It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say of a person that they left the world a better place than they found it.
Tom Spurgeon did that. He did it with journalism, and he did it with humanity. He left us this week at the untimely age of 50, but he has indeed left us, the readers and lovers of comics, better off than we were when he first arrived.
His site, The Comics Reporter, has been an essential read for anyone interested in comics since he launched it in 2004. It covers the world of comics with incredible breadth, from corporate superheroes to tiny indy comics, corporations to creators, manga to BD to what-have-you. For the past 15 years, it has been the essential portal to the comics internet. Much of it was simply links, but Tom published original content as well, including lengthy, Rolling Stone-style interviews and Bart Beaty’s annual reports from the Angouleme Comics Festival.
The Comics Reporter won three Eisner Awards, all well deserved. Even more important, though, it was the connective tissue of the comics world. Tom took every opportunity to remind us of our shared humanity. He posted happy birthday wishes to numerous comics figures every day. He relayed pleas for help, whether to fund a project or help a creator in need, and of course he marked the passings of our comrades in comics as well. All this, I firmly believe, helped make the comics world a more civil place. We know all too well how the internet can make other people seem like mere caricatures; Tom quietly pushed back on that every single day.
Tom’s service to the comics world was multifaceted. He was one of the organizers of the Comics Crossroads Columbus festival, and he drew an incredible array of creators to the show from its first year on. He was the managing editor and then the executive editor of The Comics Journal from 1994 to 1999. He wrote three books on the history of comics: The Romita Legacy; Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book (co-authored with Jordan Raphael); and Comics As Art: We Told You So: An Oral History of Fantagraphics Books, co-authored with Michael Dean.
I came to know Tom through The Comics Reporter, which soon became required morning reading for me. I don’t remember when I met him in person, because by the time I did, I felt like I already knew him. He not only linked to my work, helping me find a larger audience, but he often accompanied those links with kind words. When we met at shows, we often talked about ordinary stuff, such as living in Indiana, where we both spent big parts of our lives.
In 2011, he chose me as the subject of one of his lengthy holiday interviews. I joked with him that someday I wanted to do a Comics Reporter interview with him. It will always be my greatest regret that we never did that. I didn’t know Tom well, and I didn’t know him for as long as many other people who will write about him this week, but I always suspected there was more to him than his affable exterior, and I wanted to understand better what made him who he is.
Actually, Tom answered that question already. The essay he wrote after his 2011 health scare, All of These Things That Have Made Us,is a beautiful reflection on a life lived in the comics world, and what it all means as he faces his own mortality.
Tom was the warp and weft of the comics world, drawing us in with the news of the day and constantly reminding us of what we love about this medium and its people. His passing doesn’t just leave a hole in the comics world, it leaves a ragged tear in its fabric.