There are still no details on the tragic drowning death of King Feature editor Jay Kennedy, but he is being fondly remembered by many. I only met him in passing, but heard his name constantly from people and it was always as a friend who was trusted and respected. In addition to being a highly regarded syndicate editor, he also wrote THE UNDERGROUND COMIX GUIDE in 1982, a standard reference work that has never been bettered. From all that we have heard he was one of those rare people who seemed to understand comics as the true spectrum of visions that is it, and it is a sad loss for the business and his many many friends.
UPDATE: Tom Spurgeon, who worked with Kennedy has a lengthy and definitive biography.
Milton Griepp remembers him here:
We met when we were both studying sociology at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-70s, but it wasn’t sociology that brought us together, it was comics. Jay was already hard at work assembling his “best in the world” collection of underground comics, and I was working at Wisconsin Independent News Distributors, a “distribution co-op” that distributed underground and mainstream comics, among other pop culture paper products of the day. He came to W.I.N.D. to find the source of the underground comics that were distributed at record stores, food coops, and head shops in Madison because he wanted to make sure he had them all. We quickly bonded over our mutual appreciation of the art form, and had many pleasant afternoons trading and discussing the exciting work that we both loved from artists like Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, S. Clay Wilson, Denis Kitchen, and many others.
Jay was one of the few editors who took the time to provide notes and encouragement along with the rejections. I knew I was getting somewhere when his notes grew from a scribbled sentence to a few paragraphs to comments on the individual strips.
The Daily Cartoonist has more links.
Here’s the King Features obituary:
Jay Kennedy, editor in chief of King Features Syndicate, a unit of Hearst Corporation, died March 15, 2007, while on vacation in Costa Rica. He was 50 years old and lived in New York City and Orient Point, Long Island.
“Jay had a profound impact on the transformation of King Features as a home for the best new and talented comic strip creators in the country,” said Bruce L. Paisner, executive vice president, Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. “He was an extremely creative talent himself and we are indebted to him for all he did.”
King Features President T.R. (“Rocky”) Shepard III added: “Jay and I worked closely together to build this company into the dynamic and creative enterprise that it is today. He had a great impact on our industry throughout his career. He strengthened King’s roster of talented commentators and writers and articulated his vision for the future of the art. Everyone is deeply saddened. We will miss Jay’s talent and friendship.”
Kennedy joined King Features in 1988 as deputy comics editor and became comics editor one year later. He was named editor in chief in 1997.
From 1983 to 1988, Kennedy served as cartoon editor of Esquire magazine, also owned by Hearst Corporation. At the same time, he served as a humor book agent as well as a cartoon consultant and editor for magazines and publishers, including People and Whittle Communications. In addition, he was guest editor in 1985 for the “European Humor” issue released by the National Lampoon.
Kennedy wrote articles about the history of cartooning, and profiled cartoonists and contemporary comics for magazines including New Age Journal, Heavy Metal, New York, The IGA Journal, and Escape, an English bi- monthly. He was also the author of “The Underground Comix Guide” (1982). Kennedy’s interest in comics was worldwide and lifelong.
Before graduating with a sociology degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Kennedy studied sculpting and conceptual art at The School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Kennedy once explained that he chose a life in cartooning because “in the fine arts, artists generally comment on the world only obliquely; and sadly, only those people who have the leisure to study art history can fully appreciate their comments. By contrast, cartoons are an art form accessible to all people. They can simply laugh at the jokes or look beyond them to see the artist’s view of the world. Cartoons are multi-leveled art accessible to everyone at whatever level they choose to enjoy.”
He is survived by his mother, Jean M. Kennedy of Wilmington, Del., brothers Bruce C. Kennedy of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Mark W. Kennedy of Allentown, Pa., and sister Janet J. Kennedy of Centennial, Colo. He is predeceased by his wife Sarah Jewler.