He fell seven stories to his death earlier this year, and no one knows why. Along with his friends and family, we mourn one of comics’ most unique talents.
By Ben Morse
Posted August 23, 2006 10:30 AM
Tokyo, Japan—the cultural and fiscal hub of one of the world’s most elegant and sophisticated societies. It’s the last place one would expect to find a naked man roaming the streets.
But Seth Fisher is out for a midnight stroll.
“Seth was trying to overcome his fear of being naked in public,” relates Langdon Foss, college roommate and longtime friend of the Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan artist. “He would draw all his scripts and then go out and walk around the neighborhood naked. His wife would lock him out, she was so mad. For somebody to do that in Japan, well, he might as well have eaten a baby or something.”
Just as Fisher spent his career attempting to break through the panels and borders of the comic book page with his ultra-detailed, hyper-kinetic art, he refused to let boundaries of fear and convention bar him from experiencing life to its fullest. An account of a 1988 incident in which Fisher accidentally stabbed himself in the arm from his Website, floweringnose.com, typifies the way he overcame obstacles:
“Unable to locate a bandage, Seth skillfully patched his wound with cotton balls and masking tape, which he insisted on using for the next five days while the damage healed. Seth’s quick thinking that day avoided the trauma of a doctor’s stitches and ensured that he will always be able to remember that cool autumn evening when he feels the lump of scar tissue on his arm.”
When Fisher fell from a hotel roof in Osaka, Japan on January 30 of this year, the life and career of one of comics’ most inspired young artists ended abruptly. Foss would not be surprised to learn the circumstances of Fisher’s death arose from another attempt in a lifelong quest to conquer limitations:
“That was definitely Seth’s M.O.: Look at every force holding us back as humans and try to understand it and overcome it. That’s how he lived his life.”
That life, filled with professional accomplishments and personal milestones crammed into far too short a timeframe, marked Seth Fisher not only as a remarkably talented artist, but a uniquely special human being.
|‘EVERYONE KNEW HIM AND EVERYONE LIKED HIM’|
Born on July 22, 1972, Seth Fisher grew up in South Dakota, splitting time between the households of his divorced parents. Popular and well-liked growing up, Fisher sought to break down personal barriers from a young age.
“After he died, we got tons of e-mails, but one stood out,” notes Fisher’s younger half-sister, Sarah Wentzel-Fisher. “It was from a girl who moved to where we lived as a kid and everybody at school snubbed her except for Seth. He worked so hard to be in communication with so many people and make so many friends in an honest and genuine way. He was one of those people who was in love with the world and the world had to love him back.”
Two remarkably divergent childhood interests would influence the remainder of Fisher’s life: art—specifically drawing superheroes and fantasy figures like Conan—and math.
“Seth was always in advanced placement classes for math and science,” says Foss. “He would go and visit particle accelerators when he was still in high school.”
His twin passions led Fisher to Colorado College, where he met Foss. Originally a dual major in art and math, Fisher found the school’s art department constrictive when it came to his ever-expanding ideas and goals.
“It was your stereotypical studio art department, a lot of painting how you feel and a lot of directions, which Seth considered very impractical,” Foss explains. “He got frustrated because none of the teachers would support his vision of art, which was a hybrid of studio and commercial styles. He ended up becoming just a math major.”
Despite not being involved with the college’s art department in an official capacity, Fisher would continue to express his creativity in unique and boundary-pushing ways.
“He actually had a show his senior year comprised primarily of postcards he had written to his girlfriend April, who was in Paris at the time,” says Foss. “He ended up with like 200 postcards over the course of the year.”
| ‘IT FELT LIKE HOME TO HIM’|
Not finding it enough to live out his own aspirations, Fisher took it upon himself to pursue the dreams those around him didn’t always have time for.
One of those borrowed dreams brought him to Japan.
“My goal in college was to spend four years getting my art major and Asian studies minor and then teach English in Japan afterwards,” relates Foss. “Seth thought that was a good idea and, like with all things, would take it and run with it just a little further than most people would.”
Upon graduation, Fisher spent four years in Japan living on a small island off the west coast, teaching English. His college girlfriend April joined him and the two were married.
Following their initial stint in Japan, Fisher and his wife spent time in both Italy and San Diego, but the marriage sadly dissolved after only a couple of years. An emotionally adrift Fisher returned to the “Land of the Rising Sun” for six weeks of photographic research for his 2002 miniseries Vertigo Pop! Tokyo, written by Jonathan Vankin. In a case of life imitating art, just as the American lead character of the series found himself reborn in Tokyo, so too did Fisher.
“I think he had fallen in love with Japan,” says Sarah. “It called to him to go back.”
Acquiring an artist’s visa to remain in Japan, Fisher reconnected with an old friend named Hisako, who would become his second wife. In 2004, the couple welcomed son Toufuu into the world.
| ‘SETH HAD MORE ENERGY THAN ANYBODY I’VE EVER MET’|
With only a handful of comic projects actually published, Fisher had already left a powerful mark on the industry at the time of his death. Given more time, the level to which he could have raised the creative bar seems unfathomable.
“I think ultimately his comics would have outpaced culture’s ability to keep up with what he was doing,” speculates Foss.
Writer Zeb Wells, who worked with Fisher on Fantastic Four/Iron Man and planned to reunite with him on a future Ant-Man project, felt the artist possessed and conveyed a sense of exhilaration that can’t be replicated.
“If he got excited about something in the script, he would send an e-mail saying, ‘I’m going to have to create some new techniques to do this, but I think I can really impress you,’” recalls Wells. “When it was all done, he would send another e-mail to make sure everything was okay. He was really concerned that he did a good job. [Fantastic Four/Iron Man] could not have been what it was unless he put so much into it.”
Foss describes his friend’s work ethic as being as insatiable as every other aspect of his personality:
“He would sleep because he had to. He would eat because if he didn’t he knew he’d have to later. Every other moment was spent pushing the limits. Pushing the limits of what he could do in public, pushing his friends’ limits, pushing the public’s limits of what they thought comic book art could do. If something wasn’t challenging, he wouldn’t discard it in favor of something else, he’d find an approach to make it more challenging.”
While Fisher had gained some acclaim on Vertigo Pop! Tokyo as well as special projects like Green Lantern: Willworld and Flash: Time Flies, unquestionably Fantastic Four/Iron Man served as his coming-out party to most mainstream fans. He seemed inevitably on the cusp of widespread recognition, had he chosen to continue on the path he had embarked on.
“Of everything I’ve done, Fantastic Four/Iron Man feels like its own separate entity and something that could not be what it was with any other artist,” says Wells. “It feels like an artistic success on that level. It is something I don’t think any other person could have created.”
| ‘HE TREATED EVERYONE LIKE HIS FRIENDS’|
Sarah Wentzel-Fisher doesn’t know what brought her brother to the roof of that hotel on the night of his death, but it doesn’t surprise her that he’d end up in such a location.
“The roof of a building is always kind of exciting,” shares Sarah. “Maybe he’d been there before and liked to look down on that street, maybe he just went up there for the first time, but it doesn’t seem like an unusual place for him to be.”
On the other hand, Foss feels there may have been more behind Fisher’s location than a random stroll.
“He was never happy with the idea that he was a little uncomfortable around heights,” posits Foss. “I’m convinced that’s what brought him to that rooftop. What better way to do that than to get up high, look down and ponder your mortality? But Seth would never take chances that would result in his death. Whatever happened, it was that one chance in one thousand that happens to a guy hanging out on a roof.”
Regardless of the circumstances of his death, it was what Fisher managed to squeeze into his 34 years on the planet that makes his loss one that will sting for those who mourn the loss of his artistic potential, but, more importantly, his incredible character.
“His long-term goals were not so much professional or artistic; he wanted to help the world,” says Foss. “If that meant becoming a good artist, he would. If that meant learning to understand people to the point where he could call anybody in the world his friend, that’s what he would do. I think the greatest loss here is not the loss of a fine visual artist, but of an incredibly compassionate man who wanted to help humanity. Seth was on the street, in the club—he was loving people. That’s what he was all about.”
Visit Seth Fisher’s Website, floweringnose.com, to send condolences, make a donation to his family, or just look at good art.
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