by David Macho
Some hours ago I found out Sergio Toppi has passed away. Art as a whole, and not only comics or illustration, has lost one of its biggest masters and even more important, a kind, humble, and amazing human being with a heart of gold. Also this year, we’ve lost Jean Giraud (Moebius) and, very recently, Joe Kubert. Three giants I had the immense honor to meet, and that leave a hole that will be so, so difficult to fill.
I won’t go into detail about Sergio’s resume. I assume you’ve been able to read about that all day, and Lambiek did it much better than I could, but I will ask you to check his art there and anywhere you can, because not a single word I could say would do the man any justice. As the saying goes, an image is worth a thousand words, and in Toppi’s case, that is selling him short.
But I will tell you a personal story about how I met Sergio Toppi, as I recall it…
Sergio Toppi and his wife Aldina were two of our guests at Barcelona International Comicon in 2005. He was invited to the Con to celebrate the release of a new Spanish edition of his book Sharaz’de, published by Planeta DeAgostini. To invite him I contacted his publisher at Editions Mosquito in France, but I never talked to him until we picked him up. As you can imagine, being a creator of his stature, I was a little hesitant. The moment I met Sergio and Aldina, everything changed. I think Sergio was 73 by then, and he and his wife turned out to be two lovable, kind, and incredibly giving elders. Everybody, creators, my Con assistants, the fans, the people at Planeta and everybody else at the Con just fell in love with both of them, and they certainly deserved no less. I was worried about his age and maybe overworking him, but he was the humble, hardworking, kind master all the time. Sergio was calm, and collected, but man, I hope I have his stamina when I get to be 73!
But I really didn’t know how really generous and kind Sergio was until then last night of the Con.
You know, to speak to Sergio and Aldina we exchanged a strange mix of Spanish, French and Italian, or so I recall. My French was and is rusty, and they didn’t really speak any Spanish, so it was a bit comical to see us trying to understand each other, with his wife explaining what I had just mumbled to him when he didn’t understand, but neither of them ever lost their kindness, their smiles… That night, I was translating to him from English to the “strange mix” what my dear friend Bob Schreck was telling him, reminding Sergio of the pinup he had done for Sin City and how much he and Frank Miller had loved it. Seeing the sheer joy in Sergio’s face when hearing that was a sight to behold, and a lesson for any person, artist or not, with an ego as big as the Batcave, about how a genius can receive a compliment, enjoy it as a little kid would love a candy bar, and then kindly scoff at any comments when he was called what he really was, a MASTER.
But that wasn’t all.
Some minutes later, I asked Sergio for a sketch for one of his biggest admirers, Mark Chiarello, explaining to him who Chi was as another brilliant artist and his position at DC and how Chi had never asked me for anything from anybody, this was a first. After asking me to see Chi’s work, which I made sure he did, Sergio told me he’d do that sketch, but he’d do one for me first, one I hadn’t asked him for, since I always ask guests to do any sketches for my assistants first, and then, and only if they have time and are not too tired, for me. Sergio had noticed that, and he wanted to make sure I got a sketch! At that moment, he and Aldina exchanged a knowing smile, and I just thought “dumb me hasn’t understood something, and they’re too kind to tell me, so they just smile and let it go.”
It wasn’t that.
Five minutes later, Aldina handed Sergio three boards. One of them was for me. He asked me to open it, and I almost fell, face first, to the floor when I saw what it was. He had created an engraving (man, I hope that’s the correct word for it in English) for me, just because I had invited them to the Con, I guess, and he was handing it to me like it was nothing important, just a little token of his appreciation… That was the extent of Sergio Toppi’s generosity, and I couldn’t stop showing the engraving to everybody that was at the restaurant that night. After that, being tired, and being late (us Spaniards have dinner kinda late, as all past Barcelona Con guests will tell you) Sergio and Aldina quietly left for the night. I think that was the last time I saw Sergio in person.
Two years later, my wife Paloma and I finally got our own apartment. There is only one thing framed and hanging in our bedroom wall, and yes, you’ve guessed correctly. It’s Sergio Toppi’s engraving. That is how special the gift from that elderly, humble, and so generous genius of a man was, and still is, to me.*
Rest in peace, Sergio. Thanks for your art, thanks for your genius. But, above all, thanks for being the kind and humble man you were, a lesson for all of us who met you.
*I’m away from home while I’m writing this, visiting my parents, and that’s why you don’t see a pic of that engraving, but you will when I return!
[David Macho is an artist’s rep for the “Spanish Inq” group of Spanish comic-book artists. He’s also been the Guest manager for Barcelona International Comicon for the last 9 years, an occasional writer, translator, proud dog owner and husband to the amazing Paloma Joga, and many other things.]