Alvin Buenaventura, 1976-2016

Photo by Chris Anthony Diaz.

Photo by Chris Anthony Diaz.

Alvin Mark Buenaventura, the editor, printmaker, and prominent art comics publisher, was found dead in his Oakland, Calif., home on Thursday, February 11. He was 39. A cause of death has not yet been determined, and an investigation is ongoing, according to the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau.

Buenaventura was born on March 26, 1976. Growing up in San Diego placed him in proximity to the San Diego Comic-Con, of which he was a keen attendee; in a 2012 video interview with the Meltdown Comics and Collectables Meltcast 2.0, Buenaventura made his attendance at the show “pretty early on,” noting a youthful interest in Marvel, DC and Image superhero comics. However, as related at the Huffington Post, a chance encounter with issues of Daniel Clowes’s Eightball in his adolescence suggested different horizons: “At that age, I didn’t really know what to make of these comics but was mesmerized by the mordant and surreal world they presented.”

“Alvin used to come to the SDCC when he was very young, maybe high school age, and would always be camped out at my table when I got there,” Clowes told the Journal via email. “He would usually buy some original art and I thought he must be an eccentric rich kid, but I later learned that he basically spent all his money, down to the last penny, on weird comics and art.”

By 2003, Buenaventura had built enough interest and resources in comics to assemble an exhibition, Original Comic Art, which ran from July 7-28 at the “Buenaventura Gallery” in San Diego; he also letterpressed the exhibition’s catalog. “Alvin was working at a letterpress shop that was in downtown San Diego and used the front of that shop for the show,” according to Jordan Rae, a longtime collaborator. “There was really no gallery per se, that I was ever aware of.” In an interview with Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter, Buenaventura related his experiences with Brighton Press in San Diego, with which he had been involved since high school: “I learned a lot about fine press letterpress, intaglio and relief printmaking from working with Brighton Press. I also learned a lot about materials, quality craftsmanship, and working with artists to help them realize their ideas with these mediums.”

Circa 2004 advertisement, with art by Ivan Brunetti.

Circa 2004 advertisement, with art by Ivan Brunetti.

Buenaventura Press was established that year. Its early output consisted primarily of fine press prints created with a generationally-diverse range of alternative cartoonists, among them Gary Panter, Chris Ware, Ron Regé, Jr., Marc Bell, and Sammy Harkham, whose Kramers Ergot anthology would soon become prominent in the history of the Press.

“He only wanted to put out the best looking books and he had very high standards,” said Chris Anthony Diaz, who would sometimes aid with the Press’s operations. “If something was not right, we would have to do it over. We would be juggling so many things and have to stop and redo something to get it right, maybe a few hours before leaving for the airport. That’s how relentless he was with his standards.”

By 2005, Buenaventura had begun publishing original books with comic artists: Spaniel Rage, a collection of small press and self-published works by Vanessa Davis; Destined for Dizziness!, a children’s book by Souther Salazar; and New York Sketches, an accordion portfolio of sketchbook works by Adrian Tomine. These items joined an eclectic mix of books, magazines, toys, minicomics and import fare at the Buenaventura Press online store, soon bolstered by Buenaventura’s 2006 adoption of Comic Art, a respected and visually attentive magazine founded by Todd Hignite, and the aforementioned Kramers Ergot, which had attracted much attention for its boldness in graphic character and production value. Subsequent Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominations for the debut Buenaventura editions of Comic Art (#8) and Kramers Ergot (vol. 6), a first for the latter, confirmed institutional acclaim for the burgeoning Press.

The Buenaventura Press online store, as captured by the Internet Archive "Wayback Machine" on May 1, 2007.

The Buenaventura Press online store, as captured by the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine” on May 1, 2007.

Buenaventura Press was also a publisher of smaller-scale comic books, beginning with the Injury series by Ted May in 2007, and later expanding into early works by Matt Furie (Boy’s Club #2 & #3, 2008-09) and Lisa Hanawalt (I Want You #1, 2009). By 2008, Buenaventura had also begun distributing Arthur magazine and the works of French publisher United Dead Artists, while also serving as U.S. stockist for the full catalog of French publisher Le Dernier Cri.

The monumental work of ’08 was Kramers Ergot 7, a controversial and physically enormous 16” x 21” book priced at a then-unusual $125.00. Another big release followed in 2009: The Complete Jack Survives, collecting works by Jerry Moriarty. There was also a “Comics Revival Economic Stimulus 3-Pak” collecting the ‘09 Furie and Hanawalt comic book releases with Eric Haven’s The Aviatrix #1 in a plastic bag bundle distributed to comic book speciality stores. At that time, the Press vowed to publish “half a dozen actual comics over the coming year,” as a demonstration of the vitality of the comic book form. But this was not to be.

In a June 11, 2010 post to the Blog Flume weblog, to which Buenaventura contributed with Hignite, scholar Ken Parille and others, it was revealed that Buenaventura Press had been closed down the previous January due to “a devastating financial blow.” The circumstances surrounding this closure have never been detailed.

Interior pages of "Kramers Ergot 7" (Buenaventura Press, 2008) with art by Tim Hensley (L) and Daniel Clowes (R), pictured with Nick Maandag's "Facility Integrity" (Pigeon Press, 2014).

Interior pages of “Kramers Ergot 7” (Buenaventura Press, 2008) with art by Tim Hensley (L) and Daniel Clowes (R), pictured with Nick Maandag’s “Facility Integrity” (Pigeon Press, 2014).

Just before the shuttering of the Press, Buenaventura began editing a new feature in the literary magazine The Believer; debuting in the November/December 2009 issue, “Comics” presented a variety of short strips and one-panel works. It would continue to run until the magazine’s January/February 2015 issue.

Another avenue opened in 2010 with the establishment of Pigeon Press, the second comics publishing venture headed by Buenaventura. Its initial releases continued comic-book series begun at Buenaventura Press by Furie and Hanawalt, but unlike its predecessor, Pigeon Press’s emphasis remained on small-scale works, including several artist’s books and sketch collections with Charles Burns. In 2014, the Pigeon Press Gallery was established to facilitate online sales of original comics art, along with plans for “rare fine press prints, books, and comics.” Other notable Pigeon projects included Facility Integrity by Nick Maandag (2014) and Worst Behaviour by Simon Hanselmann (2015); both of these artists, at various times, also contributed to “Comics” at the Believer, along with Furie, Hanawalt, and many others, including several who’d worked with Buenaventura Press in years prior.

“Alvin was one of those special, magical people full of some extra kind of electricity. He was a mad man,” Hanselmann told the Journal through a written statement. “He was incredibly generous and caring.”

This later period also saw Buenaventura contribute to books he did not publish. Released in 2012 by Abrams, The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist found Buenaventura editing a monograph on an artist he’d long admired. His co-editor on that project was Blog Flume’s Parille, a collaborator dating back to the Original Comic Art catalog at the beginning of Buenaventura’s career as a publisher; in 2013, Buenaventura would design Parille’s The Daniel Clowes Reader, a critical edition of several Clowes works. Indeed, Clowes was the subject of Buenaventura’s final public statement, in a California Sunday Magazine profile, in which he described meeting Clowes at the San Diego Comic-Con when he was young. The story ran just a week prior to Buenaventura’s death.

“[H]e managed to find his way into my life, first by compiling a monograph of my work, and then doing more and more to the point that he became both an indispensable part of my working life and a beloved member of my family,” Clowes said.


At the time of Buenaventura’s death, Pigeon Press was preparing the release of a new project, Sir Alfred No. 3, by Tim Hensley. The status of this and other Pigeon books is presently unknown. “I will do my best to see that all of our releases will continue to be available, and hopefully that we can continue with future projects we were going to do,” Pigeon’s Dylan Dockstader told the Journal. “At this point nothing is solid.”

Buenaventura’s survivors include his mother and father and an older brother.


19 Responses to Alvin Buenaventura, 1976-2016

  1. Philip Nel says:

    Thanks for this obituary. Since Saturday, I’ve been Googling daily for a formal obit. Like many people, I was shocked to learn over the weekend of the death of Alvin, who (if I were summarizing his work in a phrase) I’ve always thought of as a patron of the arts. Sure, “patron of the arts” seems a lofty term, but it’s what he did — in the beautiful comics volumes he produced, first, via his Buenaventura Press and then via Pigeon Press. He was also a patron for those of us who write about the art of comics.

    The very first extract of my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, “Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art,” ran in the fifth issue of Comic Art (Winter 2004), a beautifully produced magazine that would later be published by Alvin’s Buenaventura Press (and, until reading this obit, I thought was always published by Buenaventura Press). Though later published by Yale UP, Ivan Brunetti’s Comics Philosophy and Practice was also first published by Buenaventura Press — a bonus item included with the ninth and final issue of Comic Art. It’s a great, compact book that I use when I teach my “comics & graphic novels” class.

    When I met Alvin, at the Small Press Expo in 2012, he invited me out to dinner with a group of comics luminaries: Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Françoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Michael DeForge, and Bill Kartalopoulos. It was overwhelmingly amazing to be included in such company! (I kept thinking of the Talking Heads line: “And you may ask yourself — how did I get here?”)

    Alvin was a kind person, a comics enthusiast, and always generous to me. And only 39. So young. A great loss for us all.

  2. Jay Babcock says:

    Very sad about the death of Alvin Buenaventura—a colleague of high taste, high standards and the deepest dedication to the art of comics, printing, and publishing.

    Alvin conceived and edited Arthur Magazine’s color comics centerfold, which debuted in late 2007 and then carried on in The Believer after Arthur’s demise in 2008. It was Alvin’s ingenious idea to create a ‘stencil’ of a daily newspaper’s comics page, and then assign radical cartoonists a three-panel strip, or a circle, or whatever, to fill in. This made it easy for him to corral a ton of great artists in every issue while challenging artists to make something that worked in a very tight rules-based format. The readers benefited from the variety. And, at the same time, it called back to comics’ daily newspaper past (and disappearing present). Brilliant! So creative!

    RIP Alvin, and my deep condolences to those closest to him for this sudden and enormous loss. Let’s do our best to remember Alvin’s laughter, and his contagious enthusiasm.

  3. gary panter says:

    So fucking sad about this gentle soul.

  4. Chris Ware says:

    Alvin was the one comic book publisher who was temperamentally more like a cartoonist than like a publisher; shy, riddled by self-doubt and occasional depression but always generous and, especially in his notes, enthusiastic if not even incongruously exuberant, he privately suffered despite trying to bring some cheeriness into other people’s lives. He also brought interesting, experimental and unusual artists to the eyes of new readers, and changed more cartoonists lives for the better than at this point, I think, can be measured.

    I don’t know of an artist of my generation who didn’t at some point receive an unannounced package of books and rare items from Alvin only because he thought we might like it, the parcel arriving with a note dismissively describing its contents as just “cleaning house” or “managing his collection” even though the stuff it contained was rare and, one knew, obtained at great effort and cost. That he could not always manage his physiological difficulties and his inner turmoil is our own great loss, especially given that so much was going well for him of late.

    He was a great ally and kindred spirit to us all, and as Dan Clowes and Tim Hensley have offered elsewhere today, this news counts as a horribly premature loss. My condolences to his family, associates and loved ones. Alvin, you will be deeply missed, my friend.

  5. Johnny Ryan says:

    Alvin and I did 16 comics and 3 comic collections together that spanned both Buenaventura and Pigeon Press. Working with him was a true highlight of my artistic career. The fact that someone who was usually associated with more highbrow and respected comics would work with someone as trashy as me was a true testament to his sense of humor and willingness to take risks. I still remember how nervous he was printing The Comic Book Holocaust. He thought we would be sued or that even selling it at a convention would get him beat up.
    Anyway, he really made me feel like what I was doing was just as important at the more “legit” cartoonists. He made us all feel like we were part of some incredible new movement in comic art. Thank you, Alvin.

  6. Jeffrey Brown says:

    Alvin was a great friend and I hope he had some inkling of what a big part he played in my career – from being the first person to exhibit my comics work, to constantly handing me rarities which he always seemed to have extras of (or so he said), introducing me to new artists and sharing thoughts on new books, to assuaging my own doubts about my own work. We drifted apart the last few years, which makes me miss him all the more, but I’m truly grateful to have known and connected with him. The details are hazy, but one time at San Diego Comicon, Marc Bell had thrown a drawing out the window of the car as Alvin drove us somewhere. Later that day I was riding with Alvin again, and we saw the drawing, still sitting there by the side of the road. Alvin stopped, got out, and picked up the drawing. We thought it was funny that Marc had discarded the drawing. It was still in good shape. Alvin insisted I take it, and I still have that drawing, a reminder of a moment and a friendship that will always mean a lot to me. Hope you are at peace, Alvin.

  7. Todd Hignite says:

    Alvin was one of the best friends I’ve ever had and the greatest years of my life creatively had a lot to do with him. He was incredibly generous in all ways and embodied just about everything I find good and praiseworthy in a human being. He’s one of the only people I’ve known who seemingly always had the courage to do exactly what he wanted, and crucially, exactly what he should have been doing based on his enormous talents, all while facing numerous struggles. I couldn’t have more respect for his vision and integrity, his boundless love of art, and most importantly his kind and graceful soul. I feel very fortunate for our time together. And I’ll sure miss him.

  8. Jerry says:

    Very curious to find out if this was a suicide or accidental overdose. The police investigation is still pending. A serious loss to the comics and art communities.

  9. Brett Hollis says:

    It seems like just yesterday I sent him a comic for his personal library. I was a great admirer of him and his contribution to the comics and arts community. I feel like we have lost a great ally in the good fight.

  10. Amy Pabalan says:

    Thank you for this lovely tribute and the heartfelt comments. Alvin is a relative of mine, but sadly, I did not know him.

    Someone asked about an obituary. Here is some information:

    Services for Alvin Buenaventura will be at Eternal Valley Memorial Park 23287 Sierra Hwy, Newhall, CA 91321 (661) 259 – 0800
    Viewing: 02/21/16 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.(1300 – 1700)
    Funeral service: 02/22/16 2:00 p.m.
    Dinner (early or late lunch) to follow after burial at Souplantation 24303 Town Center Dr. Valencia, CA 91355 (661) 286 – 1260

  11. Josie Asinas Moskaira Buenaventura says:

    We love Alvin Mark so much, when he was born at 8 lbs 12 1/2 oz and 21 inches long, the nurses called him sumo wrestler. He was spoiled by his big brother who is 4 yrs older. Alvin was very bright, happy, healthy, mischievous, active, strong, athletic school boy and was always in the GATE program (gifted and talented education) in his grade school days. Alvin took the DEVELOPING COGNITIVE ABILITIES TEST, scored very high (> 97%) on 5th grade. In high school he took the Advanced 1 level of the METROPOLITAN ACHIEVEMENT TESTS in 9th grade (this report tells how the child did on the test compared to students in the same grade across the country) and scored above average to high. The IRL (Instructional Reading Level) he scored at grade 11+ (IRL score when he was on the 9th grade).

  12. Josie Asinas Moskaira Buenaventura says:

    Thank you for all your friendships to our son Alvin Mark Buenaventura

  13. Cindy Hayes says:

    Beautiful tribute to my cousin. We did not grow up togethet and only saw him at fsmily gathering when the fsmily eould come for visits to the Bay Area. Your warm sentiment and memories tells me that Alvin is well respected , had great friendships. And deeply loved. Alvin will be missed by alll especially his Mom Josie. Heaven will be a colorful place… Rest in Paradise my dear cousin…

  14. Kristine says:

    Dear Josie, my deepest condolences for your loss. You also deserve our congratulations for raising such a smart, kind, generous, and talented son. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar.

    I first met Alvin in 2003 at his letterpress show near the San Diego Comic Con. At SDCC, I tend to hate comics by, oh, Wednesday night, so my co-worker Juliette Torrez had to drag me there, repeating “You have to see this; you will love it!” She was right. Alvin Mark looked about 15 years old, and when we complimented him effusively on his work, he blushed. (Of course, last month, he looked about 19 and I still could make him blush.) I think he picked out the old-est-man glasses he could find to add some gravitas to his baby face.
    Alvin loved art in general and a wide variety of cartoonists in particular. If he admired your art, he meant it and he wanted to share it with others, for all the right reasons. He was shy and it was hard for him to talk to people. He came to a big party at my house (obviously dressed up for the occasion, in a powder blue leisure suit that looked like my grandpa’s) and I tried my hostess-best to introduce him to some of the 50 or 60 people that might interest him – a charming photographer, a graphic designer who liked silk-screening… but they weren’t cartoonists. Dan Clowes wrote that he was oddly comfortable with lunatics and assholes; I say, yes, but only if they were comix people. I finally let poor Alvin sit alone in my housemate’s room full of comics and art toys. So if he worked up the courage to talk to you, please accept it as the gift that it was, and know the effort that it took him. If he was difficult, touchy, and didn’t pick up the phone, please remember how hard it was for him.
    He was nice to my pets (especially my giant iguana, who he photographed a lot). When they died in a house fire, Alvin let me cry and smoke cigarettes with him on his porch, and then play with his obnoxious beautiful birds. He gave me his own blender and offered dishes when our family had nothing. He replaced most of my Buenaventura titles (miraculously the signed Kramers had survived), and gave me a print for my daughter’s bedroom. We exchanged European imports, porn, fine and crass art, and once laughed at a Lisa Hanawalt comic until we had tears in our eyes and my sides hurt. He brought me the Chris Ware poster for the “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” conference, which I framed. I take it to school literacy events in the Bay Area, along with the Tom Gauld “Characters for an Epic Tale” print that Alvin gave me. Children love them. (Fun fact: set up a display with gorgeous art and graphic novels, and kids enjoy reading a lot!) I hope some of those kids take up Alvin’s wide-ranging aesthetic sensibilities. Just one would be a blessing. Just one.

  15. Kristine says:

    One last thing: Alvin was a terrific gossip, and I mean that in the best sense of the words. Normally not something I am interested in, but his quiet voice, his interest in comics news, and his appreciation of human foibles made for easy listening. He could make a printer error into a riveting story. I half-expect him to call and review his obituaries. I can hear his puff of laughter and “Ghod, how embarrassing.”

  16. Jeff Sharp says:

    I first met Alvin at his Original Comic Art show in San Diego in 2003. We immediately found that we had mutual interests in the comic art that we both collected and he invited me to his house the following day to view his collection. I was amazed at its depth and breadth. My collection paled in comparison but Alvin stilled showed great interest in some of the unique pieces I had managed to acquire. As a small press cartoonist, I always looked forward to seeing Alvin at MOCCA and SPX. He was always glad to see me and eager to hear about whatever I was working on or collecting. As many have mentioned, Alvin was a kindhearted and very generous soul who will be deeply missed by the small press/alternative comics world. I feel lucky to have known him and will always the treasure the wonderful work he helped to produce. He has made an impression on the aesthetics of my own work and for that I am also very grateful. Rest in Peace Alvin.

  17. Ted Jalbert says:

    I have every issue of Comic Art magazine, and I loved them all. His work on the Dan Clowes book is also excellent. Kramer’s Ergot was amazing too. Alvin had great taste and vision, and he obviously put a lot of work into his projects…. This is a great loss for the comics community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *