I met Tom Spurgeon in 1996 at Chicago Comicon where Josh Neufeld and I debuted our two-man comic book anthology, KEYHOLE. I believe Tom was quite encouraging. But, my relationship with him didn't start until 2001 when he made fun of me in a review for my comic book, OPPOSABLE THUMBS. He claimed that I was the “Johnny Knoxville of comics.” I was offended and called him something akin to “an obese virgin who couldn't possibly relate to a real man.”
We became pals shortly thereafter and kept in contact. Circling each other from our corners with pride. Always curious yet pleasant.
In 2011, when Tom experienced a serious health scare, I wrote him an email that said:
“Tom-- You better fucking get better. Or, get on the better side of alright. Thank god for comics but Life is about the other stuff, too, and I hope you get to enjoy MORE of the other stuff. Too.”
“Thanks, Dino. I really appreciate the encouragement. I'm sure I'll see you down the road!”
Down the road, Tom interviewed me during a particularly low time in my life and it was published the first day of 2013 at The Comics Reporter. It was an eye-opening interview that discussed the difficulties of making comix a career.
In Tom's opening statement, he said:
“I met Dean Haspiel at the first comics show I attended as a working funnybook professional, a Chicago convention that I think might have also been Dean's first in support of his own work (Keyhole). I've bumped into him at what seems like one show a year since, striding in close proximity to the cartoonist through our combined young-turk phase all the way to men-a-bit-older-than-the-bulk-of-the-roo
I appreciated Tom's candid nature for making me feel comfortable enough to be as authentic and vulnerable as I was in that interview. Lots of peers, including editors, reached out to me and Tom's spotlight got me much needed work that sustained me through some lean years.
I still owe Tom a drink.
When my friend/cartoonist Mike Cavallaro texted me "I think Tom Spurgeon died," I didn't want to except that as fact. But, what gave the tragic news some credence was my last interaction with Tom a little less than a month before he passed away when I saw him at Baltimore Comicon 2019. I was surprised and thrilled to see Tom. It had been awhile. Possibly six years. So, when I saw him, I gave the big guy a big hug.
The next night I saw Tom at The Ringo Awards when he walked up on stage a couple of times to accept some awards and complained, half-jokingly, that walking up three steps winded him. He was afraid of having a heart attack. I wanted to laugh WITH Tom but it was apparent that he was struggling.
When I saw Tom after the award ceremony, he was sitting in a chair. I don't normally express concern for a person's health, especially someone as overweight as Tom could be, but it didn't matter. I asked, "Are you okay, Tom?" He said he was okay, "fighting the flu," and I just wanted him to know that I cared. Tom appreciated the "good looking out" and we discussed my coming to CXC and a few other things before I was taken hostage by Jim Steranko and stories of magic.
Tom spoke and wrote about every aspect of comix in an intelligent, insightful, and compassionate way, even when it sparked spirited debate. He was an advocate of the form but Tom also knew how to push buttons and we had our differences. As did most everyone who knew and loved Tom. But, despite our differences, he alerted the community to our work. He celebrated our birthdays. He remembered us.
And, maybe that was his point. We need to remember each other. Relate to each other respectfully yet honestly.
Years later, I thought about that Johnny Knoxville comparison and I could see it from Tom's eyes. I was a showman. A clown. I liked to entertain but was willing to get hurt – wore my heart on my sleeve – for the love of comix. As did Tom, who didn't suffer fools while suffering comics.
The comix industry was robbed the day Tom Spurgeon died.
We lost a beautiful giant.
ADDENDUM: After I delivered my piece at the memorial, I realized that I met Tom Spurgeon at his first comicon as a working professional and saw him at his last comicon as a working professional. We came full circle.