Muncie - Tom Spurgeon, a writer, editor, journalist and historian whose lifelong passion was not just comics, but also igniting that passion in others, died suddenly at his desk in his Columbus, Ohio, home on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
He was 50 years old.
Tom's intense interest in comics spanned all forms of the work, including newspaper strips, traditional comic books featuring the familiar superheroes of his youth, and more modern publications whose weightier subjects and finely rendered drawings became recognized as fine art.
A 1987 graduate of Northside High School, he was class president there more than once and also on the debate team and the football team. Tom later graduated from Washington and Lee University, where he was president of his fraternity for several years and also played on the football team there. He then earned a graduate degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University. Going from seminary into the comics industry wasn't necessarily an unlikely leap of faith, according to Tom's older brother, Whit Spurgeon.
"I think Tom was always searching for meaning and answers," he said, adding he believed many writers and artists of his brother's favorite comics were on similar quests.
Tom's physical presence was like a retired NFL lineman's, but Whit noted, "He was a deep thinker, and a gentle and caring person. He spent the better part of his life advocating for better wages and working conditions for comics creators."
Following seminary, Tom spent five years as Managing Editor and then Executive Editor of The Comics Journal from 1994 to 1999. In 2004 he created the comics industry news website The Comics Reporter. The website, which he would continue to publish until his death, won the Eisner Award in 2010, 2012 and 2013 for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. In 2014 Tom co-founded and became the Executive Director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an international festival showcasing cartoon art in all its forms, which annually attracts thousands of writers, artists and fans.
Tom's experience went beyond just observing and reporting on the world of comics. He also created them, supplying the words to artist Dan Wright's syndicated strip Wildwood, which King Features syndicated from 1999 to 2002. "That was a beautiful strip," Whit said of his brother's and Wright's work. "It was artistically very successful. Tom recently mentioned that he still missed writing for the strip. He really loved that experience, especially working with Dan."
Other creative credits involved co-writing the biography "Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book" with Jordan Raphael in 2003. 2017 saw the release of "We Told You So: Comics As Art," a history of publisher Fantagraphics Tom co-wrote with Michael Dean. He also wrote the John Romita Sr. tribute, "The Romita Legacy." Other writing credits included working for Seattle's "The Stranger" and satirical website Suck.com
. As an editor, among numerous credits, he helped assemble "Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips."
Since his death, hundreds from the comics world have posted condolences online, with messages including "I can't even process losing Tom Spurgeon," "That's a huge loss for the comics industry," and "Horribly sad to hear of Tom Spurgeon's passing. … RIP you smart ass nerd."
Also commenting was Caitlin McGurk, an Ohio State University professor and associate curator of The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. "It's an insurmountable loss," she said.
Besides Whit, who resides in North Hollywood, Calif., Tom is survived by his mother, Sandra (Sunny) McFarren, and his younger brother, Dan Spurgeon, both of Silver City, N.M.
Tom was preceded in death by his father, Wiley W. (Bill) Spurgeon, who was the longtime executive editor of The Muncie Star, and later of The Muncie Evening Press.
No funeral services are planned. Instead, a memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Dec. 14, at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum on the Ohio State University campus. Whit is expecting a sizable crowd.