I had just started the sixth grade and, man, I was super nervous about the whole thing! I had heard stories about sixth grade Friday, which was where all the older kids would beat up on the younger sixth graders. I mean don't get me wrong in those days I thought I was pretty tough, but I wasn't an idiot... The older kids were bigger than I was!!! Anyway... The one thing I always had to break the ice that other kids didn't, was drawing.
I was making a lot of new friends that year and many times it was from drawing in class, while I was supposed to be taking notes or studying. The other kids would see me drawing Spider-Man and they'd ask me to draw other stuff and it seemed to make them happy if I did. BUT that year there was one thing I couldn't get away from... a name that was mentioned anytime I was drawing any type of comic book character... that name was Dan Thompson!
That year, the name Dan Thompson, was like a figure of legend I would hear "drawing tales" about from the other kids, in the hallways and class rooms of Belzer Middle School... He was like the Keyser Soze of junor high artists, a ghost story! See in the sixth grade we were divided into "teams" each w/ different teachers and classes in opposite ends of the hallways and in different parts of the school... Dan and I were on different teams, at different ends of the building so we didn't know each other... All I did know is sometimes I got tired of hearing his name... I mean I was a pretty competitive little punk kid and it drove me crazy when kids would say "Oh man, you can draw dude... but do you know Dan Thompson? That dude can draw real good too!" It was like they were implying he was just a little better than I was, and it drove me crazy! He was like the yin to my yang, the Alpha to my Omega and we didn't even know each other! We were into a bunch of the same stuff... Dan even liked Metallica!!! I knew, because the other kids would tell me, while I was drawing them pictures!!!(not bitter or anything) "Oh you like Metallica... Dan does too and he plays the drums!"(sigh... like I said not bitter:) ) I was going to freak out man! This dudes names was following me around and for all I knew the kids just made him up to mess w/ my life!
One morning I was riding the bus to school like usual... I was super tired... In those days I had a lot of trouble sleeping and had these irrational fears about people breaking into our house... I felt this need to sleep on our living room couch and make sure no one was trying to get in! (I was a sensitive little guy) Anyway, I was riding the bus and I feel this vibration of the back on my seat and then I hear this loud "boombastic" drummer-like sound right by my head... and not just any drumming, these were super fast Keith Moon-esque sixteenth notes, and they were digging into my brain! Now, like I said before I was tired and I also had the delusion I was some sort of bad ass at 75 pound soaking wet... so I turned around and told this kid to shut up! ( I used much stronger sixth grade expletives which you only really said on the bus at that age) And I will never forget the look on this dudes face! He made the funniest face like "I'm a dick, but you're a bigger dick and you're crazy, dude" and then proceeded to drum on his own head in embarrassment. I was angry, but his face was so funny that I kept seeing it in my head and I sort of started laughing to myself about it. I mean who the hell was this kid anyway?
I started to feel guilty about the way I treated this kid. He had to be a pretty nice guy to not to tell me "what I could do with myself" after I said, what I said. I thought about it all day and when I got on the bus to go home there was an open seat next to the funny-faced kid, and I had already made up my mind I was going to apologize for how I had treated him, and I did... and we started talking... Quickly, we noticed that we both were into comics and we started talking about them... He loved the Xmen mostly because he loved the art of Jim Lee who is now a comic book legend! I loved Spider-man, mostly because I loved the way Todd Mcfarlane was drawing him, who is also a legend in comics today! We heard Metallica come on the radio and realized we were both enjoyed of their more recent Black album, which we both had on tape. ( I have explained tapes before kids) He loved Lars their drummer too! This dude was even super close to his grandma (like me) who he lived with... Then we even found out we both liked to draw comic characters and loved drawing in general. It was crazy the common ground we found! By that time we had reached his stop, we hadn't even introduced ourselves... So as I let him up to leave I said" I'm Matt Skillern" and he said " Dan Thompson." We both sort of looked at each other strangely and then Dan got off the bus.
After that Dan and I became great friends...We talked about how we heard about each other all the time from the other kids and so on and laughed ... We had been sitting 10 feet away from each other on the bus everyday, for the first few months of the school year, and never even knew it. We thought it was pretty funny. Dan was one of the first "real" friends I ever had. We had a lot in common and we actually conversed about big life questions and talked on the phone all the time... In fact, we would even talk late at night when I was guarding the house. We were both night owls, and we was like the only person I knew then who could get calls that late. We would discuss music, movies, comics, life in general and drawing... and of course do Bevis and Butthead impressions every few minutes. He was a good dude and a great friend.
Sadly, Dan and I ended up kind of drifting a part... It happens a lot when you're a kid... You make new friends, your classes are too far a part or one of you moves. These things happen. But we did sort of see each other and we did hang out here and there when we got to high school, which was a super weird time for both of us. The cool part of this story is that years later we both ended up in art school at the same time and at the same school!... I was a year or so behind from taking off school and working for awhile after my first year of college. BUT we got to know each other again and got to be pretty good friends too. He was super talented, as always, and in college his work was constantly inspiring me and intimidating me! I was pretty depressed and lazy too, after a difficult break up, so I was constantly making bad art! Dan was always encouraging and we would go grabs beers from time to time and have great conversations about art and life! It was a cool and very messed up time in my life. But It was pretty cool he and I had taken similar paths and that he constantly inspired me in one way or another! He always treated me with respect no matter where we were in life.
So as usual, this Blog has gotten away from me... but it's my blog and I'll write how I want too! If you take anything away from this post... Understand that "Dan is the man" and he is an extremely important part of my development as an artist. And as a human being! Our talks about art as kids and later in college constantly challenged me to think, and his work although intimidating at times, helped inspire me to grow and just draw the way I draw. To this day he is one of the greatest artist I have ever met and is truly gifted! I have been lucky enough to reconnect with him recently through social media and it is good to see his work and his intelligent thoughts about things in general! So Dan thanks for your inspiration, the laughs and always the memories!!!