Remembering Tom Spurgeon, December 16, 1968 - November 13th, 2019
Ten days before he died, Tom Spurgeon posted to his site Comics Reporter, celebrating his 15th anniversary. He notes that the anniversary was sometime the previous October and that he had missed it. Douglas Wolk in his excellent obituary of Tom put CR’s launch date as October 11, 2004. Now Tom had survived serious health issues in the last 10 years of his life that he very publicly talked about and that shaped his work after 2011. Just through his writing at The Comics Reporter, I’m not too sure if there is anyone who cared more about comics and the people who created them.
Especially the people who created them.
On November 3rd, Tom remembered and briefly celebrated the 15th anniversary of his site.
On November 13th, Tom passed away.
In that anniversary post which ended up being one of the last reflective things that he wrote at the site, Tom snuck in a small line toward the end of it that has stuck in my mind ever since I read it.
“I'm in awe of people who make art. It's how we pray to one another.”
Tom believed in comics. He believed in art. He believed in the artists.
By saying that art is “how we pray to one another,” Tom changed the way that I think about comics. Art is something that we all experience, either as a diversion, as a hobby, or as life itself. The possibilities are endless but Spurgeon, in that quick, almost off-handed remark, shows comics as a much bigger communal experience that we can understand. It’s more than the comic shops, the conventions, the websites, and the social media. Prayer typically is thought of as a communal experience to a larger power, a god or a spirit. It’s a calling to a power higher than us.
Two years ago, Tom saw art (and by extension, comics) as the way that we commune with each other. It allows us to praise, lament, grieve, rage, uplift, and even argue with each other. It’s an almost worshipful experience where we’re led by the likes of Steve Ditko (and I wonder what he’d think about that,) Lynda Barry, Charles Schulz, Chris Ware, and so many more. Art is communication but it’s so much more.
Tom had this way of thinking and writing about comics that brought out the best in all of us. This view of art as prayer puts his entire life in perspective. When you look at his body of work, from The Comics Journal to The Comics Reporter, through to the Cartoon Crossroad Columbus comic festival, you can see a life lived in prayer towards the art and the artists that he lived, breathed, and loved.
Tom’s statement has changed the way that I look at art but I’m still processing how. He had that effect on people or at least on me. In 2015, I got to see him at CAKE, hosting a panel with Jaime Hernandez. Hernandez was drawing and his image was being projected on the wall behind him with an old-fashioned light & mirror projector. I don’t remember much of the specifics of the discussion but Hernandez and Spurgeon obviously had a great time just talking about the comics that Jaime and his brothers had loved as kids. I think I sat on a counter in the back of the room because I had decided late to actually go to that panel instead of just walking the floor. But listening to Tom, you could hear the awe and respect that he had not just for Jaime but for the act of creating his art.
Art is how we pray to one another.
I still miss the daily check-ins on The Comics Reporter, whether it was to see whose birthday it was or just to see what comics Tom would have picked up on a Wednesday if he had hit a comic shop. It was always a thrill and an honor to have Tom link to something that I had written. But it was also huge to see and read other pieces that he linked to because if he did, you know that the piece had something to say. And there’s one piece of writing advice that Tom dropped-- I’m not too sure if it was on CR or on Twitter-- that still whispers regularly in the back of my mind. In essence, it was if you make a statement about a comic in the first paragraph of a piece, make sure that you support that statement in the rest of the piece. You can see a lot of writers about comics who don’t know how to say anything other than “here’s a plot summary and I liked the book.”
Mostly, I miss Tom just casually tossing off ideas like art is how we pray to one another, just putting the idea out there and almost waiting for others to pick it up. When he was on Twitter, that’s a lot of what his feed was, oneliners and tossed off notions like he was focus-group testing them to see what stuck. Two years later and art is how we pray to each other has stuck with me and it’s still something that I think about regularly and try to better understand.
Thanks a lot, Tom.