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Saying goodbye to Tom Spurgeon

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Peggy and I went to Tom Spurgeon’s memorial in Columbus. I was unprepared for how heartbreaking it would be. Somehow I expected that I would see old friends, mourn, catch up, and share a laugh in the way we imagined Tom would have wanted us to.

And there was a bit of that. Above is a photo of comics critics unabashedly influenced by Tom Spurgeon who all came from different places to pay their respects to the king of comics criticism and commentary: Sean T Collins, Peggy, Tim Hodler, Joe McCulloch, me, Chris Mautner, and Tucker Stone. Mostly, of course, there was a lot of grief. I’ve never been to an event where so many people spoke so eloquently about their love for someone.

There have been many words on Tom Spurgeon in the past couple of months. I think by now it’s been well-documented that he was a man with a considerable rapier wit and bottomless love and knowledge of the comics form. We dug around on our blog and found an array of photos of Spurge doing what he did best: talking, debating, and advocating for comics. Scroll for them, information on the memorial in NYC for him on January 24, and details on how to donate in the memory of Tom.

He touched many of our lives simply because he made it his mission to focus his attention on new voices in comics whether those voices were cartoonists, publishers, or critics. Tom’s taste was wide and considered and he had the rare gift of being able to criticize work critically without ego. He was able to highlight the shortcomings of a comic while highlighting its strengths—a critical tight-rope act that few others are able to achieve.

Tom’s love of the form informed everything he wrote on comics. Many critics have an uneasy relationship with their chosen art—a kind of petulant desire to figure out why this cursed form keeps calling them back. Tom had no such issue. He loved comics and he loved the people who produced them. Why should it be any other way?

Early in my publishing career, Tom’s attention was important and when he wrote the obituary for my stumbling first publishing enterprise Highwater Books, he was able to not only explain what was right and wrong about my publishing agenda to the general comics audience but to me as well. He flattered me and he admonished me. Many others have pointed out that when he talked about their art or their publishing plans that they felt understood. Absolutely. Tom understood.

The memorial was long.

It was long because there were so many people who Tom touched—people who had deep relationships with Tom and his work. The testimonials were infamously long but I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved hearing high school friends, co-workers, roommates, and RPG friends talk about Tom. I cried along with the folks struggling to say goodbye one last time. I was with my people and I felt out of place.

Tom and I weren’t as close as he was with many others. But it was the magic of Tom that he made you feel like you were in his inner circle. I am one of those people who benefitted from Tom’s attention in my early career and the seriousness with which he took my initial steps in the industry remains important to me. It was nice to have a chance to say goodbye. There really won’t be anyone like Tom Spurgeon in comics ever again. Replicating what he did is an impossible feat which is a terrible loss for our beloved form.

On January 24th, 2020 there will be a celebration of Tom's life at the Society of Illustrators in New York, organized by Tom's good friend Gil Roth. Find more info and RSVP here. Don't hesitate to reach out to Gil if you'd like to speak at the memorial. 

Donations to the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus Support Fund are also being accepted in memory of Tom Spurgeon.

And now some Tom shots from across the many long cons of the past decade. Some of these go back before high-res photos were a thing, so consider yourself forewarned about the image quality. 

Accepting an Eisner for The Comics Reporter! 

A group dinner after Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest with Anders Nilsen, JIllian Tamaki, Fiona Duncan, Sara Drake, Adrian Tomine

Interviewing Chris Ware at TCAF.

A group dinner at the SPX-adjacent Korean restaurant with Peter Bagge, D+Q's Julia Pohl-Miranda, Anders Nilsen, Lisa Hanawalt, Adam Conover, Brian Ralph, and others all barely in the frame.

With Peggy Burns and Paul Karasik at Art Spiegelman's opening. 

Accepting an Eisner Award! 

Moderating a Comic-Con panel about Jimmy Olsen with Kurt Busiek, Paul Levitz, Seth, and Gilbert Hernandez.

Pontificating at the old SPX bar/restaurant.

With Mike Baehr and Whit Spurgeon, getting tacos in San Diego.

Interviewing Brecht Evens at San Diego Comic-Con.

Moderating a Comic-Con panel with Kate Beaton, Alison Bechdel, Brecht Evens, Jennifer Holm, Matthew Holm, Nate Powell, and Jason Shiga.