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Saying Goodbye

Artwork by Julian Dassai, Laurenn McCubbin, and Emi Gennis.

I hadn’t intended to write about Tom Spurgeon’s memorial service when I set out for Columbus on Saturday morning. A memorial service is practically a funeral, and you don’t treat funerals like con panel recaps to share. I would go, I would browse the items in the Tom Spurgeon collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (among other things, he donated thousands of minicomics, providing crucial documentation of the most ephemeral side of comics), maybe go through the public gallery.

It was Jeff Smith that started me reconsidering my intent. I think it’s gonna be a celebration he said to me, a short while before the service started. It was, with far more laughter — raucous, spontaneous, joyous laughter; so, so much laughter — than tears, because everybody that spoke had a Spurge story to share, and Spurge just naturally lent himself to funny situations. And celebrations are things that you do share.

So there were the tumblers full of Microns, with attendees invited to write or draw a memory to be included in a tribute mini to come.

There was the rotating series of photos projected behind the speakers, including three-or-so-year-old Tom on a tricycle with a brown paper bag on his head. His mother asked him that day Why the bag? and he replied More fun.

And there was his brother Whit, leading off the speaking order, and introducing each new person, sharing a note from seven year old Tom’s report card: It would be to Tom’s advantage to learn to be more tactful. If he never learned that lesson, or the one about deadlines, nobody on the day much cared. There was much talk about the time Tom was a dick to somebody, mixed with the realization that his criticisms were nearly always correct and something to learn from … and in any event, he was far more free with his encouragement. Regarding deadlines, Whit noted it was entirely appropriate that the first hour of the program has now taken two hours and ten minutes.

We came to say goodbye, and we learned that Tom Spurgeon contained such multitudes that I believe nobody in the room didn’t learn something about him. For me, the most surprising thing was to learn that Tom attended seminary after college; Laurenn McCubbin brought home the inherent contradiction in that bit of history when she said I never saw him as a preacher.

Then, she continued, Tom was a pastor … and we were his weird, heathen flock and it all made sense to me. More than the words, more than the towering intellect, more than the absurdly funny situations that adhered to him, even more than comics, Tom was defined by his love for the people that made comics, that read comics, that loved comics, and he never stopped trying to make their lives better and more fruitful. Who will fill that role, to care for every single person in comics? Evan Dorkin knows the answer — it will have to be us, every single one of us, that takes up the charge, and all of us together will still not do as much as Tom did.

But Tom thought we could. At the end of his mother’s remarks, she shared the concluding sentences from something he’d written a few years ago, to be read in the event of his death. He asked us all to care for one another. Every single person in that room may have wondered who could fill Tom’s shoes, but he knew it couldn’t be just one person.

At his direction, Tom Spurgeon was cremated; his ashes now reside in the Billy Ireland’s permanent collection. When you go to visit the library and museum, you’ll be visiting him. And that, Carol Tyler observed, makes The Billy sacred ground.

Goodbye, Tom. I wish my words were up to this task, but then, I don’t think anybody’s would be. Except yours, of course. You were always good with words.

Spammers don’t get to share Tom Spurgeon’s day.

Thanks so much for writing this, Gary. I’m glad you were there.

Thanks, Gil. I was deeply moved by what you said at the service.

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