By now, you are probably aware that Kevin Smith survived what he referred to as a “massive heart attack” yesterday. It was brought on by a near 100% blockage of his Lateral Anterior Descending artery, often called the Widomaker artery. He lives today through a combination of listening to his own body, medical technology, and no doubt a bit of good luck.

I am not a huge tribute writer; I have only written two in my whole career. I especially don’t tend to write such things for the living. However, in the case of Kevin Smith, I find myself tempted to make an exception.

Part of that is, of course, talking about him and his art allows me to talk about myself and I do so love talking about myself. I was someone who got into Smith’s work in my teens and stayed into his stuff for a long time after. Thus, a lot of his art reminds me of moments in my life and vice versa. The other part, the less self-involved part, is Smith’s part in nerd culture. He is undeniably an early adapter in the culture that now commands so much attention and dollars across mediums.

As my fandom has settled down over the years, I have come to appreciate the man behind the films. While I may no longer feel the need to support all his creative efforts with fervor, I think I have definitely gained a deeper respect for him as a person.

Meeting Kevin Smith’s Art for the First Time

CHASING AMY was released in theaters April 4, 1997. Approximately a week later, my best friend Tim and I went to a Showcase Cinemas in Berlin, CT to watch it. We knew next to nothing about it. In fact, at a month short of my 16th birthday, I had no real idea who Kevin Smith was. My parents had watched CLERKS and found it very funny. For obvious reasons though, they did not make much effort to convince me to take in the funny but wildly irreverent black and white indie.

Tim probably had more knowledge of Smith than I did, but just slightly. He had heard the movie involved comics. We liked comics. In 1997, comic involved films on the big screen were not a common occurrence. So, we took our content where we could find it.

In the years since then, I know conventional wisdom on CHASING AMY has vacillated back and forth. I am honestly not sure where the barometer is these days. I imagine it, as most LGBTQ content from the ’90s has migrated, would be considered at least mildly problematic. As a 15-year-old, I had only really been close to one gay individual, my stepmom’s best friend Bill, and he had died some four years earlier of AIDS. I was still about two years away from friends of mine coming out. So for me, the frank depiction of same-sex intimate relationships and fluidity of attraction blew the doors off my brain a bit.

Plus, the film was often very funny and the first I’d ever seen to propose comic writer as a career.

Kevin Smith Interview NYCC 2017: Writing, Foosball, and Keeping it Fresh!

Bonding Over Art

Tim and I had the same first name and the same last initial. We were both presidents of our respective classes—he’s older but has always looked younger, the bastard. We loved pop culture and especially comics. By 1997, we had been friends for a year. However, seeing CHASING AMY probably ended up being the act that secured the friendship that stretches to this day.

We tossed ourselves into Kevin Smith’s filmography and, from there, his peer filmmakers like Tarantino and Rodriguez. We emulated—consciously and otherwise—the kind of conversations in which you copiously ladled pop culture references. The thrill of Smith’s dialogue led us to an appreciation of other—admittedly considered problematic by some—dialogue-heavy writers like Mamet and Sorkin.

A few years later, Smith’s DOGMA hit theaters and figured prominently into one of the weirdest nights of my college career. Tim was there for a portion of that night, too.

Long story short, without Kevin Smith, Tim and I could maybe have some version of the friendship we have today. But, I have no doubt we would not be as close.

Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy
Chasing Amy poster image (Courtesy of IMDb)

My Guardian Devil

In 1998, Kevin Smith wrote the first several issues of the Marvel Knights relaunch of DAREDEVIL. Daredevil was and is my favorite character in comics. I got sent over the moon immediately with the news of it.

I have not revisited the story in a tick. Contemporary opinions on it seemed to have downgraded a bit. And it did end up besieged by delays. Nonetheless, I adored it. For the first time since I started actively reading comics, it felt like Marvel had proactively taken an interest in the Man Without Fear. With an Academy Award-nominated writer and Joe Quesada, an artist who felt incredibly of the moment, it felt important. Quesada also co-ran the imprint! It felt great to see my favorite Marvel title get treated like it deserved attention, not like the best it could hope for was just scraping by.

My enjoyment and, for lack of a less creepy way to put it, dedication to Smith grew.


A Drifting Away 

But then it stopped. Even though Kevin Smith still proved capable of making me laugh. His first few live specials released on DVD were great. I saw him twice live myself and both of them were thrilling. He spoke at length, seemingly off the top of his head—and it was smart, funny, profane, and humane all at once.

Kevin Smith and Harley Quinn Smith, his daughter
Kevin Smith and his daughter Harley Quinn Smith, to his right. Smith cited Harley as one of the reasons he felt a certain stillness when contemplating his mortality as he got to meet and raise such a wonderful daughter. (Courtesy of Entertainment Tonight)

His next four movies—JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, JERSEY GIRL, CLERKS 2, and ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO—were a mixed bag. I connected in some places, not in others, and one could feel the public opinion shifting. I think Smith could too.

Then COP OUT hit theaters and everything kind of toppled down. COP OUT got savaged by critics. It seemed Smith had been left raw by both the worsening critical reception of his films as a whole and what we now know was a lousy shoot. Whereas once he seemed like one of the nicest people in film, he became defensive and angry.

In retrospect, it was silly of me to feel—I don’t know? Angry? Betrayed?—at him for the switch but I kind of did. I always disliked when filmmakers went after critics and suddenly Smith had turned into that kind of filmmaker. I did not swear him off or anything, but the time of intense fandom was passing.

Some Time Apart

After that, I’d check in now and then. I more appreciated what he was doing than liked it: I appreciated he was pushing himself into a completely different kind of story with RED STATE, I appreciated he was going all in on the relatively new medium of podcasts, and I appreciated him giving a place for people like Jensen Karp, Matt Robinson, and a raft of his friends and associates a place to launch their ‘casts and see if they could make them stick.

The connection was already broken, though, and with it went my fandom. In some ways it was sad, but in my head, I kind of compared it to the friends you lose while growing up. I missed a lot of them; I wished I could be close to many of them the way we had been. Still, we had the good times when we had them and you can’t “lose” those.

From the Brain of Brian: CLERKS II or When One Becomes Nostalgic For Nostalgia

Appreciating Kevin Smith as a Person

One day, my wife found a copy of Kevin Smith’s book TOUGH SH*T used and snagged it for me. We were set to leave on a trip so I tossed it into my carry-on. It was, as you may have guessed, smart, funny, profane, and humane.

I peeked at his Twitter feed and found more of the same. It turned out he remained a really decent guy. In light of that, I appreciated that he had kind of bailed on film in a way I hadn’t seen before. If you are a vulnerable person and your art is hurting you more than it helps, why torture yourself? Find another way to art, you might say. He evidently had and that was great.

The thing that really hit me though was wandering through my living room, I kid you not, just three weeks ago. My children were both enraptured by a Storybots, a new TV show on Netflix. In our house, we are the kind of parents that let our kids watch TV before school but force them to accept only educational shows. Are we monsters or heroes? Only history will tell.

In any case, both kids were giggling up a storm. So I glanced at the screen and who should be looking back at me but Mr. Smith himself. Wearing his traditional uniform—hockey jersey, jorts, backward cap—and a cape, he taught them the wonders of green screen. And they loved it.

So perhaps I am not the fan of Smith’s art I once was. Perhaps I never will be again. But my kids were loving him and that is good enough for me. I guess, now, I’m just a fan of the man.

Get better soon, sir. We need smart, funny, profane, and humane people to stick around.

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