Drew Ford died on October 2, 2022, at the age of 48, of COVID-related pneumonia. A GoFundMe page for his wife, Kiki, can be found here. Over the years, Ford wrote a number of comics, including Rib, which began as a minicomic before it was five-issue series illustrated by Michael Kelleher and published by Caliber in 1997. He also contributed to anthologies like Caliber's Negative Burn, and a JSA 80-Page Giant in 2011. He wrote a graphic novel, Steam, with art by Duane Leslie & Eva De La Cruz; it was published by Dark Horse in 2020.
But that’s not why people know Drew Ford. His legacy in comics is his work as an editor and publisher. He held a number of jobs before he became an acquisitions editor at Dover Press, but it was there that Ford oversaw a newly-created line of graphic novels, developing a sensibility and approach to reprinting older work that he continued after leaving Dover, onto his own publishing project, IT’S ALIVE!
Ford approached the work of reprints with some solemnity, involving not only the original creators, but engaging scholars, fans, and people involved with the original production. He republished a wide range of books including Murder by Remote Control by Janwillem van de Wetering & Paul Kirchner, Wandering Star by Teri S. Wood, and The Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli, which was published with a new final chapter made for the collection. He published multiple books by Jerome Charyn & François Boucq (The Magician’s Wife, Billy Budd, KGB, Little Tulip), writer J.M. DeMatteis (Mercy: Shake the World, Seekers into the Mystery), Trina Robbins (Sax Rohmer's Dope, Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover), R.O. Blechman (Georgie: The Story of a Man, His Dog, and a Pin, The Juggler of Our Lady), and many others.
Ford was most closely associated with the late Sam Glanzman, long an artist’s artist and a cult figure. Joe Kubert once called Glanzman “one of the most talented men I know,” and Ford made bringing his work back into print a mission. The reprint line at Dover launched in 2015 with Glanzman’s A Sailor’s Story, which was originally published in two volumes by Marvel in 1987 and 1989.
With the 2016 publication of U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories, Ford achieved something that comics fans had been talking about for decades. These dozens of stories Glanzman had made over the years, mostly as back-up features in DC war comics, were atypical. Less focused on heroics, more interested in characters, the stories looked at race and sexuality and insanity and death in a way that was deeply personal. Archival research by Jon B. Cooke and others rounded out the volume, which included a new four-page comic by Glanzman, who fortunately lived long enough to see the book come out.
After leaving Dover, Ford founded IT’S ALIVE! (initially an imprint of IDW), where he published new comic book series such as Justin Madson's Breathers, Jeremy Massie's Holler, Sean Ellis' & John Gebbia's Dose!, Nick Cagnetti's Pink Lemonade and Keith Lansdale's & Jok's Red Range: Pirates of Fireworld (following up on earlier comics by Keith's father, Joe R. Lansdale, and Sam Glanzman), as well as small-scale reprint comics like Glanzman's Kona: Monarch of Monster Isle and Mark Sherman's & Michael Cohen's Strange Attractors.
Ford was never content with running a small press. He wanted to publish more of the large collections of older work that he had handled at Dover, which contributed to ongoing problems with IT'S ALIVE! The label suffered from a perpetual shortage of cash. There were issues with product fulfillment and customer service. Ford would solicit small loans from people to keep things running, and those loans were not always repaid. Several times, successful crowdfunding campaigns for book projects would remain unfulfilled for years after their target dates.
Just a few months ago, in collaboration with Dark Horse, IT’S ALIVE! completed one such project: a collection of the Doug Moench-scripted adventure series Aztec Ace. Early next year, the same collaboration will realize another long-in-production book, a collection of the 1960s Charlton war comics serial The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz by Will Franz & Sam Glanzman.
My personal introduction to Ford came when he worked at Dover, having reached out after the announcement of the comics reprint line. We shared a love of Glanzman’s art, and we met up in New York for coffee a few times to talk about the comics and creators we admired. He was finishing work on the U.S.S. Stevens book the first time we met, and he spoke about the challenges of getting the rights to reprint the stories from DC–even though DC wasn’t interested in publishing them–and the complicated process behind assembling the book.
When someone dies young and dies suddenly, it’s often difficult to process exactly what they meant to you while working through the shock. Ford was an ambitious, thoughtful publisher with good taste, whose championing of Glanzman in particular helped to add to our understanding of comics; he put out books that will outlast him. Ford was also a bad businessman who behaved unprofessionally, and was his own worst enemy.
I learned about Ford’s death through social media. I remember seeing the tweet, blinking, not quite believing it. Ford was a little older than myself, and not the first person around my age that I’ve lost, but it remains shocking every time someone young dies. Even if we no longer think of ourselves as young. This is true even if you haven’t spoken recently, or if your last exchanges were annoyed, or even angry. In reaching out to people while writing this, I informed a few of his passing.
In life, we occasionally meet people with whom we click. Even if you don’t become close friends, you remain connected because you share a sensibility, an aesthetic. I was one of the people who Ford published comics for. We would meet and talk about Puma Blues or Wandering Star, the works by DeMatteis and Trina Robbins that no one seemed to remember. When you spend much of your life not having someone to talk about your obsessions with, meeting people who share them, and introduce you to others, is a deep bonding experience. That’s one of the things that connects so many of us in comics to people we may not even talk to anymore. Those people who, when we mention something obscure, could name five even more obscure things - not showing off, but knowing them deeply and passionately, and seeking people with whom to share that love.
Ford was on life support for a while, his organs donated. According to his wife, the first organ harvested was his heart, because that was the strongest. It was. We like to think that will be enough. To put the best of ourselves on paper, and that it will somehow compensate for our shortcomings in life. That we will have more time. To fulfill our ambitions and make up for our mistakes and failures. We learned that from comics. That when things are their darkest and seem bleak, we can find the strength and uncover the ingenuity to pull through and succeed. But sometimes that’s not what happens. I will not claim to know Ford best, but I can picture him, when given a choice between two story endings–one more optimistic and one more realistic–saying, “go darker.”
He loved comics and he loved cartoonists. Maybe too much. It is possible to love someone or something at the expense of other aspects of your life. Drew Ford loved comics with all his heart. Until he couldn’t.
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What follows are tributes from a few of the many wonderful talents who worked with Drew in his lifetime:
(writer, The Magician's Wife)
(writer, Mercy: Shake the World)
(artist, Murder by Remote Control)
(writer, Red Range: Pirates of Fireworld)
(writer, The Puma Blues)
Drew was responsible for collecting under one cover my own co-creation, The Puma Blues, and for encouraging and giving artist Michael Zulli and I the opportunity to finish our long-delayed story, an astounding gift that I will always be thankful for. And I’ll always treasure the few hours that we spent together one beautiful fall day aimlessly walking the streets of midtown Manhattan, sharing our love for and knowledge of comic book history. Me marveling at this young man’s dreams and ambitions, his confidence and spunk. Too soon gone.
(writer/artist, Sax Rohmer's Dope)
(senior editor, Dark Horse)
As a creator representative and book packager, Drew was fiercely protective of creator rights and their opinions on how their work needed to be collected. He made sure all creators and contributors were included in design proof rounds and was very clear that their visions for collections needed to be met - if the collection needed extra pages or certain dimensions, we got those approved and rescheduled production if we needed to. Drew made sure that the creators who trusted him got final books that were as deluxe and complete as possible. Two books that Drew worked on with Dark Horse made it to their printers, and two books are in progress and unfinished - but Drew had plenty of other ideas that he was emailing about and was excited about pitching at least a dozen new projects. There seemed to be a new possible project brewing with every other email from Drew. He and I met in person only once at a San Diego Comic-Con years ago, and the highlight for me was establishing our shared love for the Puma Blues comic series. Drew was responsible for finishing up that series and giving it a deluxe collection treatment. Drew was just starting a program with Dark Horse that was becoming a special line of books, and he had so many ideas and was representing so many creators and titles; his project ideas were endless. Drew was also someone who always—always—said “Thanks” and “Thank you” at the end of his emails. He was appreciative of just being able to correspond with and work with creators that excited him. He enjoyed planning projects as much as he enjoyed getting new story pages or design proofs in. It was inspiring to work with someone so passionate about collaboration and helping others. A project like The Lonely War of Capt. Willy Schultz shows how passionate Drew was about deluxe archival collections that work as celebrations of existing creators, and his new-material projects like his IT’S ALIVE!-published Holler and Breathers series show that he also wanted newer creators he enjoyed to have wider audiences.
(writer/artist, Wandering Star)
From Dover to IT'S ALIVE!, Drew was driven to bring these gems back to us. And his enthusiasm for this work was wonderful to see. Inspiring. And now, I fear that the comic book field is a much smaller, lesser place without him. But I do that hope he is having a splendid time in Heaven, having coffee with the likes of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Sam Glanzman, and discussing the biz. All of my Best Heavenly Wishes to you, Drew.