The cartooning and activist communities have one less person. We have one less good friend.
This is the link to the Miami Herald's obituary to Chris Companik, who passed away in Atlanta, GA Thursday morning, Feb. 23, 2012.
Chris is such an interesting person, he's someone we talked about a lot, particularly "the fried chicken story" and the "Chicago" story, so a lot of people who don't know him know about him. He told the fried chicken story on 'Nuff Said! and eventually I'll digitize it and add it to this web page (he also turned it into a comic strip for the magazine "Bound and Gagged"). Chris was on WBAI-FM many times, mostly on " 'Nuff Said! " and Sidney Smith's "Carrier Wave," but also at least once on "Out-FM." When 'Nuff Said! and Carrier Wave were back to back shows and Chris was my guest in the studio, Sidney would usually (always?) ask him to stay on his show for a half hour or more.
Chris joined Interlac in 1980 or '81, while I was Leader of the apa. He was active from the waitlist and did great zines right from the start. His zine title was adapted from a song title with Rock and Roll in it changed to Rokk Krinn Roll. (Rokk Krinn is Cosmic Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes, of course.) At some point, I was playing a Queen album and noticed a song, "Modern Times Rock and Roll" that Chris hadn't used and sent him a postcard suggesting it. It was the early days of cd's, but Queen wasn't on cd yet so Chris was motivated to pull out his Queen vinyl albums because of my postcard and our relationship really started to blossom from there. At least, that's how I remember it. Chris didn't remember it that way and couldn't point to a specific time or event that turned us from "apa buddies" to good friends. He said the friendship just developed.
Chris was diagnosed with AIDS in 1993 and wondered why no pamphlets or brochures were given out to people who were newly diagnosed. A friend of his pointed out that since he was a cartoonist, he could do that for the people who followed him, and thus was his comic strip "HIV + Me" born, eventually syndicated to about 200 newsletters, bar mags and local weekly newspapers. Student groups in several African countries performed some of his strips on stage in their schools. Africa has been hit by AIDS much harder than any other place.
HIV+Me started out as a strip about what he was going through, but quickly evolved into a comic strip dealing with living with AIDS, medical developments, public policy and stream of consciousness observations of life. He became a minor celebrity in Atlanta, GA. Most of the episodes of the strip are on his web site, http://www.hivnme.com. I hope someone is going to keep the web site going.
Chris told a great story about a benefit for AID Atlanta one year, where the Guest of Honor was that year's Miss America. Miss Americas are encouraged to adopt some sort of cause and she picked HIV/AIDS. There were rumors that the Miss America hierarchy didn't like it, but didn't want to complain openly. For an extra donation to AID Atlanta, Miss America would let you try on her tiara and there was a long line of gay men willing to donate some money to a good cause for a chance to wear Miss America's actual tiara.
Chris got on the line, but when he got to the front of it, he told her that he wasn't on line to wear her tiara (most of his friends were quite surprised at that), but to thank her for all the great work she'd been doing. As one of the guests, Chris was wearing a name tag. "Why thank you," Miss America looked at his name tag, "Chris Companik? Why do I know that name?" Chris said he didn't know and then her eyes lit up, she gave him a big hug and exclaimed, "You did that wonderful comic strip in Pos!" Pos is a magazine for HIV Positive people that had been running "HIV + Me."
The comic strip she was referring to was a take-off on Sleeping Beauty. Chris had a great talent for aping art styles and this strip was drawn in the traditional Disney animation style. He drew the Disney-esque wicked witch bewitching the spinning wheel, then Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger, then going to sleep. Prince Charming comes in and she wakes up without him having to kiss her. "But the witch…" Sleeping Beauty tells him that there was nothing wrong with the spinning wheel because "My father the king has a needle exchange program and all the needles are safe." Chris had managed to work the AIDS needle situation into the story without changing the legend of Sleeping Beauty until that very ending. No wonder she gave him a big hug!
He was one of the first people on the triple-drug therapy for AIDS (I'm sure living in Atlanta, the home of the Centers for Disease Control, helped) and was doing very well, so well that he felt the need to remind us every once in a while that he had a "death sentence." But at the same time, he thanked us for "treating me so goddamned normal."
There was a point about ten years ago that scared all his friends. We visited him at the time and he was sleeping about 21 hours a day and scarcely eating. But he got better and many months later he called me and asked how he looked when we visited. "Why do you ask?" "Because everyone is telling me how good I look, so I must have looked terrible!" I had to chuckle at his logic. "Yeah, you did. We were worried."
He had recently been doing chemotherapy for lymphatic cancer. In mid-February, he went into the ICU, but had been released. No one had heard from him in a little while and they busted into his apartment to get him. He had a terrible case of thrush and couldn't talk. I looked up thrush on the internet and there was nothing alarming about what I read. It's an immune disease having to do with a fungus that is always present in our mouths and throats.
Wednesday night the 22nd, we were told that he'd taken a turn for the worse and his out-of-town relatives had been contacted. He died early the next morning, February 23rd at 2:15. Kasey says he was fighting to the end, maybe he was trying to hold on till 2:47.
Clearly the thrush was a sign of his immune system breaking down; it's not what he died from.
Unlike some gay people, Chris was close to his family. And he had oodles of friends. There are a LOT of people who mourned his passing. He was active in comic book fandom, on facebook, with the gay activist community (he didn't call himself an activist, but I and many other people did) and several other groups I'm not aware of (If there's a General Hospital fandom, he's in it). I'm sure people will be learning about his passing for years.
We considered ChrisCo (a nickname he'd had since high school) one of our best friends. We often visited him in Atlanta; he often visited us in New York. He was one of the people I'd call when I had a TV question and I was one of the people he'd call when he had a science question. We fantasized about being phone-a-friends on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
He kept us up to date with a lot of popular culture. Thanks to Chris, we were among the first people to learn about this new animated show called "South Park," for example. When 'Nuff Said! was cancelled in 2002, he sent us a tape to distract us with his two favorite episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and we've been big fans of Joss Whedon ever since. Of course he thought of TV to cheer someone up. We have pages and pages of cartoons and illustrations he came across, usually on the internet, which he'd mail or e-mail us. When a mutual friend was struggling with coming out, he asked Chris if he thought it'd be okay to tell us and Chris called me "the coolest straight guy I know." I treasured that when he was alive. I treasure it more now.
ChrisCo's family did not do a memorial to him that we know of. At first they said they would when his father got out of the hospital (knee replacement), but they didn't. Perhaps they canceled the memorial because the out-of-town relatives had to go back home before his father got out of the hospital.
I don't know what happened to his stuff. My guess is that his collection of apa mailings was destroyed as "worthless." I'd call them "priceless." Kasey was not included in any planning or anything, which I think is a real shame since Kasey is the closest thing to a husband that Chris had.
We did a small memorial to him at a near-by Irish bar with a group of fannish friends. We called Kasey by cell phone so he could sort of attend. It seemed the right thing to do.
There are so many things that make us think of Chris! But I think we'll miss his sense of humor and personality most…forever.
Ken Gale with Mercy Van Vlack
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