Today I’ve been thinking about Tom Spurgeon. To many industry folks he was a dear friend, but to even more of us he was the closest thing that comics had to a local weatherman – a small but familiar daily presence who provided context, predictions, and perspective. He was a guy whose opinion you always wanted to know, even if there were days when you knew in your bones that history would prove him to be incorrect.
I think that Tom was the only person in comics who I’ve butted heads with who I’d count as a helpful acquaintance. (I’ve been fascinated to see so many people say something similar.) He was a valuable resource to me when I was working on an investigative piece that I never quite saw my way to publishing. I admired the way he conducted CXC, the annual comics festival he directed. It was plainly apparent, though I never attended the event, that he handled unpleasant incidents quietly, competently, and with great care. It says it all that Olivia Jaimes – a cartoonist who receives a lot of unwanted attention from a very dark and creepy corner of the internet – made her first and only public appearance there. (And from the way that panel was handled on the day, it was plain that Tom and other people at the festival put Jaimes’s safety and well being above all else.) Another time, after a cartoonist who was harassed at CXC wrote about her experience for the Comics Journal, I told Tom how well I thought he’d handled it and what an impact I thought that would have as an industry model. He told me how grateful he was that the cartoonist who had been harassed had written the piece. (How many organizers would have felt the same in his shoes?) He also mentioned, just in passing, that a zero-tolerance policy for harassers had been among the conditions of his employment – a quiet but remarkable act of allyship.
There were a few times over the years that I noticed stuff like this, and over the last 24 hours I’ve heard about similar things I never knew about. My impression is that Tom wasn’t one to take credit for the things he did well, though he was quick to own his failures. More than once he publicly apologized for never following through on the comics journalism project he promised in his Patreon. I remember thinking that most of his patrons were probably funding the work he was already doing, as well as the work he had done. He went about that work in such a principled way. And he never engaged in provocation for provocation’s sake, something that I think set him apart from many of his peers.
As many others have mentioned, I was struck by Tom’s frequent directive to thank people for work that you admire. It’s advice I’ve tried to follow, if not as often as I should. I know that it’s advice he lived by, as I received one of those emails. Other times he absorbed my criticism with the manners of a bygone age. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When you’re young, there’s this bright dividing line between the grayness of history and the vibrant present. A distressing part of growing up is watching the color drain from the world as pieces of it recede across that line into the dusty past. I don’t know that we’ll ever have another weatherman here in comics. I’m very sorry to see him go.