On Friday evening, July the 7th, my dear friend Jim Vadeboncoeur passed away.
Jim had called me earlier this year to let me know that he was dying. He was told that he had anywhere from two weeks to 10 months. Vicky and I arranged a trip to visit him in Ohio where his sister, Yvonne, was caring for him in her beautiful home with a serene setting. I hope everyone is as lucky as Jim to have someone like Yvonne to care for them on their final days.
The last time that we spent with Jim is something that I will cherish forever. Jim expressed that “knowing” was a blessing. He shared that he was at peace. He expressed how lucky he was to have lived his life as he chose and how fulfilled he was. He was truly happy and we spent our time focusing on the people, moments, and things that we are grateful for. We said everything to each other that we wanted to express. While sad, since I knew that this was most likely the last time I would see Jim, the time together was soothing and warmed my heart. I feel so lucky to have had a friend like Jim. My last mental image of Jim is of him smiling, blowing us a kiss and waving as we left. I miss him dearly.
Jim loved being a part of the fandom community, being a publisher, and a bookseller. He spoke often about how much he appreciated all of the people who he interacted with and made friends with over the years. If you had ever interacted with Jim you know that he thrived in being helpful and appreciated you.
Jim spent his final years living in Paris. He loved walking the streets and sharing meals and wine with people there. He was very happy and grateful up until the end.
On Thursday, July 6th, I had one last chance to tell Jim how much we love him. His reply, his last words that I heard, epitomizes who he is as a person.
I’m sure Jim is smiling now as he wishes for all of you to “go with a good heart” as you love those around you and extend your help to others.
On January 22, 2009, I
was called into my managers office at Sun Microsystems. I was informed that due
to the economic downturn I was being laid-off. (Thousands of people lost their
jobs that day.) I remember the meeting vividly. I did everything that I could
to not break into a big smile. In my mind I was doing cartwheels of joy out the
front door of the office building. I was free to pursue publishing full time. A
plan that was put into place in the fall of 2001 had reached fruition. I went
home, sat at my computer and worked on the Al Williamson Flash Gordon book
without any fear or worry about hunting down a new job. On my first day off, I
took my son to Seabright beach and felt the sand and cool ocean air and dreamed
about the future. I didn’t foresee, though, how difficult it would be to launch
a full-time publishing business without the safety net of a salary from my now
absent day job.
This is how it
In 1997 I was employed by
my good friend, Dick Swan, at his Big Guy’s Comics store in Mountain View,
California. For roughly a year and a half I was working on Wednesday’s for new
comic book day, then also on Fridays and Saturdays. We had a regular customer
named Patrick. The first day that Pat came into the shop he asked me if we had
any Adam Hughes comics. Since I was a fan of Hughes, and that we had one of the
largest comic backstock inventories in the area, I pulled out just about every
mainstream and obscure title that Adam worked on to start off Pat’s collection.
We became friends and I looked forward to his visits when we could talk comics
and artists. In the fall of 1998, I had quit Big Guy’s to move to Santa Cruz. This
had been a big goal of mine for years. Before I left, Pat had told me that he
may have a job position to offer me. I had no idea where he worked, or what
this would involve, but he let me know that he would keep in touch.
During my first few
months in Santa Cruz I was strongly considering a few options for my future. I
had been buying and selling old and collectable books on the side for years,
and the idea of starting my own book business or opening a comic shop were on
my mind. Another option which I was thinking about was becoming a fire fighter
or joining a search and rescue team. These latter options would put into
practice my experiences and knowledge gained while working at the commercial bungee
jumping business for 5 years, Bungee Adventures (this is a whole post in itself
for a later time), and from my years of rock-climbing. Plus, it would give me
an opportunity to help people, which is a huge motivator for me. I was leaning
heavily toward a book business on the side, then fire-fighter as my day job.
Then, in October or
November of 1997 I received a call from Pat that he would like me to come in to
his work and meet his colleague, Colleen. The two of them managed a group
together. As I drove in from Santa Cruz to Cupertino to meet with them I had no
idea what the significance of this moment was about to place on my life. Pat
and Colleen managed the Java Sustaining engineering team at Sun Microsystems.
At the time there was only eight people in the group. I was being brought in to
be a Quality Assurance (QA) tester for the Java Development Kit (JDK) and Java
Runtime Environment (JRE). As the engineers would create a patch (to fix a reported
bug) for Java, a pair of us would run a series of stress tests to verify that
the patch corrected the reported issue.
I had no college degree
and had a very basic understanding of computers. I had no idea what Java was,
or why people would be shy when this guy James Gosling would walk by. (Inventor
of Java, if you did not know.) I was teamed with an incredibly brilliant
engineer, teacher and mentor there, Selvi, who was patient with me and guided
me as I learned the basics of the tech on hand and the corporate work
I was brought in as a
contractor. I had three months to prove myself. If I did well, I would be
converted to an employee. If Pat was wrong about his gut feeling about me, I
would be let go. I had three months to learn everything that I could about
Java, Sun Microsystems, computer software and hardware (primarily for Sun, PC/Windows,
and Mac platforms), Solaris (including Unix and Linux), the corporate world, basic
scripting, you name it! Whatever Pat saw in me to take me from a comic book
shop to sticking me in the Java sustaining group was something I did not see in
myself. I ended up being there for 10 years and two months.
Just a couple of years
after I started working at Sun, in 2001, I began working on my first book Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen. My
passion for books and art needed an outlet. I wasn’t content buying, collecting,
and selling books on the side for fun. (I’ll write a separate long version of
this at some point, but for now I’ll keep this part of the story brief.) I
never intended to be a publisher. I was simply making one book. There was no
big vision to have a line of books, work with living artists, or to even do a
second book. I was just working on the one book. I self-published it, then
decided to work on a book on Joseph Clement Coll for 2003, then a second Coll
book for 2004. By 2005, when I published Mark Schultz’s Various Drawings Volume One I realized that this may actually turn
into something. That’s when the vision of actually being a publisher started to
cement itself. I suppose it was already there in 2001, but now it was tangible
and not just a dream.
As I worked by day at
Sun, I was working nights and weekends on books continuously. The nice thing
about having a day job was that I could channel my salary into the books and
not worry about profits or loses. I was able to learn the publishing business
slowly on the side and let the tree and roots grow into a solid foundation.
While I was at Sun I was working with incredibly brilliant people, so I had growth
by day, and a creative outlet by night. Most importantly my confidence in
myself was growing. It was going well.
By the midpoint of my
decade at Sun I had shifted over from the QA team to the systems administrator
team that supported the Java engineering and sustaining teams. Our sys admin group
managed thousands of computers and dozens of labs. I supported hundreds of
engineers and was fortunate to work with some of the smartest people who I have
Our sys admin team grew
from a small handful of people to roughly 15 individuals before layoffs began
chipping away at us. By the time I left there was only 6 of us, and that was
the leftovers from two consolidated teams. It was brutal. As an aside, a year
after I was gone, I saw the news that Oracle had bought out Sun Microsystems on
January 27, 2010. Many of those who I had worked with for years lost their jobs
due to redundant positions. I felt very lucky to make it out and to have publishing
waiting for me.
My first 5 years at Sun
Microsystems I truly enjoyed. I was working hard and thrived in my role. I was
very grateful to be there. I was in a position where I was helping people,
whether it was the Java engineers to test a recent patch, or as a sys admin to
keep the engineers going as we maintained and fixed the labs and machines. We
handled the network, the lab environment, hardware, OS’s–everything that you
could imagine. It was a very diverse job that pulled and stretched you in all
directions. I enjoyed the variety and the constantly shifting duties. It was
perfect for feeding my brain that craves off of challenges, growth and change.
I had eight managers in
ten years. In this order, there was Pat and Colleen, Rose, John, Sheryl, Bruce,
Rajan, and my final manager who I won’t name. Most of these managers were short
term, lasting just a year or less. I worked for Rajan the longest. While I
liked and learned from all of them, (except my last manager), Rajan was my
favorite. He was recommending and prepping me for a management position before
he left, but that plan dissolved when he found a new position with another
company. His direct manager took over our team. This is when things changed
quickly for the worse.
All of my managers I
liked, respected, learned from, and felt privileged to work for, except the last
one. As cold and harsh as the corporate world can be, I always had managers who
supported me, turned me loose to do what I do, and who trusted me to get things
done. I was, for the most part, completely left alone to do my job. That’s when
I thrive. I’ll work to the bone to please my managers, team and those who I
support. But, if you try and assert control over me or don’t support me, I
leave and use it as an opportunity to find something else that motivates me and
where I can thrive mentally. I don’t stay in hostile or negative situations.
My last year at Sun was
painful. Moral was low and stress levels were high throughout the groups due to
the company doing poorly and the economy beginning to tank. I heard through the
grapevine that a new round of layoffs was coming. I made it clear to my final
manager that I was no longer interested in working there. I was essentially
volunteering myself to take the hit. I had Flesk running in the background. I
had something to fall back on. I had a vision to pursue. I wanted to follow my
own passions and utilize my own creativity. I never told anyone, except for a
couple people at Sun that I had a publishing business on the side. I was very
careful to keep Flesk and Sun separate.
Long story short, I was
laid off that January in 2009. I was grateful to be gone, and I was also happy
that the rest of my team could stay and was not laid off. As far as I knew, I
was the only one with a backup plan. I did this since I knew how volatile the
tech industry was. I’d seen dozens of co-workers let go. I knew I needed to
take care of myself since Sun was showing signs of problems. At the same time,
I was never a good fit for the corporate structure.
So, on January 23, 2009
the dream began, but the realities also began to set in. For those who worked
through 2008 and 2009 you will not forget just how tough this period was. For
me, book sales dropped significantly, and book returns were high. Book stores
ordered large quantities that I delivered, then months later the stores would return
mass quantities. I was left with printer bills and piles of boxes of unsold
inventory. Within a year I was seriously in debt and in a tough spot. By 2010 I
took a significant loan and got a little smarter about making decisions. I
believed in myself and thought that if I just kept on working it would all work
out. Then I spent three years essentially chipping away at the loan and debt to
get back to a stable place. I was doing what I loved, but it came with a lot of
stress. None of this was easy, and it was a very difficult time. I made a lot
of mistakes, which is not a crime. It would have been a sin to not get back up
and learn from those mistakes. My passion and determination got me through in
Benefits to running my
own business included my ability to raise my son, to be with him every day and
not put him in day care. I get to live on my own terms, fail or succeed based
on my own actions, and I get to work with artists and do things for others. I’m
not driven or motivated by money, but instead by doing something that I think
benefits others and that I enjoy being a part of.
Despite all of the
struggles, hardships, difficulties, disappointments, and setbacks—it was all
worth it. I wish it was easier, but I never expected it to be easy. I don’t
expect handouts. I don’t expect anything to be given to me, and I don’t expect
that I should get a pass. I have high expectations of myself, and believe that
I should not feel pity for myself when something bad happens. I think all
experiences are lessons to learn from and to use to move forward to something
better. I see every instance as an opportunity for improvement and that I was
meant to experience it for a reason. That reason is oftentimes unknown to me
for years, but eventually I learn the reason why—even if it’s 5-10 years later.
I have trust in myself that everything will work out and that as long as I
don’t quit or give up, that what I do will make things better for my son, for
others, and for myself. For those reasons (and more) I refuse to quit.
Life has always been
about the journey for me. I love it. The time we have, the options we have, the
chances we get, and the opportunities that are presented to us. I like that I
am just discovering my gifts, and knowing what I can do with them, and how they
will provide opportunities to others who I will never meet.
This is just the
beginning for me. I’m greatly looking forward to the next 10-20 years.
Tuen Mun, Hong Kong atop a complex where I was staying late one night.
Fishermen in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong. I took this picture during a late evening adventure while exploring. The glow from the Hong Kong city lights illuminate the men and the water. I used a tripod and time lapse to intentionally not capture their movements in focus.
This is from a series during one of my trips to Hong Kong. For someone who avoids crowds and big busy cities as much as possible, I find it amusing that I have a fascination with Hong Kong and its people. The longest I stayed there was for nearly a month. I found it to be way too busy, everything is far too small for my tall body, and it’s hard to get personal space when I needed it–but yet, fascinating.
Picking the art for the hardcover jacket flaps was the last step that Kathy and I took care of today. At left (the back flap) we have Tommy Arnold, the back cover is by Wesley Burt, the cover is by Paul Bonner, and at right (the front flap) we have Annie Stegg Gerard.
I appreciate all of the artists for submitting. And to those who got in–an extra thanks for being so helpful when it came to providing your art and details on time. There’s over 260 people in the book, and you all were a delight to work with. Thank you!
I look forward to sending the artists who are included in the book their complimentary copy this fall.