I was not actually a fan of Washington's work; I learned about him and his plight when I bought this year's Hero Initiative fundraiser Hero Comics, which featured a one-page story written by him about how he'd been unable to sustain a career in comics and was living hand-to-mouth.
When friends first began to hear I'd been working in the comic book industry they would ask me if I was going to quit my "day job" and work in comics full-time. I always had to carefully respond no, because I knew whether in freelance or even staff positions, comics have more people who want into the industry than the industry could ever sustain. Turnover is quick and ruthless; I can still recall how shocking it seemed circa '99 when Herb Trimpe went public about how he'd been let go from Marvel and struggled to find a new occupation for himself. The internet has made stories such as Trimpe's common place.
None of which deterred me from supporting the fundraising for Washington's funeral. As I've indicated before on this blog, I now care more about the people who make comics than I do the comics themselves. Robert Washington III was the most recent tragedy of the industry - there will be others. It's not simply that people who toiled for years in the industry may die as nobodies, it's that they die as nobodies who can't afford a coffin.
"If I had it to do over again, I'd cut my hands off." - Wally Wood, one of the industry's all-time greatest talents; when faced with declining health, he committed suicide.