We’re back with another column looking at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics, and it’s starting in a place that hit the world of comics like a hammer, with some bad news coming unexpectedly. Let’s get straight to it.
1. Tom Spurgeon, Forever
Comics lost a good one this week, as the Comic Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon, passed away at the age of 50. He was the Executive Director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (or CXC), he co-wrote well-liked books about both Stan Lee and Fantagraphics, he was the editor of The Comics Journal for a big chunk of the ’90s, but perhaps most importantly, he was a beloved figure by seemingly everyone who knew him, as Twitter has shown in recent days. Few people in comics loved the medium as much as he did, with his comprehensive looks at the art form and the industry (and its denizens!) making The Comics Reporter one of the finest comic sites you can find (as you can tell based off of the image above of him winning an Eisner). Connecting to that, few people in comics knew the people who comprised its landscape as well as he did, as he seemingly touched just about everyone.
I only knew him a little. I checked in on The Comics Reporter semi-regularly, especially when big things happened because I knew that Spurgeon would offer two things: perspective and honesty, both of which are always needed. He was extremely supportive of other comic sites, showcasing a real generosity when it came to lifting up sites like my own and many others. I only spoke with him by voice once, when I interviewed him for a feature on Image Comics’ 25th anniversary that I wrote for The Ringer, and his insight was cutting, hilarious and sincere, which made him for a remarkable interview even if he was self-effacing about it. I was lucky to have chatted with him even the once, because it was clear he was brilliant and cared a lot. That’s a heck of a pair. You can do a lot with those two things, and it’s abundantly clear that Spurgeon did.
Rest in peace to Tom Spurgeon, a man about comics who stood tall and stood for what he loved. My heart goes out to those who knew him, of which there are many.
Additional note: it’s wonderful to see that the Global Webcomics Web Archive will be archiving The Comics Reporter, ensuring its content will be kept in perpetuity. Good job by them!
2. Orbital Comics, Moving On
The Eisner-winning comic book shop Orbital Comics isn’t closing, but they are doing something similarly perplexing to some, as Bleeding Cool revealed last week that they will stop carrying new comics going forward. Orbital themselves confirmed it, saying that they will be focusing on their perceived strengths of back issues, their gallery, events, and beyond, while still getting new comics for subscription customers.
There was a lot of doom and gloom about this news, as Orbital is a big, known quantity. While it’s hardly my favorite shop in London – it’s a bit traditional for my taste, and Gosh!’s big, clean bookshop feel was more up my alley – it’s somewhere that fostered a lot of interest in the medium and offered a home base to a highly populated area. It still can do that, just minus to issues. At the same time, I’m not sure if there’s anything really doom or gloom about that. From what I understand, there’s some tension right now between Diamond UK and shops, and this allows Orbital to excise themselves from that while focusing on what they’re good at. I’ve talked to shops who have removed themselves from the regular single issue game and have found themselves as profitable as ever, if not more so.
There’s room in comics for shops of many varieties. Some focus on back issues, events and gallery set-ups, while others focus on new issues, and even others have a stronger focus on graphic novels. For me, an amateur market analyst, that sounds like members of a marketplace differentiating themselves. I suppose the concern is that removes a sizable channel from the Diamond UK ecosystem, but isn’t it on them to maintain those relationships? That’s one to watch going forward, as is Orbital.
At the same time, shouts to the varying employees who left the shop because of this (or for one reason or another), as this surprise decision put them in a bad position where they’re having to adjust to a new world order just like Orbital’s customers. To me, the play here was a slow rollout, with fair warning to customers and employees alike. Going cold turkey works sometimes, but in this case, I’m not sure that was the right play.