When I was fifteen, I wrote a lot of letters. Fifteen was the year I found punk rock and indie music. And zines. Maybe even more than music, I credit zines for politicizing me, teaching me, and drawing me into a community of really fucking cool and intelligent people that showed me that there were alternate ways of thinking. That the bullying, cocaine-snorting, Banana Republic wearing status quo that I saw all around me wasn't the only way of being. That sounds emo now but it's everything when you're fifteen.
I had been exposed to cool music a year or two before: grunge, Radiohead, Fugazi (thanks Scoot!). But fifteen was when I really started to get into the underground, go to tiny all ages shows, post on internet BBSes, and develop pen pal relationships with folks all around the country and the world that were writing and drawing and making art.
I can't remember now exactly how I found Ryan, whether it was through Pepito's zine or a sojourn to Green Noise Records in Eugene or through some other sinuous and complicated connection. But I found You Think You're a Failure Fanzine and I fell in love. The spare, simple stories, the pen comics, the stark backdrop of Cleveland with cigarettes and wool knit caps and warehouse spaces. I wrote to Ryan and we became pen friends, trading back and forth letters and zines and cassette mix tapes. I always thrilled to receive one of his letters, the page thick with his neat boxy handwriting and harboring some secrets or wisdom. Not that he was ever didactic; just that he was truthful and sensitive and a little older. We poured out our souls on the page and trusted our stamps would deliver them intact.
I didn't love him in the puppy love way, and I didn't have a crush on him. But I respected the hell out of him and cherished his friendship.
A few years after we started writing, I found myself in Cleveland during a long and stinky cross country trip on a forged Greyhound bus pass. I looked Ryan up and he took me in, letting me crash on his couch. I felt a little apprehensive at first, not because I was afraid of him but just that we had never met in person and I wasn't sure what to say. But he immediately swept that away, confiding in me and talking to me like we were old friends. Which we were, in those letters. We had been making confessions forever. We ate perogies in a diner and I met his roommates and we walked that concrete and rusty wire fence town, his writing come to life just as I had seen it in my imagination.
We continued writing after that, sporadic letters and packages, eventually a few emails, and lately Facebook. He moved to South Carolina and married his girl and had a son. Ryan was always lovely and sweet, but often morose. After making this family, there was new light around his words. He wrote about how they made him look at his life differently.
Ryan continued to make art, and his most recent and well known project was the I Want Your Skull zine series, collecting artwork from a range of artists and publishing volumes and posters.
Ryan died in a car accident this past weekend. His son was in the car but survived. Ryan August was 34 and left us far too early. Ryan helped make me who I am today and I have only love and gratitude for him.