Inspirational Pop Culture Photographer & Comic Creator Seth Kushner Has Passed Away
It's the privilege of the still relatively young not to have to write articles like this one, usually. For me, this is a day with only one headline. My studio mate, friend, and inspiration Seth Kushner has passed away as of May 17th, following a long struggle with Leukemia which in turn presented him with a host of medical complications. For those who have been following Seth's story throughout his Leukemia treatment and fundraisers, you'll know that he, in fact, did beat Leukemia, much to the astonishment of established medical science. In late November 2014, having been hospitalized for the most part since March 2014, and having had a bone marrow transplant which didn't cure him, Seth and his family were told he wouldn't last the week and that it was time to say goodbye.
What changed that scenario isn't much spoken about officially, though Seth was starting to be more open about it in recent weeks. He and his family pursued alternative treatment for his Leukemia which, though to all account quite physically demanding and grueling, succeeded in bringing him back from the brink and set him on the road to recovery. It is a recovery that might have continued had not other forms of cancer cropped up post-Leukemia, as well as the toll of serious strains that medical treatments had put on his whole system in an effort to prolong his life under a fatal prognosis. Such treatments which are generally employed because the patient is not predicted to survive long enough to suffer from their ill affects. I'm explaining all this because I think it's important to observe that non-traditional medicine did something rather astonishing for Seth, and gave him another 6 months with his family, as well as his young son, that he would not have had otherwise. It's hard for his friends and admirers to look at it that way right now, myself included. He came so close to a full recovery that it seems tremendously unfair he didn't get to revel in his victory for another 50 years.
It's only right to enumerate the achievements of a young man so impressive in his professional career that he had already changed the way I viewed pop culture before I even met him through the combination photographic portraits and essay-interviews with Christopher Irving known as Graphic NYC. This voluminous online, open access project later crystallized into a printed volume that I will probably be campaigning for as a milestone of comics journalism for the rest of my life: Leaping Tall Buildings. This book collects over 100 portraits of comics creators of all stripes together with essays about their life and work, and took 3 years to create. It's archival value and remarkable portraiture which graces the backs of many of the involved creators' books right now, should never be underestimated. And all of that's not even to mention his previous photo book Brooklynites and the many celebrities and pop culture figures he photographed outside of this project.
Seth followed this project with a number of forays into comics as a writer as well. The culmination of a many-chaptered semi-autobiographical comic Schmuck, serialized online on Trip City, and illustrated by a host of extremely talented comic artists, was a Kickstarter for a print edition. This Kickstarter was successfully funded only a couple of weeks before Seth's illness set in. Add to that his many CulturePOP essays where he radically challenged the interaction of photography and comics narrative, and the photocomics he produced himself featuring retro and eeriuly compelling costumed characters, and you begin to see the scope of his teeming brain. During the time Seth spent in the hospital, he not only completed a number of comics scripts but also drew sequences of heroes and pop culture figures for his son Jackson, and following his release from the hospital, worked assiduously on new mini-comics and the completion of the first 2 issues of The Roman Nose, with George Folz, published recently on Comixology.
[Seth's portrait of Art Spiegelman from Leaping Tall Buildings]
Those who followed Seth on social media no doubt took part in his many film and TV series reviews as he caught up on pop culture and devoured it with great gusto—one of his favorites recently was The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and I talked with him only a few days ago about the rich set design and content on Penny Dreadful. He threw out mini-reviews for his friends on a nearly daily basis and asked for more recommendations as he caught up on a year of releases he'd missed. And he seemed to love every minute of challenging his mind in that way. Only a few weeks ago, Seth had visited with many of his Gowanus, Brooklyn-based studio mates and comrades to eat at his favorite Barbecue joint where we hotly debated the merits and demerits of Gotham, The Flash, and the upcoming Daredevil series. Following that, he made a brave appearance at MoCCA Fest this year to introduce his new minicomic anthology through Hang Dai Studios: Secret Sauce.
There will be more news in future about where some of Seth's projects may be headed, and I hope that you will look out for them with particular attention since they represent the work of a uniquely talented individual who was deeply respected by his peers and friends, and a tremendous force for the comics medium. For now, please be aware that Seth's wife, Terra Kushner, and their son Jackson are facing massive medical costs built up over the course of Seth's treatments even in recent weeks, and any donation in memory of Seth would be of great help. You can find their gofundme page right here.
It's hard for me to conceive of a person who will be so personally missed on a daily basis by such a large number of people, and particularly within the comics community, than Seth Kushner. He taught us a great deal about how to live as individuals passionate about artistic expression and I doubt those lessons will fade from our minds any time soon.