Tom Spurgeon, the writer and editor of The Comics Reporter, died November 13, at the age of 50. For the second half of his life, he was an extraordinary presence in American comics, as a chronicler of the medium and the industry around it, a critic, a convention organizer, and a nexus point for the comics community.
Born December 16, 1968, Spurgeon grew up in a media-immersed household in Muncie, Indiana: his father was a newspaper editor and reporter, and his mother ran a public-relations business. In high school, Spurgeon was his class president; in college, at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, he was a lineman on the football team. According to the cartoonist Dan Wright, his friend for over 40 years, Spurgeon initially planned to go to law school after he graduated, but decided to attend Illinois' Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary instead. He never went into the ministry, but the pastoral impulse stayed with him.
After several years at seminary and a brief stint working for QVC in Pennsylvania, Spurgeon moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1994, to become the managing editor (and later executive editor) of The Comics Journal. Eric Reynolds, then the magazine's news editor and now the associate publisher of Fantagraphics Books, says he and Spurgeon bonded quickly, and remained close ever after: "He was probably my best friend in the comic book business. He was a really good conceptual thinker, and had a really good eye for hiring talent for the Journal, but he was also a procrastinator. I was the reporter, and more detail-oriented than he was. But we complemented each other really well."
The Journal won four consecutive Eisner Awards for Best Comics-Related Periodical, from 1996 through 1999, and Spurgeon quickly gained a reputation in the comics community as a mensch and a wit. ("He pretty much won Halloween every year," Reynolds recalls. "One year, he was Big Boy, from Bob's Big Boy--he somehow made an actual giant hamburger that he took to a party.") Spurgeon could be difficult, and liked to argue, but seems to have rarely fallen out with anyone for good. If he challenged you, it probably meant he trusted you to rise to the challenge.
In that spirit, he convinced a number of his friends to make creative and professional leaps. As Dan Wright was approaching 30 and working as a graphic designer, he says, "I told Tom that I wanted to do something beyond a provincial approach to art. Tom said, 'you know, Dan, you should think about syndicated cartooning. You might have to learn how to write, but you've got the chops to do it.'" After Spurgeon mailed Wright books of classic comic strips to study, Wright developed a Christian-themed funny animal strip, initially titled Bobo's Progress and later Wildwood, and brought Spurgeon in to write it with him. It was syndicated by King Features from 1999, the year Spurgeon left the Journal, to 2002.
Spurgeon collaborated on the 2003 biography Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book with Jordan Raphael, who had met him as a summer intern at The Comics Journal in 1995. Once the book was published, Raphael built this web site as a vehicle for Spurgeon's writing, funded by advertising. The Comics Reporter launched October 11, 2004, with Spurgeon's thoughts on a recent bestseller chart, an annotated pointer to a news announcement, an obituary for Christopher Reeve, and some slyly worded links to stories elsewhere ("Edmonton Paper Celebrates Four-Page Graphic Novel; Dave Sim Develops Face Tic").
The Comics Reporter is where Spurgeon really made his mark, and he continued to post here almost every day for the rest of his life: news items, reviews, commentary, provocations, announcements of comics shows, and birthday congratulations to seemingly everyone associated with the medium. Some of his best writing here was personal writing, about the intersection of comics with his own life. In his interviews, he asked tough, complicated questions that almost invariably drew out long and thoughtful answers. Even his service journalism (holiday shopping guides, tips for enjoying Comic-Con International) was often a delight to read.
Spurgeon had strong opinions--his writing could flicker from withering dismissal to infectious awe in a few lines--and open eyes. He had a bottomless reserve of knowledge about and enthusiasm for every kind of comics he could get his hands on, including newspaper strips and editorial cartoons. When he mentioned creators on The Comics Reporter, or linked to their work, they felt seen and championed. In particular, he made a habit of advocating for promising cartoonists who were just starting out, connecting them with gigs and raising their profile. He reserved some of his most stinging comments for his assessments of his own work, including The Comics Reporter; nonetheless, it won Eisner Awards for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
While The Comics Reporter was running, Spurgeon continued to write elsewhere, sometimes about comics and sometimes not. (For a while, he wrote business articles for a pharmaceutical trade magazine edited by his friend Gil Roth.) Spurgeon began work on an oral history of Fantagraphics Books, We Told You So: Comics as Art, in the mid-2000s; it spent around a decade in limbo before it finally appeared in 2016, co-credited to Michael Dean. ("That book was a great testament to our friendship," Eric Reynolds says, "because I think it would have ruined a lot of less strong friendships.") He also wrote the text for the 2011 art book The Romita Legacy, about the artists John Romita, Sr., and John Romita, Jr., but noted in 2013 that he'd "never seen a copy of that Romita Legacy book--long story, all my fault."
For most of the early years of The Comics Reporter, Spurgeon was living in Silver City, New Mexico, relatively physically isolated but a prolific correspondent. "Tom kept in touch with everyone--people from kindergarten and seminary and his college fraternity, and all the different lives that he'd lived," says Caitlin McGurk, Associate Curator and Assistant Professor at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. McGurk also credits her own career path to Spurgeon's encouragement: "Tom took me seriously, and the fact that he took me seriously meant that other people took me seriously."
In 2011, Spurgeon had a near-fatal medical crisis, about which he wrote a remarkable essay on this site. His friends observe that his brush with death had a profound effect on him, and that after he recuperated, he became more serious about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. He moved to Columbus, Ohio, in March 2015, to take a job as executive director of the annual convention Cartoon Crossroads Columbus; he had friends waiting there to help him unload his U-Haul truck full of longboxes.
Almost immediately, Spurgeon became a fixture of the city's comics community. "Showing up was important to him," McGurk says. "Tom showed up to everything. If there was an obscure Turkish comics scholar giving a brown-bag lunch talk on a Tuesday, Tom would show up. At parties, he would find his place to sit for the evening, and he would just hold court."
Spurgeon had a broad range of enthusiasms he could discuss with the same robust, informed intelligence he brought to comics--history, movies, basketball, theater, horse-racing--but he was most interested in the people he was talking to. "No matter what the conversation was," McGurk says, "he would interrupt at some point and say 'how are you doing, though?' Emphasis on the you. He wanted to know about people's lives, even if he didn't know them very well."
In the Columbus years, Spurgeon wrote somewhat less for The Comics Reporter; often, it was mostly links and images. One feature he took care to update, though, was "Comics By Request," in which he catalogued and commented on projects and creators in need of money. And, even more than before, he devoted his gifts to watching out for comics creators' health and well-being. An unrealized goal he often brought up with friends was starting a union for cartoonists.
Back in 2012, Tom asked me if I would write a short obituary for him if he were to die while The Comics Reporter was still running ("like if I got eaten by a shark on my way to San Diego Con 2015," he wrote). It's strange to have words that aren't Tom's as the first ones readers encounter at a site whose voice was so completely and extensively his. It was a relief, though, to learn that The Comics Reporter will be preserved by several different online archives. You may be reading this a few weeks after Tom Spurgeon's death, or years later, or long after everyone who knew him is gone. If you're coming to this site for the first time, I urge you to explore it, so you can see for yourself why we have reason to envy each other. You have our future, but we had Tom.
Photo Credit: Photo by Tony Amat Copyright 2013 SDCC
* for no particular reason, to the left is a panel from the old Claremont/Byrne/Austin run on late 1970s/early 1970s X-Men comics, with Wolverine in his all-encompassing Fonz phase. Those were frequently effective comics.
* here's an interview with that nice man and skilled comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis about the current attempt to reboot Legion Of Super-Heroes. That's one of DC's broadly appealing and easy to grasp concepts, and should be something the company does well in the same way that the X-Men books should be a strength for Marvel. I am a spectacularly bad customer for its standard mix of nostalgic reverie for traditional square-jaw super-heroics and kids-culture values of the broadest sort, but I sured like reading optimistic super-kid stories when I was a young man and would imagine a lot of kids could make use of something like that now that the future has become conceivably shorter and potentially more depressing.
* finally: it's hard for me to figure out the benefit of making stand-alone creative efforts into their own "universe" of stories. I know some people believe these companies shouldn't be precious about this kind of thing, but it always seems to dissipate some of the energy those wider storylines bring to the table. Seems like sloppy resource management.
* this Gretchen Felker-Martin essay about the appeal of the Marvel movies coming from elements of their creation that are less than exemplary has received a great deal of attention and has something to say about that enormously successful series of films. They inform the perception of the comics, at the very least. It's interesting to read analysis tht makes a strong distinction about elements unique to the film because I think the comics have a completely different set of virtues.
* here's an excerpt from Daybreak, Brian Ralph's graphic novel that inspired a TV show of the same now. I don't know anyone that recognizes the comic in the TV show, but I know a lot of people that Ralph makes as much money as possible from the show.
* here's some love for 900 pages of Locas as a compelling, pleasurable, and ultimately lovely comics-reading experience -- one of the many ways to characterize its many virtues. There are some comics that punch in its weight class in terms of overall artistic experience, its aesthetic rewards and insight into human nature, and a few comics that are in the same neighborhood as enjoyable reads, but it's hard to think of any other comics that can be accessed both ways to greater reward.
The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Shows And Events
By Tom Spurgeon
* it's all about Short Run now, with I think precursor events starting tonight. Short Run is one of our most important shows by executing its role as a regional comics festival as well as any show out there executes its own conception of what a show should be -- even the international platform model. When I go there -- and I'm just not healthy enough to go this year, which kills me -- I see cartoonists I think of as really Seattle artists: Dave Lasky, Megan Kelso, Max Clotfelter -- and I think of them as wholly beholden to that region. It's a modest one-day show with a ridiculous guest list and just the right amount of bells and whistles in terms of supportive programs and even panel programming. Plus I still love Seattle a lot. If you can get there, please go. If you can go, buy Lasky's latest and anything from Jim Blanchard if he's around.
* to make this post the nerdiest of the month so far, one of the reasons I'm paying extra attention to Short Run is that for many of those cartoonists there is a smaller number of shows they can do because of the difficulty of travel, and I wonder if reducing the number of shows might have a positive effect on a number of folks. This is the kind of thing I e-mail to friends at 3 AM, so feel lucky if we've never been friends.
* I think I'll be swapping the above column image in time for the new year. I really like it, there's just a ton of cartoonists of that SPX era in view. The last couple column images I changed was after receiving e-mail from people begging for me to do so because the previous image drove them nut. Never this one, though.
* here's a report from the Gareb Shamus-run ACE show form Chicago. I have almost not mental connection to a show so heavily invested in celebrity; it's just not my conception of how they should be focused at least a little bit on the work. But people certainly love these sorts of interactions and I'm probably an asshole for not feeling this sort of thing in my heart. I like actors, too, just as their own thing. I swear.
This Isn’t A Library: New, Notable Releases From Comics’ Direct Market
Here are the books that make an impression on me staring at this week's no-doubt largely accurate list of books shipping from Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. to comic book and hobby shops across North America.
I might not buy all of the works listed here. I might not buy any. You never know. I'd sure look at the following, though.
JAN190862 ART OF ROY G KRENKEL FATHER OF HEROIC FANTASY HC $59.99
AUG191586 DIARY OF A WIMPY KID HC VOL 14 WRECKING BALL $14.99
This great king of the hybrids is always worth noting, especially as the category surges forward.
SEP190175 COPRA #2 (MR) $3.99 SEP190185 DIE #9 CVR A HANS (MR) $3.99 SEP190186 DIE #9 CVR B RIOS & MUERTO (MR) $3.99
Here's some comic-book comics, including the latest iteration of Michel Fiffe's take on gritty comics of a generation past. I've read a couple of issues of the RPG-soaked comic DIE and I see the multiple editions, so I suppose it's a hit. It's a weird micro-moment at the end of 2019 for mainstream-type genre comics, so what hits moving forward should be interesting.
AUG191222 BLACK TERROR #1 NAKAYAMA LTD VIRGIN CVR $50.00 SEP191072 BLACK TERROR #2 CVR A RAHZZAH $3.99
I have no idea about the provenance of this attempt to comics with the old Black Terror character, let alone what might make one worth $50, but I always liked that costume. It's one of the costumes that were anyone to wear you would be absolutely certain they were a lunatic and not want to have anything to do with them if you could help it.
APR192022 MAC RABOY MASTER OF THE COMICS HC $39.95
I like the way Raboy's comics look and always i'm not sure if he's a master or a highly skilled journeyman, but my sense is that he was popular among his peers and has retained that reputation through today.
The full list of this week's releases, including some titles with multiple cover variations and a long, impressive list of toys and other stuff that isn't comics, can be found here. Despite this official list there's no guarantee a comic will show up in the stores as promised, or in all of the stores as opposed to just a few. Also, stores choose what they carry and don't carry so your shop may not carry a specific publication. There are a lot of comics out there.
To find your local comic book store, check this list; and for one I can personally recommend because I've shopped there, albeit a while back, try this.
The above titles are listed with their Diamond order code in the first field, which may assist you in finding comics at your shop or having them order something for you they don't have in-stock. Ordering through a direct market shop can be a frustrating experience, so if you have a direct line to something -- you know another shop has it, you know a bookstore has it -- I'd urge you to consider all of your options.
If I failed to list your comic, that's because I hate you.
* there is a lengthy article here about John Jennings and Damian Duffy and each creator individually on occasion of their second adaptation of Octavia Butler's work, as they follow up Kindred with January 2020's Parable Of The Sower. Jennings in particular has a small army's worth of things going on.
* here are a couple of articles on the brand new Ladies First exhibit at the Billy Ireland, one by Alison Holm and one by Joel Oliphint.
* finally: go, watch: Chris Claremont's X-Men on Amazon Prime. That looks like one of a group of such films. Quality can vary on a bunch of films like that, but I like that kind of work -- especially as primary sources-type material -- moving forward.
CR started right around when Christopher Reeve died -- although it's hard to tell exactly when because I ran it silent for a while to get used to the software. Mr. Reeve died October 10, 2004.
I'm thankful for the opportunity of Comics Reporter, touched by every single person that has spent some time here and/or otherwise helped and fully cognizant of all the times I've fallen short of promises made. I will figure it out or I will die not having figured it out. I hope by the time I'm finished or it has finished me that CR has been an overall good thing. Even if we've just kept each other company, that can be a lot. It's been that way for me.
I'm in awe of people who make art. It's how we pray to one another.
My thanks to Jordan Raphael, who built me a web site because I lost my newspaper strip job and he wanted to cheer me up. If I have any lesson to offer it's that you should always be nice to the interns. You never know if one of them will save you.
On Friday, CR readers were asked to "Name Five Comics Published During The Years 2010-2014 That Deserve Consideration For Best Comics Of The Decade." This is how they responded.
* Usagi Yojimbo
* The Walking Dead
1. Drinking at the Movies, Julia Wertz (Three Rivers Press)
2. Market Day, James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly) [image pictured above]
3. Daytripper, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (Vertigo)
4. The Nao of Brown, Glyn Dillon (SelfMadeHero)
5. The Property, Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
1. Through The Woods, Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
2. Arsene Schrauwen, Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics)
3. My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf (Abrams)
4. The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
5. Susceptible, Genevieve Castree (Drawn and Quarterly) [image pictured above]
* Megahex, Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics) [image pictured above]
* Walter Scott, Wendy (Koyama Press)
* The Furry Trap, Josh Simmons (Fantagraphics)
* The Wrenchies, Farel Dalrymple (First Second)
* Blue, Pat Grant (Top Shelf)
1. Bakuman, Tsugumi Ohba (Viz Media)
2. Building Stories, Chris Ware (Pantheon Books)
3. Finding Frank & His Friend, Kristie Shepherd/Cesare Asaro (Curio & Co.)
4. Genius, Marc Bernardin/Adam Freeman/Afua Richardson (Top Cow) [image pictured above]
5. Snarked, Roger Langridge (Boom! Studios)
1. Prelude to a Million Years, Song Without Words, Vertigo, Lynd Ward (Library of America) 2010
2. Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly) 2011 [image pictured above]
3. Building Stories, Chris Ware (Pantheon) 2012
4. The Best Of EC: Artistâ€™s Edition, Volume One (IDW) 2013
5. Kill My Mother, Jules Feiffer (Liveright) 2014
1. Freeway, Mark Kalesniko (Fantagraphics)
2. The Amazing, Enlightening And Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley, Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics)
3. Paying For It, Chester Brown (Drawn And Quarterly)
4. The Making Of, Brecht Evens (Drawn And Quarterly)
5. Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) [image pictured above]
1. Building Stories, Chris Ware (Pantheon Books)
2. New School, Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)
3. Recidivist IV, Zak Sally (La Mano)
4. Congress of Animals, Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)
5. Infomaniacs, Matthew Thurber (PictureBox)
1. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago (Fantagraphics)
2. El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams) [image pictured above]
3. MIND MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
4. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
5. B + F by Gregory Benton (Adhouse Books)
I Hope Everyone Who Can Possibly Go Goes To Comic Arts Brooklyn Today Because Wow
This program slate is ridiculous.
From RAW to Rusty
Chris Ware in conversation with Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman
Coffee Tawk with Honeybunch Kominsky
12:30 - 1:45PM
Aline Kominsky in conversation with Lauren Weinstein
Drawing is a Way of Thinking
Charles Burns & Gary Panter in conversation with Jacob Berendes
Invisible Wall: Drawing Across Borders
with Alfonso de Anda, Danny Shepard, Gibrán Turón, & Courtney Menard
Frank Santoro and Pittsburgh: Representing Hometown, Family, and Possibility
In conversation with Calvin Reid
The Sublime Detail
Kim Deitch & Nina Bunjevac in conversation
with Breena Nuñez, Lawrence Lindell, Trinidad Escobar, & Minnie Phan
What's really amazing about this is that year-in and year-out CAB has the best floor in terms of size and exhibitor to exhibitor quality of just about any show I know; I think TCAF operates in that weight class, and specific good years of CALA and MICE.
But that floor and this programming slate together? Yow! Congrats to co-curators Gabe Fowler and Courtney Menard.
I hope you're already going if you have any chance to go, and if you're on the fence somewhow somewhere in the region, I hope this might convince you to check it out.