Jens was a friend I never met in person, but the first fellow I ever drew a script for besides my own work. We stayed in touch through the years as we both struggled in the comics industry, and in other areas of our lives, or just talking pop culture. Occasionally we’d review each other’s work.
I last spoke with him about a month before he died, when he was at a new job in the telecommunications industry, selling accounts, which he couldn’t stand. He had gone through some real woes in the past year: divorce, tight funds, no translation work coming in, and I don’t think he was happy with anything. He stressed out a lot and from the time I first knew him, seemed frustrated with life. I emailed him on Halloween to offer him some translation work, but got no response.
Today I got an email informing me of the message on his website: “On October 27, 2011, Jens Altmann died in an accident. There will be no ceremony. Funeral is anonymous. Please, no condolences.”
The word, upon looking him up in the comics community, is that Jens took his own life. This doesn’t surprise me, as in the past few years he’d allude to being dead, and we had a few in-depth discussions on his inclinations. I always did my best to encourage him that there was more beyond, but it’s hard to help someone when they’re 3000 miles away. The only person I would have known to contact was his wife, but they were having serious marital problems. He was very down on himself, his finances, and job prospects. He had even been unable to get hired at McDonald’s, a situation I’ve experienced probably 100 times since graduating college. I can only imagine what a kick it is in one’s 40s.
I always tried to keep him in mind for projects if I heard of anything that would fit his skills as a writer or translator. The German dialogue in upcoming pages of Invisible, Inc. #3 was Jens’s work, for which he wanted no payment other than a Conan the Barbarian book on Amazon he’d had his eye on.
He told me at the start of the year, “I think the only reason why I might want to live is to be around in case 2012 really is the end of the world. I might enjoy living in a post-apocalyptic world, where it’s every man for himself without the constrictions of the supposedly civilized world. Might be more fun. For me, anyway. I had this thought today where I wandered around in a post-apocalyptic world, using a bicycle and trailer to transport my remaining belongings, accompanied by a big scary dog, earning room and board as a kind of wandering bard and dealing with asshats right and left using a sword and a bow & arrows. (What? Makes perfect sense. You can reclaim an arrow, you can’t reclaim a bullet.)
“With my luck, however, the world isn’t going to end in 2012. 🙁 ”
I responded “No, but it sounds like you have the start of a good book there,” hoping to keep him thinking about new opportunities, and writing, the one thing that I think he still enjoyed, but he didn’t want to make the same junk everyone else was writing. He once emailed me out of the blue, simply to say, “You’re the only artist who never let me down.”
I once asked him not to kill himself, as it would be cruel to those of us who care about him. He shared his thoughts on life’s intrinsic meaninglessness, not that that alone was reason to die, just that there was relative quality of existence. Our conversation weaved into less grim things, and as I was in much the same place as he was, hoped it was more catharsis than intent. We shared things with each other, and I really had hoped that the ability to talk about it, plus his treatment for depression, would carry him through to the point in life where he had a job he liked, some money in the bank, and was no longer in an unhappy marriage. But Jens was always frustrated, from the first time I met him on the Warren Ellis Forum. I remember how bitter he sounded about getting his projects off the ground that half the reason I volunteered to draw his book (amid my final semester of college and a devastating break-up) was that he sounded even more stressed than I was, and I could understand the frustration of wanting one’s vision to take shape.
Jens Altmann was my friend. I really miss him.