Tom Spurgeon, the award-winning comic book journalist, critic and editor passed away Wednesday at the age of 51. Spurgeon’s brother Whit delivered the tragic news on his Facebook page.
Spurgeon is best known for his website, The Comics Reporter, which he launched in 2004 with site designer Jordan Raphael. Spurgeon’s efforts on the quintessential comics journalist site led to him winning the Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Before launching The Comics Reporter, Spurgeon was the editor of The Comics Journal from 1994-1999. He also wrote three comic book history books, the Stan Lee biography, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book (with Jordan Raphael), the Fantagraphics history, Comics As Art: We Told You So (with Jacob Covey) and The John Romita Sr. tribute, The Romita Legacy.
After leaving The Comics Journal, Spurgeon wrote the syndicated comic strip, Wildwood, with artist Dan Wright from 1999-2002.
Spurgeon was a beloved fixture in the comic book journalist and criticism scene and his passing drew a number of touching tributes, like Heidi MacDonald at The Beat, “Like everyone, I’m numb. Tom was my editor, my friend, my colleague, my rival, my inspiration. No one loved comics more. I can’t even begin to describe how much he loved comics. He held us all to a higher standard, myself included.”
Tom King tweeted, “Horribly sad to hear of Tom Spurgeon’s passing. Love his comics criticism; a man who saw the potential in the medium and demanded we keep striving for that transcendence. Finally met him in Baltimore this year, when I presented him with a Ringo. RIP you smart ass nerd.”
CBR’s own Kiel Phegley wrote, “I can’t even process losing Tom Spurgeon. The smartest, fiercest, best writer on comics we had and an incredible friend and mentor to me personally in my career. I’ll never get over this. Comics will never get over this. RIP, Tom. You were the greatest.”
In 2011, Tom had a life-threatening health scare and surgery and he wrote a brilliant essay called “All These Things That Have Made Us” about the ordeal and I think it best to end with Tom himself…
“I know less about comics than the day I took my first job in its North American industry. Some days I wonder if they aren’t better understood on multiple continuities of genres like fantasy and memoir rather than as a thing unto themselves, others I’m sure I’m just about to find the secret, obvious link that connects Joe Maneely, Cliff Sterrett and Edmond Baudoin and present it in a way a child could understand. I’m curious about what’s been lost when comics became for some of us something to consume in the presence of other comics fans rather than the viciously lonely but sustaining act reading them used to be. I question how I perceive reality differently for watching 100,000 fistfights without repercussion, millions of deaths executed somewhere off-panel. That’s the ultimate failing of mainstream comics, right? They trade in realistic actions but the consequences and context slip further and further into fantasy, so that we stand stunned when a real world incident that wouldn’t merit a panel of costumed adventure ruins lives and causes grief on an unimaginable scale. I question how many comics will finally be enough, and what’s taking me so long to get there.
I’m not even sure I know how to read comics yet.
When I was younger, I would tell people that one reason I liked comics is that the beginning was just out of reach, that you could on a summer weekend shake the hands of men and women that at least for comic books were there at the start. You could comprehend the whole affair, particularly if you valued them first as art. The older I get the more I prefer the churn, the more I feel a kinship with the dead-ends and false starts and careers and companies that never quite took off, the ten-cent rooms and wicker baskets on porches at lake cottages over the hardcover editions and deftly arranged library holdings. At this point in my life I’d prefer to read the complete works of a defunct independent comics company from the 1980s than the fruits of the latest top 100 list. I’m sentimental now, and that’s a part of it, but I also think there’s something to a form that’s constantly slipping out of your grasp, that’s broader and deeper and weirder and more intense than even the excellent works that sifts to the top. Unlike prose or film or theater, we read comics as a window to other comics, comics we may never see, comics that may or may not be out there. We read all the comics we’ve ever read and all the comics we’ve yet to read.”
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