Thursday, July 11, 2013

HAIL CAESAR! A tribute to Kim Thompson

My tribute to the late, great Kim Thompson, co-founder and publisher/editor of Fantagraphics books,  written for The Comics Journal (see more tributes to Kim from various comic artist greats below):
According to Kim Thompson, I had the honor of (indirectly) giving him what he told me was “the most thrilling moment of his career.”
Kim was the brilliant editor of my last six books for Fantagraphics, including my three books of portraiture depicting “Old Jewish Comedians” (designed by Monte Beauchamp). The only running text in the books was the comedians’ actual Jewish names, along with their showbiz names (for example: Benjamin Kubelsky/Jack Benny). My wife Kathy and I diligently researched the original names using various sources, mainly comedy history books and via the web. When the first book was released in late 2006, Fantagraphics sent out several copies to some of the (still living) comedians who were included, among them Mickey Freeman, Freddie Roman, and Jerry Lewis. All three aged comics instantly called me directly to tell me they were absolutely thrilled with being in the book, so much so that they arranged for a Friars Club book party to celebrate its release.
Shortly after the Friars party I received a call from a giddy Kim Thompson, his upbeat voice far from his usual steady monotone. He had just gotten off the phone with one of his all-time heroes, none other than the legendary comedian Sid Caesar of Your Show of Shows fame, now 84. Caesar had placed a call to Fantagraphics and their secretary instantly transferred the call to Kim. It soon became clear that Sid Caesar was not at all happy. Why? Because his “real” name was listed as Isaac Sidney Caesar.
Sid Caesar,
not happy

At the time, every Sid Caesar tribute site, including Wikipedia, claimed his real name was indeed “Isaac”. He claimed it was not. He proceeded to rant, rave and kvetch into the phone at Kim for a good twenty minutes or so, as if Kim was directly responsible for this insult, even launching into faux German/Yiddish double-talk to overly-emphasize his points (“Vot’s Vit You?? You ish a DUMMKOPF!!”). Kim was in heaven, Caesared the moment and basically sat back and let Sid Caesar perform his special brand of (angry) schtick. The more Caesar carried on, the more Kim laughed, and Caesar seemed content because he had a clearly receptive audience of one all to himself, even if it was someone who published a book that infuriated him. They somehow established a brief phone-bond, a performer pleasing his audience. He continued his raving until he eventually became exhausted and finally banged down the phone.

Kim Thompson,
shaken, but happy
Kim immediately called me to relate what had just transpired and told me that although he was a bit shaken, it was the most thrilling moment of his entire career AND the best part of having just turning fifty. He asked if I wanted Sid’s phone number so I could also enjoy the experience of being reamed out in Yiddish by a comedy legend but I declined the offer. I was content with living vicariously through Kim’s experience. Finally, Kim, always the level-headed editor, summed things up: “Well, I guess this means we won’t be able to get him to write a foreword to one of our Peanuts books. Oh well! Ha!”

More tributes to Kim Thompson:

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful tribute and story, Drew. I'm sorry for your loss of a colleague and friend.