In February, NY1 did a piece on Seth Kushner. The Brooklyn-based writer/photographer had done the seemingly impossible. He'd beaten a terminal leukemia prognosis, stunning his team of doctors in the process.
"I'm in uncharted territory for them," he told the local New York news station. "So they're not exactly sure how to treat me." He'd done so with an experimental cocktail of non-FDA-approved drugs, a tremendous support staff of friends and family, and a seemingly iron will.
Kushner was, fittingly, declared a real-life superhero and became, quite possibly, the noncelebrity real-life person most widely drawn onto comics pages since the bygone days of underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar.
In April, he made an appearance at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art or MoCCA, the Manhattan independent comics arts festival, happily promoting The Roman Nose, a collaboration with cartoonist George Folz - but more importantly, just getting out into the real world among friends and generally beginning to feel human again.
The community was stunned when Kushner passed over the weekend - it seems like a strange thing to say about someone who had very publicly been battling with a terminal disease for more than a year, but the sentiment among cartoonist friends was that if anyone would ultimately vanquish such a foe, it was Kushner, who regularly communicated his battle through an endless stream of positive social media updates transmitted from his hospital bed.
Over the past year, Kushner was a constant presence on Twitter and Facebook, always there and always smiling in between nearly daily drawings of superheroes made for his young son.
In an industry that, like so many others, is defined by a sort of constant in-fighting, I've never heard a bad word spoken about Kushner. YA cartoonist Raina Telgemeier summed up precisely my sentiment following those instances in which I'd had the pleasure of working with or being photographed by Kushner.
— Raina Telgemeier (@goraina) May 18, 2015
If you couldn't make friends with Seth Kushner over the course of two hours, I'm afraid that's on you.
I'm glad, of course, that Kushner's battle was given the spotlight it deserved, but now that he is no longer with us, his legacy is not the war he waged against cancer, but rather the things he left behind - both a loving family and friends and an impressive body of work. I'd recommend starting with Kushner's photography.
As a visual artist, Kushner possessed and cultivated a well-defined and instantly recognizable style steeped in the dark and gritty pulp comics on which he was weaned. His 2012 book Leaping Tall Buildings, co-authored by Christopher Irving, illustrates the point perfectly. The book profiles some of comics' most visionary artists and writers from Al Jaffee to Frank Miller, with Kushner's dark and near-noirish aesthetic blurring the line between artist and work. Kushner blurs those lines for himself in the series Schmuck.
The webcomic is set to be collected as a graphic novel, featuring collaborations with 22 cartoonists to tell the tale of Kushner's awkward coming of age in New York City. It's a testament to Kushner's storytelling skills and the support he built in the comics community, featuring such prominent indie artists as Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi and Noah Van Sciver. The book is scheduled to arrive in September, a belated reminder of a multitalented artist cut down during his most productive period.
Donations to Kushner's family can be made through a GoFundMe campaign set up to help Kushner foot massive medical bills. Tributes and remembrances, meanwhile, are flooding in on Kushner's Facebook page. Here's a short and simple one from artist Molly Crabapple that really cuts to the heart of the matter.
Devastated. My friend Seth Kushner died, far too young. A brilliant photographer and writer, a kind, gentle man pic.twitter.com/LpPqch7RuC — Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) May 18, 2015