Friday, January 10, 2020

My Five for Friday: Goodbye, Tom & Goodbye, 2010s

The comics world experienced some big losses in the past year, and one of the biggest for me was that of Tom Spurgeon. His site The Comics Reporter was one of my go-to blogs for comics news, interviews, reviews, and convention information. I featured it in one of my columns for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Education, and it was the inspiration for this blog you are reading (check out my first entry).

I met Tom a couple of times and had the wherewithal to actually document it the second one. Here we are:
Sterg and Spurge (we rhyme!)
Tom was a past editor of The Comics Journal and seemed to know everyone in the field. He was a champion not only of good comics but also of respecting and rewarding creators. He could be harsh in his criticisms, but he was also very constructive. I first encountered him online, via one of his Five For Friday calls. It became a regular thing for me to take part in, and when I finally met him in person he recognized who I was and commented, "You're the one who is so polite." That struck me as weird, because I thought I was just being cordial. I always thanked him for gathering and collating our responses, as I saw it was a sort of service to the comics community, done for free and on his own time.

In a way I think it was a symbol of what he always was, a comics industry social worker. He highlighted work he respected, advertised for all sorts of comics-related events in multiple cities, posted notices for assistance for comics creators who were sick or in financial need, and also conglomerated memorials and links to major news events. He was a huge supporter of comics, maintaining his blog, moderating panels, and planning Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC). I have not had the opportunity to attend CXC as of yet, and I have already expressed my admiration of his blog, and I also have to add that he was one of the most adept panel moderators I have ever seen at a con. In each case, he was not only familiar with each participants' work, he had thoughtful questions prepared, was respectful of everyone's time, and also spoke in engaging and entertaining ways. He was a masterful speaker.

Although I was only an acquaintance, you can read more intimate tributes to the man here and here. In the spirit of how I related to Tom most, I'll share one last Five For Friday here:

Five For Friday: 5 Things I appreciated About Tom Spurgeon
  1. His exhaustive list of how to survive San Diego ComicCon. I have never attended SDCC, but he always produced a huge collection of helpful hints, dining suggestions, and survival tips. He was like a den mother and master of ceremonies all rolled into one.
  2. "If I failed to list your comic, that's because I hate you." That's how he ended his weekly list of noteworthy comics publications, and it always cracked me up.
  3. The way he could weave his personal life into his comics fandom and appreciation. Exhibit A is his essay on his almost dying in 2011.
  4. The way he posted birthday wishes for comics creators, critics, and other industry people on his blog. He made the industry feel like a homier place, almost like a family or a real-life version of the Marvel Bullpen, only without hokey nicknames.
  5. Every year on Jack Kirby's birthday, he posted a huge series of his fantastic images from various series across the decades. They were always impressive and knocked my socks off. 
RIP, Tom. You made the world a better and friendlier place.
Chris at Adhouse Books made this special edition pin. All proceeds will go to the Hero Initiative. Check it out here!
So Long, 2010s!
The end of the decade also coincidentally marks a decade of this blog, and to commemorate this event, I have compiled my own favorites from these past 10 years. I only offer brief commentary along with a link to my original review. These are the books published in the last 10 years (in alphabetical order) that I feel the most about.
All the Answers - A look at a boy genius who became famous in the early days of television. Part biography/part cultural history/part exploration of the effects of memoir - it impressively works on so many levels.

B+F -A woman and a dog have adventures in a primordial world. A large format, gorgeous book.
Battling Boy - A fun, contemporary take on superheroes. Its sequels, which focus on Aurora West, are also very good.

Brazen - 30-something short biographies of notable women across cultures and history done by one of the best creators currently working.
Cardboard Kingdom -Representation matters, and this book shows a wide array of children who engage in creative play in their neighborhood. It is hilarious, charming, heart-breaking, and hopeful.
The Comic Book Story of Beer - I love beer, and this book taught me so much about its history as well as the various styles that have evolved according to different communities and cultures. This team of collaborators have a few nonfiction graphic novels out there, and they are all great.
Coyote Doggirl - A solid western tale told with lots of contemporary sensibilities. It's riveting and laugh out loud funny in parts.
Copra - A colorful, gorgeous unique take on superheroes. Hands down the most taut plotting and coolest character designs in superhero comics.
Crater XV - A gripping adventure story complete with missiles, long-lost loves, spies, and nautical escapades. I wrote, "This cartoon world is so realized and lively that it propels the narrative like a rocket."
Fantasy Sports - I love this entire series, but this first book made me laugh out loud multiple times. It's about two mages/treasure hunters playing a high-stakes game of hoops against an ancient pharaoh, and it is so much fun.
The Greatest of Marlys - A new compilation of comic strips from the 1980s/1990s. They are all tone poems that can make you laugh, cry, or cringe. Some of them build you up; others crush you.
The Hard Tomorrow - A dystopian future story set in the not-so-far-future that also delves deeply into people's personal relationships. The ending gave me goosebumps.
Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton is one of the greatest comics artists going. She breathes so much life and humor into this collection of mostly historical and literary comic strips.

Infinite Kung-Fu -An amazing, inventive tale of martial arts and magic. There's a guy who can punch people so hard they spit up centipedes.
Last Man - I love, love, LOVE this series about a down-on-his-luck stranger who comes to a sleepy town to take part in a round-robin magic/fighting tournament. It combines the best features of Euro-comics and manga.
Lighter Than My Shadow - An incredibly moving, informative, inventive, and harrowing look at personal trauma and eating disorders.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters - A coming of age tale set in 1969 Chicago, with a murder mystery, a horrific Holocaust survival story, and homages to classic monster magazines. It's gorgeous, and one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
My Friend Dahmer - An extremely troubling look at a childhood in the 1970s that produced the infamous serial killer. It's journalistic, full of incredible details, and provocative. Also one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
The Nib - This is the print version of what I feel is the best webcomic site there is. A wonderful collection of political cartoons and nonfiction. I read the website pretty much daily.
Nimona - A moving tale about a sidekick that is more evil than the villain she works for. It is a funny, suspenseful book with a lot of heart, and I love how it plays with multiple genre conventions.
One Hundred Nights of Hero - This riff on the classic Arabian Nights story is one of the most subversive and delightful books I have ever read. It's a hilarious and brilliant satire/social commentary.

Pantheon -A very profane, funny, and accurate(!) retelling of ancient Egyptian mythology. It's not for kids.
Hades - A notable entry in the (soon-to-be) 12-book Olympians series. This one is more about Persephone than it is Hades, and I love the characterizations of each character as well as the energetic retelling of Greek myths. This one kids can read, though adults would like it too.
Relish - Part autobiographical memoir/part cook book, this is the first book I read by Lucy Knisley, who has made some of the most very funny, insightful, and personal comics of the decade.
Rosalie Lightning - This autobiographical tale of dealing with the loss of a young child is beautiful, moving, and also a clinic on how to make great comics. Another one of the top 5 books I've read this decade.
Dogs -My favorite entry from the awesome Science Comics series. It's a great history that also touches on topics like heredity and genetics. It's one of the most fun and informative books I've every read.
Sexcastle - Usually my favorite book by Kyle Starks, who has the magic ability to make the funniest and most kick-ass comics possible. This one is a fantastic riff on 1980s action movies, and it will make you laugh while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
The Shadow Hero - A modern update of what was the first Chinese superhero. It is a fantastic take on the superhero genre, with a strong dose of cultural insight and humor.
Spinning - This autobiographical tale of figure skating and coming out is a beautiful and painful book. Tillie Walden has produced a number of notable works since, though I have a soft spot for this one.
TEOTFW - Before it was a show on Netflix, it was this suspenseful and spare action story about two teenagers on the run. It features satanists, deadbeat parents, and all kinds of other creepy things. It's genre comics at its finest.
Tetris - I love pretty much everything Box Brown publishes, though this book is the one I recommend most. This true-life account of the famous video game blew my mind with how it touched on Russian history, game theory, and international finance. It is fascinating and super-informative.
 
Tomboy - A very relatable memoir about childhood, this book is funny, awkward, and honest. I wish it was read by every adolescent who thinks they are weird or different. Liz Prince rules!
Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood - This book retells the entire history of World War I in about 80 pages(!), and does it well. It's a clinic in presenting graphic information as well as a masterpiece of graphic nonfiction. It's the best entry in what I consider the best series of nonfiction graphic novels.

Vague Tales - Eric Haven loves playing with comics archetypes and taking them to very strange places. in the past I called his comics "beguiling, silly, confusing, thrilling, and fantastic." Probably I should have just summed them up in one word, "unforgettable."

Wizzywig -Ed Piskor has made some pretty great comics over the past decade, but this account of  a fictional hacker/culture jammer is the one that impressed me the most. It's a crazy ride that incorporates a number of unbelievably true events. Blurring that line between fact and fiction is what I found so compelling about it.

Well, that's my list. I hope your 2020s are roaring!

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