Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Legacy of Dylan Williams

About four years back, I wrote an article entitled Is Print Dead, or does it Just Smell Funny? The article ran in Chicago based Alarm magazine and I subsequently posted it in this blog. It focused on the comics industry and it's prospects as a print medium in the face of the rising wave of electronic media. I interviewed several comics people for the piece, including Dylan Williams, cartoonist and publisher of Sparkplug comics, who passed away two months back.
Dylan was passionate on the subject, and had this to say: “I don't believe print is dead. I've actually had a lot of time spent thinking about what I'm trying to do with my life and the whole idea of punk rock is something I keep on coming back to. I've been a punk since I was a kid and those values are really my core values. If you feel bad about stuff the only thing we can do is fight it. I love print, love drawing, and love art comics. I hate what comics became in the 90s, things like web comics, ‘the new independents’ and all the money-speak that took over comics bugs me. I'm an underground kid and that is my idea. I think, all we can do is light our little fires and stoke them. I don't ever feel like giving up.”
Looking back, I'm impressed by Dylan's accomplishment in building avenues for distribution in comics outside the Diamond Comics Distribution paradigm. He distributed directly to a growing network of stores supporting grass roots art comics, and worked with other grass roots distributors who were springing up.
I've been publishing comics since 1981, and have had some modest success with selling books through mainstream distributors like Diamond. It takes a maverick visionary like Dylan to show me that in the long run, art comics (or underground, punk, or which ever label you prefer for auteur comics) need their own grass roots distribution network.
I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2007 and was wondering how I would continue to publish and distribute my work. Dylan stepped forward and offered a hand, arranging for my 2008 graphic novel Tranny to be distributed by Diamond.
When I finished my next book, El Vocho, Dylan declined to offer the book through Diamond. His considerable energies had shifted to where the best results could be produced, with the nascent distribution network he was building on behalf of his publishing company, Sparkplug Comic Books. He did pick up several copies of El Vocho for distribution, great guy that he was.
Dylan's were painstakingly grass roots from what I can see. He cultivated relationships with fans, retailers, publishers and distributors to get the best play for the artists he published, whose work he was devoted to. He faithfully hit the indy shows and put his best foot forward in pursuit of his vision.
This is the legacy of Dylan Williams in my life. He showed me what I should have known all along, that selling auteur comics is really a brick-by-brick business. You can't depend on a large corporate entity for anything, you have to follow the love.

Reporter Little Black Book by Dylan Williams 

Many of Dylan's close friends and associates had wonderful and insightful things to say about him at the time of his passing. I've now had time to assess what Dylan meant in my life, thus this post. I was friendly with Dylan, without being an actual close friend. He was warm and true, self effacing to a fault, and unerring in his vision and taste. He had an understated but wicked sense of humor. In short, a fine human being.

1 comment:

Kevin Parr said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Dylan- I met him around 1994 in San Francisco when he was working at Comic Relief- his passion for the artists that he liked was infectious. We were both working our way through Jim Vadebonceur's Alex Toth checklist. I'd see him at a show every few years and not a minute had passed in terms of our discussions about various comics, films and painters. He had a great creative intensity. I miss him!