Thursday morning I was saddened and shocked to learn of the unexpected passing of Tom Spurgeon, the longtime comics journalist, dedicated mind behind the Comics Reporter news site, and co-founder and executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an uniquely high-caliber arts festival that Anne and I attended both in 2015 and in 2017. I never had the pleasure of chatting with him in person and kick myself now for being too sheepish to try. Spurgeon was only 50, a year older than Anne and far, far, far too young.
He was a deeply invested reader and shrewd analyst of the medium, one who wasn’t excessively enamored by the mainstream…though at least one recent tweet indicated his own surprise that he was finding worthy ideas in Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men relaunch, a strong indicator of how wildly outside-the-box that project has been so far. He was a strong champion of indie and underground cartoonists, as well as the vast wealth of non-superhero works across many decades, and had no reason to be a fan of today’s celeb-heavy entertainment cons and the sites that perpetuate them. Spurgeon had an acerbic wit and a pop-culture knowledge that drew familiarly from our generation’s touchstones and obscurities, while being cheerfully dismissive of anything to do with 21st-century Hollywood that didn’t directly and demonstrably improve quality of life for comics makers.
All things considered, I was floored back in 2015 when one of his Comics Reporter daily news roundups included a link to my “amazingly lengthy” write-up of our super-sized 2015 experience at Wizard World Chicago. Before Wizard’s takeover the Chicago Comic-Con was exactly the sort of capital-C Comic Conventions that focused on graphic storytelling, back issue sales, up-and-coming artists, actual publishers’ booths, and so forth — “the nation’s second biggest [con] not once but twice for stretches” according to Spurgeon, who cited my indulgently in-depth eight-chapter short novel as “really useful if you don’t go to that kind of show anymore to sort of see what one’s like.” Coming from a writer with high standards like his, not to mention a former Comics Journal editor, that was among the highest praises I’ve received for anything I’ve done so far this millennium.
I count myself a faceless member in the distant back rows of his online Peanut Gallery. We had brief exchanges a couple of times on Twitter, nothing deep or long-term. At CXC I was overjoyed with how he and his crew enlisted such killer lineups of comics creators at every level of the field, effectively raising the bar far too high for Artists Alleys at most other cons. In his Q&As I found him one of the sharpest, most studious interviewers I’ve ever watched in their element, which may mean I need to get out more, or maybe moderators at other cons do.
After CXC 2015 he asked for anyone who’d written about it to send him links for his perusal. I humbly submitted my own entry linked above, but never heard back from him and never saw him share it. At first it was a letdown, but to be fair, our experience at the show was rather limited, and on most days I’m a bit short on pro journalist requirements and performance. By comparison, my WWC write-up that he did share was a lot more thorough, with more photos, more indie comics bought and touted, and definitely more stories to tell.
I first heard the news of his death from Bleeding Cool, which ran an extensive roundup of creators tweeting condolences, memories, and deep respect, even from many who disagreed with him on any number of issues. I was planning to link to it, but revisiting it just now got me a fierce warning from my antivirus software concerning something called an “Ad Injector”. You’ll therefore pardon me if I skip linking and recommend you search Twitter for Spurgeon mentions instead for a sense of his impact.
Regardless, it really, truly, tremendously sucks to hear of his passing. I had more to learn from him and was looking to returning to CXC someday, maybe even walking up to him and saying hi if he could spare a moment from all the other awesome, talented folks around him. At the very least, Comics Reporter is still up and running for some choice archive diving, up to and including the final entry posted mere hours before his passing. Sharing a love of comics up to the very end sounds exactly like his kind of move.
Spurgeon also had a Patreon account to support his comics journalism, to which I’ve been contributing a bit per month. A bit later on Thursday while still mulling over all of the above, one of the more dimwitted voices in my head piped up to note that if I end that pledge, that would technically free up a few more bucks to put toward a Disney Plus subscription if and when I finally decide to pull that trigger. That voice in my head has clearly learned nothing.