A North Medford High School graduate who became a well-known and prolific colorist for WildStorm Productions, part of DC Comics, died over the weekend of an apparent heart attack.
Jonny Rench, 28, died at Providence Medford Medical Center on Saturday, his family said.
Rench grew up in Medford, where his father, Craig Rench, was the pastor at Medford's First Church of the Nazarene for 15 years.
He attended Wilson Elementary, Hedrick Middle School and graduated from North Medford in 2000. He continued his education at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and, after graduating, got a dream job at WildStorm, said his mother, Connie Rench.
"He was just ecstatic to be part of their stable of artists," she said.
He had created an extensive portfolio, even self-publishing a book to showcase his work for potential employers, she said.
Titles he worked on at WildStream included "The Programme," "Gen13" "Wetworks," "Killapalooza," "World of Warcraft," and "Gears of War," said a listing at comicbookdb.com, an online database of the comic book and graphic novel industry.
WildStorm's official blog, The Bleed, collected reminiscences of people who worked with him
"Jonny was an amazing artist and human being who truly felt lucky to be part of the comic book industry," TJ Fixman, writer of "Ratchet and Clank," wrote on the blog. "Within five minutes of meeting him, his passion and enthusiasm for his work was so evident I couldn't help thinking it was us who were lucky to have him."
Connie and Craig Rench, who now live in Anaheim, Calif., said their youngest son had always had an artistic streak. They recalled him drawing cartoon characters for his friends starting when he was 5 or 6. Sometimes he would be scolded at school when his drawing distracted him and classmates from work, the family said.
By the time he was in high school, he had won honors in numerous art shows and was encouraged by professors at Southern Oregon University, where he took ceramics classes, to pursue a career in art.
"As a parent, you sort of swallow when your son says he wants to be a professional artist," Connie Rench said. "How many starving artists are there?"
Jonny quickly put his talent to work and his mother's worries to rest. On the WildStream blog, Adam Beechen, writer of "Killapalooza," called Rench "a pro's pro," noting that his work "made artists and writers look good, but more importantly, it made stories deeper, more interesting to read and more effective. He was a skilled, reliable and talented teammate, and a great artist in his own right."
In addition to his comics work, Rench was learning leather craft and had just finished an elaborately detailed saddle for a motorcycle he was fixing up, garnering requests for custom leather work from bikers and prompting him to consider a side business, his mother said.
He had taken the bike out for a spin around the neighborhood, where he had grown up and returned to about two years ago to be closer to friends and family of his then-wife, although his marriage had since ended. He had continued to work as a freelance colorist for WildStorm and was planning to move to Portland to continue his career in a place with more connections to the graphic arts.
Apparently experiencing chest pain on Saturday while on his first motorcycle ride, he stopped the bike. Neighbors asked him if he was all right, but he seemed disoriented and was unable to answer before he collapsed, a police report said. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, but he died there.
Rench is survived by his parents, two brothers, Jessie, who is married and has four children, and Benjy, who is married and has two children, and his sister, Susie.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. today at First Church of the Nazarene, 1974 E. McAndrews Road.