I was browsing around and I stumbled across a site that contained a third-party archive of a webcomic called Sheol by a guy named David Katalin. The original site had gone offline years ago after its creator had died, but some kind souls managed to scrape it and preserve it, along with a bio of its creator.
The comic's story — it felt somewhere between a furry-style adventure story and something like Elfquest — was about an attempt to liberate all these different species of sapient creatures from various horribly oppressive circumstances, and while its stories did not always have happy endings, they ended in ways that made sense. But it was the story behind the story that drew my attention.
David was an African-American kid who started writing and drawing Sheol when he was 14 or so, and even at that age he had really accomplished art and storytelling talent. He produced the comic for about ten years, under a pseudonym, and successfully concealed the fact of its creation from his parents that entire time. He still lived with them, and the work had a fair amount of explicit (although not gratuitous) sexuality, so the last thing he wanted was to tick them off.
At the age of 24, David was attending a local community college, majoring in something non-artistic, and he commuted from his home to campus daily on his bike. On his way back from class one day, a drunk driver hit him. He spent a week in a coma before his parents elected to take him off life support.
When his parents found out that their late son had an online fandom, they were puzzled. (Who are all these strangers coming to pay their respects?) Then they found out what that fandom was for, and they hit the roof. They had his site taken down, and then found and destroyed his entire cache of artwork — hundreds of pages of hand drawings, entire notebooks of sketches, countless digital files. Worse, they threatened legal action against anyone who redistributed his work.
His fans, especially the two or three people IRL who knew him, were heartbroken. But they pulled what they could from the Internet Archive and kept things going by way of anonymous sites that couldn't be traced. They also made it clear that under no circumstances should anyone harass David's parents.
No, they said, it wasn't fair that his work had been destroyed by them. It wasn't fair that the people who brought him into the world in the first place were now responsible for removing from the world one of the things he had to give to it. People who go into the world expecting fairness as such are only setting themselves up for disappointment. Good things only continue to exist because we fight for them.
But hating David's parents was not going to be a useful part of this fight. We have enough enemies as it is. Not everyone was happy with this, but they grudgingly agreed to respect it. Nobody wants to be remembered as the guy who went to bat for a dead friend by doxxing the poor guy's parents.
What people remembered most about David, in the memorial on the archive site, was that he was this nice, quiet, shy guy who didn't really know how to deal with the fact that he had created something that so many total strangers grew so attached to. He really, really didn't want his parents finding out about Sheol, because he knew they would never accept it. At more than one point, his online fandom organized a ruse so that he could attend a weekend con as a guest under his online name, while his parents thought he was spending the time camping. His long-term plan was to graduate, get a job, move out, and then tell his folks everything once he had some degree of self-sustaining support. He didn't even get halfway there.
No wonder people wanted someone they could direct their anger at: his mom and dad. Get them to change, and it would feel like the world had bent slightly towards justice in a tangible form, in the form of another human being, not in the form of an archive on a website somewhere. What they forgot, or overlooked, was that everyone who wanted David to be remembered was themselves an incarnation of that tangible form of change. You may not be able to sway others, but if you yourself are swayed, that counts in a way you might not fully appreciate because you're too close to it to notice.
On the memorial site was a slightly blurred photo of David, wearing a con badge, surrounded by the online friends who'd paid for his trip there. He was short, maybe five-four/five-five, with wide, sleepy eyes and a wide mouth. He was smiling — a little shy, a little sad, even, but smiling all the same, and in the company of others who had never known him as anything but someone to welcome with open arms. Something they were quite literally doing for him in that picture.
The first thing I did when I woke up was google David Katalin Sheol. I'm still not sure if I should be happy or sad that it turned up zero hits.
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