RIP Geoffrey Hayes

RIP Geoffrey Hayes

On Sunday afternoon I returned from a weekend camping trip to a message telling me that the great children’s book author and cartoonist Geoffrey Hayes has passed away. I’ve been processing it since. He would have been 70 this year.

Geoffrey was a wonderfully sweet, gentle man with a genuine enthusiasm for his work that was affecting. I didn’t know him well, but I did get to know him over the past several years when my daughter — and I — fell in love with his series of Benny & Penny books from Francoise Mouly’s wonderful Toon Books line. These are wonderful books that I urge any parent out there with a young reader to seek out.

I enjoyed the Benny & Penny books so much that at one point when my daughter was younger, I commissioned from Geoffrey a Benny & Penny original drawing for my daughter’s bedroom a few years ago. Geoffrey recognized my Fantagraphics email address; we had published a few years prior a fantastic collection of underground comix by Geoffrey’s late brother, Rory Hayes. We continued to correspond and hit it off, and at one point he told me how much he wanted to do a proper graphic novel. It was not long after that we had struck a deal for Fantagraphics to publish the book, to be titled Lovo and the Firewolf, which I was hoping to release in 2018. I can’t tell you how excited I was to publish this book.

For all of his success as a children’s book author, Geoffrey deserved wider attention from his cartooning peers and this book was going to garner it. Last Wednesday, he emailed me the finished first chapter and told me how excited he was to be working on it, full time. The pages are absolutely gorgeous and I wrote him back to tell him so, and to wish him a good weekend. I don’t know if he ever read my email. His death is completely unexpected and shocking. He was a gentle man, someone I greatly admired, and a pleasure to know.

In the coming weeks, I will discuss with Geoffrey’s estate what, if anything, can be done with the unpublished and unfinished pages from Geoffrey’s book. It’s too soon right now. The book was entirely pencilled, with the first chapter completely inked, colored, and lettered. I want people to see the work because I know that no one wanted it to be seen more than Geoffrey. Geoffrey pitched the book to me as an homage to all those wonderful Dell Four Color titles of his youth, specifically those by Carl Barks (Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge), Walt Kelly (Pogo), Walter Scott (The Little People), and Johnny Gruelle (Raggedy Ann & Andy). Not only do I believe that Geoffrey was every bit up to that challenge, I think his existing body of work puts him in the same league as those legends.

Rest in peace, Geoffrey.

– Eric Reynolds, 6/6/17