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Tom Spurgeon

November 16, 2019

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“I want sloppy, beautiful, devastating art. I want experiences through art that are troubling and terrifying and joyful. I want to be desperate to catch up.

The object of my affection may not be the same as yours, and in fact I hope it isn’t. I want to die with my head on its shoulder.”

Tom Spurgeon to Warren Ellis, April 2019.

One of the giants of the comics community passed away suddenly on Wednesday night. Tom Spurgeon was a writer, journalist, a comics advocate and educator, and a beloved presence at every show I saw him at.  I don’t ever remember meeting him formally–I just came to know him through the strange osmosis of comics and knowing right away that he was someone important. I know I am not alone in saying this, but as an artist I always felt seen and grateful for his encouragement. The thought of him gone is like thinking something essential like the Empire State Building being gone–the comics world has a completely different horizon now. I don’t like it.

I once asked Tom: “How do you not get sick of comics?” He laughed and said, “Who says I don’t?” I think what I was really asking him was a harder question: how do you stay open? He was somebody who seemed to stretch like a bridge across a long line of history in comics to the present moment. He had done so much already, been so many things and yet still read everything and was as generous as he could be. I am one of the many benefactors of his generosity. He once said to me at a show: “Send me an e-mail to remind me to send you a note Seth wrote about you.”  Seth is one of my favorite cartoonists, and he wrote Tom a note about me?? You don’t need to ask me twice! But I never wrote him–I didn’t have to.  He wrote me first. Tom went to look for it, but couldn’t find it. “Don’t feel too bad,” he wrote. “I once lost a postcard R. Crumb sent me about somebody else.” I didn’t feel bad–I was deeply touched by his gesture. Of all the plates he was spinning, he still went home and remembered to look, and when he couldn’t find it he was quick to let me know. He knew what something like that would mean to someone like me (a hopeful in a sea of hopefuls), and he didn’t leave me hanging. That’s generosity—and, I might add, class.

Of course, his secret sauce was love (isn’t love ALWAYS the secret sauce?). Read anything he wrote and you knew that he loved comics and wanted to see it thrive and continue to thrive. What a gift! What a reminder to me in my tiny world of work and desire.

Ambition can burn up all your curiosity, all your wonder–it doesn’t have to, but too much of it can. I’ve only been doing this comics thing “professionally” for 5 years and already I have been struggling with burn out. I’ve been forgetting my own sense of value among a torrent of attention and it’s been injuring me and making me small with self-absorption. Tom’s death has hit me like a reminder: What are you doing here anyway? What is it that you promised yourself when you set out to do this? What do you love?

Here’s something that I have loved about comics: I loved Tom’s presence. I loved his writing and his ardent love for comics. As my pal Chris Duffy said: “He was the mayor–and we didn’t even know it!” He deeply valued this art form long before it had prestige or awards or the internet, and would have continued to do so even if it had never received those things. He was interested in the larger picture, and in an ongoing system of value for those who created the work.  He was a soldier to comics. May we all be so lucky.

Thanks Tom for all your effort–I know we will continue to garner strength from all that you put forward. You are truly missed.

 

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