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Rich Thigpen R.I.P.

The LGBTQA+ comics community has lost one of its own with the recent passing of Rich Thigpen.

Thigpen was a native of Rogersville, AL and attended Auburn University where he studied Industrial and Systems Engineering. His studies would serve him well at several companies including most recently UCLA where he was the university’s IT manager.

A person’s career only tells so much of their story.

A much richer story appears looking at his other accomplishments.

Thigpen was a dedicated volunteer who provided advice and guidance among other contributions to Prism Comics, the non profit organization representing LGBTQA+ creators and issues, beginning in its fledgling days and for a number of years to follow. During his time at the non profit Thigpen served as Volunteer and Membership Chairs, lent his editing skills to the Gay Agenda, and in 2006 worked on the Hard Heroes events. Thigpen was dedicated in raising the organization’s profile and mission. One example of his effort is a letter from 2003 in which he related Prism’s purpose to the Advocate magazine for media coverage.

Prism founder Zan Christensen shared the following in a post on his Facebook:

“Queer folks in comics still get harassment and discrimination, but it was on a different level 20 years ago. Companies were skittish about any gay content. Openly bi, gay, and trans creators were so few that publishing an annual list spotlighting most of them—something that Andy Mangels spearheaded—was possible. There were a few ways for LGBTQ comics fans and creators to find each other, but no organization dedicated to making it easier.

Rich got Prism its nonprofit status, served on the board, helped put together the annual guides to LGBTQ comics, and lots more. He helped start something that inspired a lot of people and helped bring about real change and opportunities for queer people in the comics world.

Just like the folks at Prism stood on the shoulders of those pioneers who came before—Howard Cruse, Roberta Gregory, Alison Bechdel, Rupert Kinnard, to name just a few—there are a lot of successful queer and trans creators, fan groups, and nonprofits that were given space to grow by [the] scrappy little nonprofit that Rich helped get off the ground.”

Current Prism president and events chair Ted Abenheim shared that his involvement with the organization started with an invitation from Thigpen.

Thigpen’s volunteer spirit extended beyond Prism. He was an ardent supporter of the UCLA community and served as Project Leader for UCLA Volunteer Day and was a mentor to students in addition to UCLA’s Dance Marathon and Relay For Life charity events. Working with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Thigpen also made wishes become reality for seriously ill children who wanted to meet their favorite celebrities.

Thigpen is loved by a large circle of friends and neighbors. Abenheim talked about Thigpen making all his guests feel welcomed to the parties and gatherings he hosted at his Baldwin Hills home with its spectacular view overlooking Los Angeles. Many friends share Abenheim’s sentiment.

Aman Chaudhary noted that Rich was “the hub of bringing people together. He’d have a 4th of July party in the summer and a holiday party in the winter that I always looked forward to. He’d invite friends from the many different circles of his life. He was so kind and generous. He was one of those folks that never wanted to be in the spotlight but did so much work behind the scenes.”

Among his neighborhood community Rich was beloved and known to be the first to greet new neighbors, often bearing a welcome gift plant.

Thigpen dearly loved his mother and adored his cats.

An announcement regarding services or tributes has yet to be made.

Rich adorned with a balloon crown.

Rich, say “hello” to Howard Cruse if you happen to see him dancing nekkid with the angels!

Published in coordination with Prism Comics. Please read Prism’s memorial here.

Photo credits: Unknown. First photo taken from Thigpen’s Twitter account. Please get in touch to provide credit information. Second photo provided by Andy Mangels. Third photo provided by Ted Abenheim.

June 11, 2020
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