Remembering Dylan Williams

This panel and the last image at the bottom are from a collaboration we did in 1991

Dammit, where to start? Here goes.

I knew OF Dylan before I actually knew him. He was known as the guy who published his own comic and managed to make enough money to keep making more. We met not long after and, eventually, with a small group of friends formed a comics creator community that we ended up calling Puppy Toss. I knew him very well for a number of years but had not talked to him much at all for the last 10. Dylan and I used to see each other every day, had long rainy-afternoon talks in our Berkeley office about our visions for a community of artists.

When we all came together, I was… adrift. I had resigned myself to a career of boredom and depression. My time with Dylan, Ken, Gabby, Landry, Eric and the whole Puppy Toss crew changed my life deeply and profoundly in many, many ways. Our paths diverged over the years, but Dylan followed the vision of building a community, made it new, made it his own free of compromise. I watched him from afar and with a sense of awe, feeling grateful that, for a short while, we were able to walk together.

I remember many interesting times together and, years from now, I will look back and also remember the day I heard Dylan was gone. I am thankful for all the messages everyone has written this week because there will be so much more for me to remember. I also wanted to put down some things I remember from our time together:

I remember the first time Dylan came to my house. It was for a project that we were collaborating on at the time. I thought at the time that he was painfully shy because he spent the whole night perched at the end of our futon with his back turned to most of the people there. I came to realize that this shyness was entirely absent when he could talk about the things he was passionate about. He had this way of sidling up to people, grinning sideways and striking up a conversation. He taught me that there is never any reason to hold myself back when there is something I care about.

I remember the first time Dylan appeared in a newspaper. It was the Daily Cal and there was a picture of him emptying a box of cans and bottles from the Puppy Toss office at the recycling center on Dwight. A lot of things about how the group ran were terribly messy — a side effect of how we set it up and let it grow organically. People and their messes — boxes of stuff, food in the fridge, sleeping bags when they lived in the office, bags full of problems — just tended to collect around us in our 100 sq foot space. Dylan, more than any of us I think, both relished the chaos and knew how to keep things moving in the storm. This was so like Dylan to be caught in a moment where he was keeping house — taking out the cans.

I remember helping Dylan and his roommate move into their place on Dwight, a block from the office. We spent about an hour getting his couch up a winding narrow stairwell at the rear of the apartment building, breaking an emergency light in the process (“Don’t worry about that, I’ll take of it”), only to realize at the end of all this that there was a massive, 8 foot wide stairway at the front of the building. This was so like Dylan — once he stuck with a plan, there was no moving him from his course. I wouldn’t call it stubborn so much as… being a man of conviction.

Clockwise: Me, Dylan Williams, Chris Hatfield, Gabby Gamboa, Ken Capelli and Landry Walker at my wedding, 1993

I remember the night we named our fledgling group. With the exception of, I think Eric and my wife, the picture above has all the people who were there that night at Au Coquelet. We came within one vote of naming our group Fat Bastard… seriously. We had all worked on things alone and together before this, but this was the time when we all communed and said that this time we were building a community first — other things would follow behind that.

I remember Dylan once payed off Punks with Presses in T-Shirts. This was after we dumped all of our money on Skim Lizard #1 with a “pro” printer and were desperately looking for a way to print the next issue without compromise. This was a huge lesson that Dylan taught me early on — relationships and people were more important than money and business. Look at what he did with Sparkplug and it shows clearly that he always stuck to this. He eventually managed to find a way to make a business work, but it was built on a deep abiding love for artists and their work.

I remember this pinup that Dylan drew for my book. In typical wry Dylan style, he took one of my most awkward panels and made it his own. He had a way of taking work that you beat yourself up over, turning it on its head and helping you find the gold in it. This is one of my favorite things Dylan drew, and I am sure everyone out there has something like that from him.

A pinup Dylan drew for a collection of my stories

I remember an event at Barnes and Noble where we invited these two kids that had done a book (photocopied, letter sized stapled in the top left corner) called Gor-Gor. I don’t remember if Dylan was the main instigator in getting them there, but he sure as hell made them feel welcome — he loved finding new artists and encouraging them to draw more.

I remember often hanging out with Dylan at the video store on Shattuck. The owner of the place used to sit on a stool for hours and just talk to customers about movies, basically holding court. I always thought Dylan would be great as a store owner and that he would probably spend most of his day just talking to people. Puppy Toss actually came within inches of opening a store, but we were all so poor and, to a person, had poured so much of our own money into making the business run that I ended up feeling like we had dodged a bullet that would have put us all deep into debt for many years — all of us had to dig deep to not only keep Puppy Toss afloat, but also to mail back comics and pay off money owed when we finally let go. Later, I was amazed and delighted to see that Dylan had opened a store and I still regret never being able to see him there in his element.

I remember the day that we buried Puppy Toss and, up until last week, this was my saddest day in comics. A group of us got together in my basement and addressed stack after stack of envelopes in order to send comics back to everyone we were distro-ing. I sincerely hope that, even if Sparkplug itself does not continue, we all find ways to keep the spirit that Dylan fostered alive and make sure that great work gets seen.

I remember being at our first Wondercon and running out of shirts at the end of Sunday. I sold the last shirt off of my back. I can still picture Dylan with a huge smile on his face… you know the look.

I remember Dylan used to always keep a jar of that runny peanut butter you pour from a bin at Whole Foods in the office fridge. We used to make fun of him and call it hippy peanut butter. He used to get frustrated when other people used the peanut butter and left a dirty knife on the desk — not because they took his food but because they left a mess.

I remember sitting in one of our crazy Friday night meetings where we were picking material for the second issue of Skim Lizard. When we looked at the stack of copied submissions we realized that not one of the pieces was from one of the founding Puppy Toss members. We had a long talk that night about it and I remember feeling that this was probably our proudest moment up to that time — that we had finally created something that was bigger than our little circle of friends, something that would live on. Little did I know then that Dylan would take that and run with it for the next 15 years, even when some of us did not or could not. I am sure he would have kept on doing it for many more years if he could have.

If there is anything we can do… anything I can do, to honor Dylan it would be to keep it going, to keep fighting in our own ways.

Good bye, old friend.


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