The amount of comics I read has waned more than waxed, but my love of the medium never falters. The writing-about-comics that I read has shifted sources over the last few years, but there has been one source that I trust(ed) above all others to find things to read. There is one person who has set a course that I have related to as much as any other in the last three decades of living with and around and apart from the comics community.
That person died this week. Tom Spurgeon, Rest In Peace.
His tenure at The Comics Journal overlapped with most of my full-time employment as a comics retailer, and this is not inconsequential. Not only did this give me the time and inclination to read nearly every page of those issues, but I really did feel a kinship with the community around that magazine. Part of the reason I decided I didn’t want to be a full time comics retailer was that I couldn’t envision a way I could make the store work (read, earn a middle-class living) in a way that eschewed trends like sports cards, pogz, or Pokemon. This wasn’t a lack of vision in the comics industry, but in myself as a retailer. I believed in comics as art, but couldn’t reconcile that with comics as commerce.
I went on to make a middle class living working for a national (non-comics) retailer, and by 2004, the year Tom Spurgeon founded The Comics Reporter, I was entrenched in that world, and only working one day a week in a friend’s comic shop. A few years later, my second daughter was born, and I gave up that one day per week, and a couple years after that, attended my last SDCC as a comics retailer.
There have only been two things, in tangent to the comics world, that I envied for myself and my connection to it. One would be an Eisner (nominated for a retailer award in 1996 was the closest I got), and the other would be earning a spot in the birthday wishes on Comics Reporter. Comics have been with me as long as any memory in my life, and I have put writing on the internet over the years with the hope that it may contribute in the tiniest way to others memory of comics.
Tom helped give me a vision of the importance of comics to the world, and he will forever live in my mind as sharing the joy and passion of comics. As someone who has never once felt like they fit into any group anywhere in the world, I always felt like I understood the world of comics that Tom Spurgeon lived in.
I value many writers about comics for the things we don’t agree on as much for the things we do. I have little interest in certain forms of comics, so I knew I didn’t need to read a certain type of book because Tom loved it.
One of the greatest things Tom repeatedly engaged in was the simple act of appreciating the things you love, be they comics or otherwise, and that will be the part of him that I try to carry on in my own life. Each time I throw a few dollars into a Patreon account, or buy a piece of art directly from an artist, I will endeavor to remember the great Tom Spurgeon and his passion for comics that lives on.
When you only know someone through their work, you have to imagine the reasons you emotionally connect with them. You have to know that those reasons are and can only be personal. Tom’s writing always delivered that message. He understood that a reader’s relationship with the art was not just the most important thing for that reader, but likely the only thing that really existed. A good writer helps you feel like someone is writing for you, and Tom was a good writer.
His death is hitting me hard, and when I try to figure out why, I just feel more sadness. Even writing this, it reminds me that this is only written for me, and by Tom’s example, that was always enough. Comics certainly favors misfits; even the most famous of practitioners are oddballs. Whether they make Spawn or Rusty Brown, created the Marvel Universe or a 12-page mini comic this week, there is not a creator that has ever seemed like any type of stereotype and that’s why I love them all. I love every artist in every medium, if not their work.
This engagement with art was personified by Tom Spurgeon. This easy love of the artist. This connection to a world that so few really try to understand. This commitment to supporting the people who make it in the smallest, most important ways. When I read the Comics Reporter, I always had a visceral sense of the world of comics, at least through the eyes of one man. One man who I, and so many others, trusted to see things for us, and trusted that they were worth even a mote of our attention.
I never met Tom Spurgeon in the real world, having seen him at the Fantagraphics booth in the ’90s, but it was his influence that encouraged me to later shake Eric Reynold’s hand and say thank you in person as an anonymous fan of the publisher.
I said Thank You in emails to Tom, but never in person. It’ll have to do.