Tom Spurgeon, author, editor, comics critic, blogger, and executive director of the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus comics festival, died of unknown causes in Columbus, Ohio, on November 13. He was 50 years old.
Best known as an editor and reporter with an encyclopedic knowledge of the comics medium, Spurgeon built a long career as a thoughtful and passionate critical voice on the history of comics and on the medium’s development as a serious art form. Spurgeon was also a relentless advocate for the improvement of the welfare and working conditions of comics writers and artists working in the work-for-hire environment of commercial comics publishing.
He began his career in the 1980s, writing about comic books and editorial cartoons for a variety of publications. He also worked as the managing editor, and later, executive editor of The Comics Journal, a groundbreaking comics trade magazine and critical journal published by Fantagraphics, from 1994-1999.
In 2004 he launched The Comics Reporter, a pioneering blog offering news and commentary about the comics medium. The Comics Reporter offered a constantly updated trove of information about everything from the superhero comics industry to the growth of the North American literary and art comics movement. The site was known for detailed interviews as well as news reports all written, for the most part, by Spurgeon. The Comics Reporter won the Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical in 2010, 2012, 2013.
In 2014 he was named executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, an annual comics festival in Ohio cofounded by cartoonist Jeff Smith, and his wife Vijaya Iger, in conjunction with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.
Spurgeon wrote extensively on the field of comics and edited a variety of comics works for Fantagraphics. He is also the coauthor of Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book (Chicago Review Press, 2003), and coauthor of The Romita Legacy (Dynamite, 2011). He is also the coauthor (with Michael Dean) of We Told You So: Comics As Art (Fantagraphics, 2016), an oral history of Fantagraphics Books.
Although the official cause of his death has not been revealed, Spurgeon, a big man who weighed as much as 400 pounds at times, underwent a life-threatening event in 2011 and wrote a notable essay about the experience.
In a statement posted on Facebook Jeff Smith, said, “We are heartbroken. Tom was an authoritative voice on the art form, a passionate champion of cartoonists, both emerging and firmly established, and he personified the spirit and mission of our still relatively young festival dedicated to the art of comics. Through his art and criticism, he leaves an indelible stamp on the field to which he dedicated so much of his life.”