It seems a silly notion to even try to offer up some sort of introduction to who Emru Townsend was. I mean, everybody knew Emru. Really.
Everybody. Knew. Emru.
He was one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who seemed to be connected to every group, sub-group and community in some way shape or form. People usually have to become movie stars to get the kind of notoriety he enjoyed throughout his adult life. I walk in a number of different circles myself, and know whole clusters of people who have no knowledge of the other clusters I’m friendly with. But they all knew Emru in their own way. If you’ve ever watched a cartoon in your life, you probably knew Emru. Or emailed with him. Or at least heard of him.
He was the first animation nut I ever met. Particularly when it came to anime. When Japanese animation was far from being the staple of mainstream North American pop culture it is today, he was a walking encyclopedia on the subject. Even as some of the more notorious anime features crept into limited release over here, Emru was quick to arrange screenings of the original uncut versions so we could get the full experience, unfiltered by the delicate sensibilities of edit-happy distributors.
Emru wrote extensively on the subject and established entire magazines to spread his passion, most notably Frames Per Second, which continues to thrive as a hub for animation fans. The first short story I ever had published was printed by him in his small-press zine, Quark.
If you’ve only recently become aware of Emru Townsend, it was probably because of his headline-making search for compatible bone marrow to combat leukemia, and his efforts to bring more awareness to the need for donors. The campaign blitz he and his ever-adorable sister, Tamu, launched elevated Emru from mere ubiquitous man-about-town to full-fledged media darling.
The last time I saw Emru was almost exactly a year ago. I was on my way to catch the premiere of Lions for Lambs with some friends who had comp tickets. We ran into Emru and Tamu at the theatre and they encouraged us to ditch our tickets and go with them to the premiere of Bee Movie instead. They only had a couple of comps themselves, but a word from Emru was all it took to make a couple more materialize at the guest services desk. In the end, we all agreed we had probably ended up seeing the more political movie of the two.
Afterwards we went to a nearby Canuck-Mex dive for food and drinks. Emru was quick to produce one of his techno-gadgets to show me the latest animation production he was exited about. I updated him about what was going on in the world of Pucca and other cartoons I was working on. As the evening wrapped up, we swapped our latest business cards and promised to keep in touch.
A few weeks later, Emru was diagnosed with leukemia. I watched him fight it through regular updates online and in the media. Given how organized and vigorous his campaign was, it was a relief but hardly a surprise when he found a donor despite the huge odds against it. His cancer wasn’t in remission yet, but they went ahead with the transplant in September to give him the best possible chance. But it was just a chance.
Emru died last night. I’d known him for twenty-two years. He was thirty-nine-years-old.
In the summer of 1987, a group of friends got together in a cabin in the woods to drink some beer and play some role playing games. One of them – me – sat out the game to take a photo and draw a picture of the event instead. Emru is the one supplying the much-needed ethnic diversity.