Todd Tobias, a dear friend and one of the most talented men I’ve ever met, died on June 26th.
For five years, from 2002-2007, I had the honor of working closely with Todd creating Indy Men’s Magazine. We worked so closely, in fact, that when I look at back issues (which I've been doing a lot in the last two days), I often can’t recall which one of us or which of our staff members wrote what.
I don’t know whose brain hatched the earmuff issue. Not sure who thought it was a good idea to have an issue guest edited by a capuchin monkey. Not clear on who came up with the plan to do a travel story in Chicago recreating our favorite moments from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” At Indy Men’s, where Todd benevolently presided as publisher, it was always all about improving the work—making it sharper, funnier, more original, more truthful—then it was about writer ego. The better line made it in. And when an issue was complete, we relentlessly Monday morning quarterbacked it not to belittle those who worked hard on it, but to zero in on what we could have done better and to use that information for the next issue.
While credit for the in-house stuff didn’t matter much at Indy Men’s, honoring writers mattered a lot to Todd. I have never seen a publisher with such love and respect for good writers and their work. And we had a chance to work with the best, both locally and nationally including Tom Chiarella, Cathy Day, Dan Barden, Michael Kun, William F. Nolan, Doug Crandell and many, many more. Today I got a note from David Gerrold, who wrote the famed “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of “Star Trek” and the book The Martian Child, expressing his condolences. (Yes, Indy Men’s published an original story of Gerrold’s.)
Todd was an outstanding writer himself, and in addition to mourning a friend and colleague, I’m mourning the great work that I truly believed would come out of him over the coming years.
Nobody was more fun to edit. I’d read a fragment of a manuscript that Todd would nervously show me, point out what was brilliant, ask a few questions, and he’d go back to the computer, emerging from his cave with something even funnier or more moving. He wrote across a wide range of subjects, but his “Dad Files” columns were the ones I treasured the most. He loved being a father and embraced the vulnerability of that job, setting the bar high for anyone else who contributed to that popular column. His love for his kids shined through his words.
Todd prided himself on creating a magazine where its writers could be vulnerable. Indy Men’s didn’t pretend to have the answers to the big questions—and sometimes didn’t have the answers to the small questions. Todd wanted our writers to share the joy and the sorrow and the truth of their lives, what they were genuinely excited about, what they were disappointed in, what they had and what they lacked.
And for five years, he managed to keep it afloat, celebrating every issue with a launch party. And why not? In Todd’s view, we should be as proud of our work as any novelist signing books at Barnes & Noble. And that enlightened thinking encouraged all of us to pay attention to everything in the magazine, from the small print chatter from our mascot, the Table Moose on the masthead page to the monthly fake ad to the Tom, Dick and Harry poll.
Even after Indy Men’s folded, Todd couldn’t help but continue creating. He and I collaborated on some book projects and, more recently, he was developing programming for television. The most recent creative work I read of his was uniquely Todd-ian: Facebook posts of fictional Super Bowl celebrity spottings, including Tina Yothers getting messy at a rib joint and Todd himself sharing a zip-line ride with Rerun from “What’s Happening?”
Entirely crafted in his unique brain, that image—Todd and Rerun on the zipline, zooming over the heads of baffled football fans—is what I’m clinging to right now while I miss a one-of-a-kind man.
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