guapo. In the early days of Guapo we were working 10 hour days seven days a week. When we we needed a break and someone to cover the store, Dylan became our first volunteer. Emily became our second volunteer. We'd go an entire weekend without a single sale and then Dylan would come in and spend a ridiculous amount of money on new comics, DVDs, and reprints. I used to wonder why he didn't buy some of the more expensive stuff discounted on amazon--of course, the point was he wanted to support us. Plus he charged everything on his frequent flier credit card, which he used to get free or discounted air fare when traveling to comic shows around the country. I can't overstate how important Dylan was to our success at Guapo.

A lot of people thought we were crazy running a comic book store "way out" in the underdeveloped Foster neighborhood. We opened the store though for our neighborhood not for money. Dylan and I had many a conversation about small business, about the pleasures of staying small and living with a different view of success in business. For us with Guapo, and Dylan with Sparkplug, the goal of business was to create a self-sustaining enterprise that supported the things we loved. Ever increasing profits or expansion weren't even an issue. Dylan appreciated our attempts to revivify the Foster neighborhood and when he decided to open up his own store front, the Bad Apple, he opened it up right next to us, "way out" on Foster.

Dylan was one of the most ethical people I've ever met. There was a period a couple years ago when he was becoming overwhelmed with Sparkplug work. Many people had inquired about being a Sparkplug intern but he turned them down feeling it would be exploitative to have someone working for him for free. Knowing that unpaid internships are common in the industry, I pushed him to accept an intern--he wouldn't budge and eventually worked his way up to officially hiring an employee, even offering the employee health insurance.

Dylan was an incredibly sensitive soul. One time I was about to flame out from stress and was complaining about my 70 hour plus work week. I made an offhand comment about how he had it easy with his work (my point being how I envied his flexible schedule). Later he made a point of saying I had hurt his feelings with the comment. I felt frustrated by his thin skin but was more than happy to acknowledge how hard I knew he worked. I was impressed with his willingness to talk about feelings, to express himself, and stand up for himself. These were the type of conversations I didn't have with many people. Years later, when Allie and I debuted our first zines for sale at the Portland ZIne Symposium he enthusiastically bought Allie's zine to add to his distribution catalogue. He also bought a half dozen copies of my Macky zine, but later admitted he bought them so my feelings wouldn't be hurt. My feelings were fine either way, but I thought it was sweet and funny he was so worried about them. Later he called me from APE when he heard Macky had in fact died. He offered his sympathies and then with a laugh let me know that my zine was selling way better than Allie's at the show, jokingly trying to fuel the fires of our non-existent spousal competition.

Dylan did bust his butt in life--be it for his publishing, his friendships, or comics in general. I didn't get to see Dylan during what would turn out to be the final couple months of his life. We were going through an overterm preganacy and the c-section birth of our first child while he was in an out of the hospital. However, he did call me out of the blue a couple weeks before he died. He had just had a feeding tube taken out of his throat and could hardly talk above a whisper, b ut it was important for him to call and ask about our plans now after closing Guapo. Dylan had a huge selection of his own published and distributed comics in the back of Bad Apple but he adamantly refused to sell any of them from his storefront, not wanting to infringe in the least on our own sales at Guapo. If a friend came in to the Bad Apple and asked for a zine, he'd send them our way-- sometimes we wouldn't even have the book in stock and I'd have to go over to Dylan's and buy a copy wholesale before the friend could finally get a copy. Now that Guapo was closing, he was interested in adapting the Bad Apple into a zine shop. I was thrilled at the news but ended the conversation slightly foggy on his specific plans. I could barely hear half of what Dylan was saying and felt bad asking him too much to repeat himself in his weakened condition. I was so touched that despite his ailing health he was still excitedly plotting and planning his next move.

I'd like to mention a few endearing details about Dylan. Dylan love-love-loved cats and Allie wanted to make sure I mentioned an oft-repeated story of mine about Dylan. Even before we were friends, Dylan and I unwittingly had some of the same habits. Anytime we were shopping on Hawthorne we would stop by the cat store Cat's Meow to visit and pet the store cats that worked and lived there. It was Dylan that took this routine to the next level though. He told us that if you visited Cat's Meow after hours and went up to the front door you could put your hand through the mail slot. You could reach through and soon enough a cat would appear and rub against your hand, angling for pets and affection. We tried it once or twice before the store went out of business and it really did work!

Dylan with Macky!

Dylan's favorite Peanuts character was Marcie.

When Allie and I were hanging out with Dylan it would be hard for me to say anything without them both turning it into a sexual innuendo. I would be about to say something like "that was hard" and they'd both race to say "That's what she said." I knew it was coming ('That's what she said!') but was too stubborn to change my sentence because of their immature humor. Dylan loved to laugh though and that's how I like to remember him.

Dylan and I spent a lot of time talking movies and music. He knew so much about all art that it was hard to expose him to something new. That's why it was such a treat for me to get him into the music of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. The first zine I consciously made was for a compilation of Dennis WIlson music I had designed. I made the cover and CD art for the album. I wrote an essay and liner notes for each song. I made it an edition of one and I gave it to Dylan. He later seemed to become a real fan of Dennis's music which felt like a real coup for me, a Beach Boys fanatic. I think he appreciated the lack of artifice in Dennis' music. Dennis Wilson wrote the song "Farewell My Friend" upon the death of a close friend. When he himself tragically died, at age 39, his brothers and bandmates played the song at his wake. I always thought to myself that this is the song that I want them to play at my funeral too. The sincere, plainspoken words, tied in with my Beach Boys love, just hit me hard. This song was on a continuous loop in my mind after I heard the terrible news about Dylan's death. I offer this song to Dylan (another D.W.) in appreciation of his friendship. I will always miss him. "Farewell my friend, my beautiful friend."