Jason Geis started the Collaboration In Memoriam: Finishing F*cking Forty panel at C2E2 with a touching video that gave the audience a warm introduction to Ed Siemienkowicz. The video showcased how light-hearted and fun Siemienkowicz was on camera with his friends and gave a glimpse as to why he was so influential to the Chicago comics and art community. Geis was joined by Siemienkowicz's partner Vanessa Walilko, Jill Thompson, Selena Marina, Ali Cantarella, and Darick Maasen to remember their friend and discuss their involvement in F*cking Forty.
F*cking Forty was Siemienkowicz's autobiographical comic about the worst year of his life that ended with him diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He started drawing thumbnails and going forward with the project, but he passed away in 2017.
"Ed talked about F*cking Forty the entire time we were dating," Waliko admitted. "It was something he thought was his life's work. He knew this was his important story to tell." Siemienkowicz was working with comic book cartoonist and Chicago-based creator Tim Seeley for notes and guidance with hopes that this book would propel him to do more professional work in the comic book industry. Sadly, Siemienkowicz was only able to complete one page from his project before the stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
"When Ed was sick in the hospital I promised him I would finish it for him," Waliko said. "Thankfully, everyone else Ed knew decided they wanted to finish this book too because Ed didn't just talk about this book with me but he literally talked about it with everyone." 150 comic book artist in Chicago and beyond have banded together to help finish this project for publication.
"When Ed Passed away nobody really knew what to do with themselves because Ed was in recovery — we had worked a lot with Ed to do fundraisers and seen him get better," Massen said. "Ed had this brave face when you talked to him all the time that gave you the feeling he was going to be OK. I saw him last and I could tell he look a little frail — he was still so brave."
When Siemienkowicz passed away, Maseen and Marina organized a memorial in their backyard where nearly 50 friends and cartoonist gathered to celebrate his life. The group quickly started organizing to help finish comic. Maseen and Marina are currently managing and developing the project alongside Waliko. The project has garnered some publicity in Chicago and they're currently developing a Kickstarter to raise funds to publish the anthology.
Cantarella was reluctant to join the project because she was romantically involved with Siemienkowicz during his one year. "We pursued a romantic relationship that did not go in a positive direction, but resulted then in an extremely positive friendship for the next four years," Cantarella shared. "I think that speaks to Ed that he was the type of person that you could potentially fail at one thing with and then result in something more incredible and much better."
Thompson volunteered to raise money for the Edstravaganza benefit when he was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer. "The one thing that was true about Ed is that whenever you around him it didn't matter if you were with him for five minutes or knew him for five years — you felt immediately connected to him, and he made you feel better in general about anything," Thompson said. "Just being part of one page of this was an honor."
Additional reporting by Henry Barajas.