Last night, the SIUniverse family was rocked when we learned we had lost one of our own. Francis Tsai, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, passed away after a long battle with the disease — just one week after celebrating his 46th birthday. In 2009, Francis became part of the SIUniverse by illustrating the story “Taking Back Troy” in the first Secret Identities volume. Though ALS slowly took away his ability to draw with his hands, he never let the disease stop him from creating art. First, he trained himself to draw using his feet, and when that was taken from him, he pioneered special technology using his eyes to create art.
Last summer, Parry and I both participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for ALS research but also to encourage donations to Francis’ medical care. On behalf of all the SIU crew and the Nerds of Color, I offer my condolences to Francis’ wife Linda, his family and friends, and all the people Francis awed and inspired during his much too brief time with us.
Francis’ talent wasn’t the only thing that impressed me when I worked with him, but his manner in which he went about it. He honored his commitments and was always on time with his stuff and willing to help out any way he could. So when I heard he was still finding innovative ways to continue to draw after being diagnosed, it was amazing to see that his work ethic and drive was never diminished by ALS.
Francis impressed me in our collaboration in Secret Identities but my real admiration came when we reconnected on Facebook, one of the few ways he could still communicate as his ALS progressed. He was incredibly open about his challenges, brave (yet pragmatic) about his chances and always looked to the world and the future — one that he knew was limited — with hope and humor. I can only aspire to being someone like him if I ever face that kind of challenge. His example was life changing. And in an amazing way, life affirming.
I only had the chance to exchange a few emails with Francis very early on during our initial run on Secret Identities. Eventually as we all know, he began illustrating with his toes… and then his eyes. As a fellow artist, I both understand and love the fact that he HAD to always be creating. Sharing his vision with the rest of us no matter what obstacle stood in his way. It speaks to Francis being 110% dedicated to his craft. Francis, to this day, continues to teach me how to be a better artist and person. Through his work, he will live forever. We miss you Francis. Thanks for everything.
Just last week, Francis was just like the rest of us and caught up in the glory of the new Star Wars trailer, with his final post on Facebook linking to Han Solo famously saying “Chewie, we’re home.”
Well, Francis, you’re home now too, brother. Rest in peace.