One-sided debates with Spurgeon on this blog were infrequent but not unprecedented. I had debated him off and on on CBR and THE BEAT, usually in the context of my finding fault with what I deemed elitist pronouncements. I summed this background up in a CLASSIC HORROR FILM BOARD post:
I never met him in the flesh, though I argued with him often on a messboard in the early 2000s. The messboard was later deleted, so all of our arguments were consigned to the ether.
I would say that this essay captures his frequent if not constant ambivalence toward the comics medium, which I think I suggested was more of an ambivalence toward pop culture in general.
Still, I would certainly say he endeavored, on THE COMICS REPORTER, to be as inclusive as a news-blog could be, covering both the perceived "highs" and the "lows" of the medium to some extent. This made the blog a good follow-up to what the magazine COMICS JOURNAL (which Spurgeon edited for a time) used to be in the seventies and eighties, IMO. Believe it or not, coming from me, that's high praise.
So, unlike his many well-wishers, I had no personal connection with him. I think I've mentioned him in various essays here from time to time, but only once did I devote a short series of responses to one of our arguments. I feel reasonably sure he never read the series (and in his place, probably I would not have bothered either). The last contact I had with the man, if one can even call it that, was that I sent COMICS REPORTER a "news item" about my starting a FANTASTIC FOUR blog. I will say that Spurgeon, despite our having had acrimonious words in the past, did carry the item and that the blog did get a bump in publicity before I decided it wasn't going anywhere and so deleted the whole thing.
Obviously I'm not going to pass any judgments on his place in the history of American comics criticism. I will say that he never struck me as being as theoretically doctrinaire as either Gary "Revenge of Theodor Adorno" Groth or Noah "Ask Me About My Marginalized Status" Berlatsky. However, if he didn't suffer from theoretical rigidity, some of his essays were a little too free-form for my taste.
The REPORTER post to which I linked earlier followed Spurgeon's undergoing a serious medical procedure and a lengthy stay in the hospital. Parts of this essay are fascinating-- and then, there's this.
Every person passionately interested in an art form thinks that passion fascinating. In other art forms, however, there's an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship that makes coming to terms with it an answer to a throwaway question on a panel, or the first response in a 10-part interview, the part most likely to be cut and something almost always laughed over. Comics is odd, a medium of heartbreak and musty smells and approximations, and it doesn't have an easy commercial element except for a lucky elite. A very small number of people take to them in that wholehearted way that seems more common to other media. Art comics has a tradition where not long ago its champions fell in love with the form when they had so little access to its history and lived in such artistically fallow times they had no choice but to believe in comics that hadn't been made yet. Like the physical items in many collections, we carry all of it with us, the comics we loved as a kid and all the barely-formed reasons why, the comics that opened our eyes, the comics that we attach to a time and place, the comics that devastated us as adult readers for their skill and insight, the comics that we helped other people enjoy. The model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory.
This was certainly not the first time Spurgeon showed diffidence about his love affair with comics. I never doubted that he was as committed to the medium as I am, but I find myself baffled by many of the phrases he uses to put comics in some special category even as he expresses that intense connection. What does it mean to say that the afficanadoes of other art forms have "an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship?" Did the "ease" have something to do with the fact that other art-forms, like painting and novel-writing, are validated by majority culture? Or did the ease have something to do with the "commercial context," the idea that a fan-- assuming the fan does not turn pro-- can vicariously enjoy the success of his chosen art-form in majority culture? But surely the rule of the "lucky elite" among art-practitioners applies to the other art-forms as well. How many novel-writers can subsist only on their novels, and how many have to keep day-jobs? And if the "model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory," then in what way is it different from discourse on abstract art or on commercial film?
Obviously I will never get answers to these sort of niggling questions, any more than I did when I debated Spurgeon on messboards. I can only respond, as into the void, that I never have felt that the comics medium was a thing apart. Since I'm for the most part a Jungian, I think that everything that the medium expresses stems from the same collective psychic reservoir that every other medium draws from-- so that, on an essential level, nothing from the same reservoir can be a thing apart. I might have made some argument along those lines to Spurgeon had I ever debated him on a forum of some sort, and maybe he would have given a more satisfactory answer, given that personal debate can allow for more nuanced discussions. But that's another "might have been" that one can only fling into the void, knowing that there will be no answer.