When I made the first Trains Are Mint, I was pretty certain of its quality and vitality. I was young and obnoxious, but I wasn’t always wrong. Tom Spurgeon was one of a select few that agreed with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my first comic missive outside of Manchester (Trains Are Mint 1) coincided with the launch of Spurgeon’s The Comic Reporter blog. I was 26 and new to comics. Reading The Comics Reporter was akin to reading the NME in my teens. There were all these super cool people making these super weird comics and I wanted in.
Tom had a section called Off the Beaten Path (shorted to OTBP. I couldn’t figure out that acronym for years. I eventually emailed him to clarify and he was kind enough to reply) in which he linked to me a few times. But that first time, when he included a cover image of the first Trains Are Mint, was a legitimate “you're doing ok, kid” from a guy who knew his shit. That one section was your go-to for anything weird and wonky. To be mentioned in that meant everything to me at the time.
He would go on to mention everything he found (or was sent) of mine with increasing praise preceding my name; “the great…” this and the “compelling” that. It was comforting to have him in my corner. He would eventually interview me for the Sunday long read slot, and I’d made it. Framed above the fireplace, mum.
I’ve not read the interview again, so I’m not sure where it came from, but as the years went on and public interest flatlined, Tom would seem to share my opinion, at the time, that my work was under appreciated, that my work deserved a wider audience. I may have mentioned this in (half) jest in our, or another, interview. But to have this bitter gripe confirmed by a figure such as Tom was reassuring. He supported all of my projects. Even the shit ones.
Tom’s blog was where I first saw Warren Craghead’s work, which had, and continues to have, a major influence on my comics and wider drawing practice. No Tom, no Frank Santoro’s Storeyville. He posted an image from the book, under some context or other, and it blew my mind. What is THAT? I HAVE to have THAT! Thanks, Tom, for showing me my favourite ever comic.
I met him only briefly once. Warren Craghead and Simon Moreton were tabling at SPX and I, for simple ego reasons, was skyping in via a laptop facing artist alley out. Sat in my home in Old Trafford, Manchester, UK, I watched a steady stream of pixilated punters stream past, having awkward stilted conversation with anyone who stopped. None of whom had heard of Trans Are Mint, it turned out. Then Tom rocked up. Hey Tom! Nice to finally meet you! But he was a bit weirded out. I think I had been placed in front of another alt. comic giant’s groin and talking to me meant talking to his cock. So, Tom moved on and comics’ Frost v Nixon was missed. I’m glad we met anyway and I’m sure he wouldn’t forget the circumstances.
I’ve fallen out with comics for the past few years, and my reading of his blog has waned with that. Looking at it now, the Random Comics News section needs filling in. The Notable Releases section awaits his picks. I’ve began making comics work again now and might send some out into the world next year. Tom would have been first on that mailing list, and he would have been as welcoming as ever.
I’ve argued with, fallen out with, or alienated many peers, gatekeepers and industry wonks in the comics world over the years, but I always did well with Tom. I always managed to say the right thing, with just the right amount of cheek, to get a laugh in return. He was very accommodating of my occasional requests of his time.
I’m gutted I’ll never get to thank him in person.