[I received the sad and shocking news this morning that Alvin Buenaventura died in his home in Oakland, California last week. Alvin was a publisher and promoter of cartoonists I love, including Dan Clowes and Charles Burns. He was always very helpful when I had questions about how to get in touch with a particular cartoonist, and in recent weeks he was helping me find a printer for a magazine project I'm working on. I can't believe he's gone – I was selfishly counting on Alvin to publish many more years' worth of great books and comics. Cartoonist Daniel Clowes was very close with Alvin, and considered him to be a member of his family. Here's what he wrote about Alvin. — Mark]
Alvin Buenaventura was the most important person in my life outside my immediate family. He was, to me, among many other things, an art representative, a production assistant, an archivist, a monographer, a tireless advocate and champion, a media representative, a technical advisor, a troubleshooter; but far beyond than that, he was my dear and beloved friend, a daily, constant, essential presence in my life.
I said this to anybody who asked about the mysterious Alvin: he was inexplicable, the most singular human being I've ever met. There's nobody else in the world even remotely like him. He can't ever be replaced in any way. He was born into a nondescript suburban So. Cal. army-brat childhood that could have in no way indicated his future, magically gifted with what can only be described as a perfect eye. It was as apparent in the stuff he found at flea markets and hung on his bathroom wall as in the entirety of his publishing empire, a remarkable series of choices in which there was not a single artistic misstep among the many logistic, personal and financial ones. All of it had a certain something that often only he could see at first, but once he saw it, you saw it too. Just two weeks ago, he and I sat talking on the phone, staring at the listings in an online Illustration Art auction. We decided to go through and pick our favorite pieces. I went for some obvious stuff, big names like Charles Addams and Heinrich Kley, but Alvin's number one pick was a weird moody painting of a guy in a cave by an unknown mid-level '50s illustrator. I had completely blipped over it, but he was 100% right — it was the best thing in that auction. That painting is now in the mail, headed toward his empty house.
Alvin was a complicated man. He was as kind-hearted and generous a person as I've ever met, but he also held deep, complex, immutable grudges. He had what seemed to be a debilitating shyness, barely speaking above an inaudible mumble (I used to pretend I'd heard what he said — with very mixed results — so I didn't have to keep saying WHAT? like an old man all the time) but he was weirdly comfortable around famous artists, difficult lunatics, celebrities, assholes. He felt a parental protectiveness toward his artists to the extent that this soft-spoken, non-aggressive Buddhist once bought a plane ticket to LA to beat up a plagiarist on my behalf before I talked him out of it. He suffered terribly from depression and had gone through some bad spells in the 15 years I've known him, but had always managed to get himself back on track. This time was different — he had been in increasing and agonizing pain from an autoimmune disorder and was feeling especially hopeless. All of his close friends and loved ones — and there were many — would have given anything to make him feel better, and we all will wonder what more we could have done, while recognizing that we could never really understand his anguish.
He was as loyal a friend and advocate as I'll ever have. He was the first person to read my books, often by many months, and his generous, idiosyncratic, ramblingly unpunctuated comments are the ones I'll most treasure. I hope to extend a similar loyalty to him in his passing, to uphold his memory and to be forever inspired by his beautiful and tragic human spirit.
PS: I had intended to post this to my own website, but I just learned that Alvin carried all my social media passwords to his grave.
Image: Alvin Buenaventura holding a copy of Kramers Ergot (2008). Photo by Mark Frauenfelder