Thomas Inge, RIP

By | Tuesday, May 18, 2021 Leave a Comment
You may have caught yesterday news about the death of M. Thomas Inge. I won't recap his basic backstory; you can read that elsewhere.

I didn't really know Tom personally. I met him a couple times but only really talked with him briefly once. But, as I am sure you can hear from any number of comics scholars, he served as a shining light forward. My earliest influences when it comes to comics research were Peter Sanderson, Will Murray, and Greg Theakston. They wrote pieces that took comics and their stories seriously, and applied thoughtful consideration to them in a way the most of the fan press simply wasn't doing. When I started my Fantastic Four fan site back way back in 1996, the writing I did for that was inspired by them.

I wouldn't discover Thomas Inge's work for about another decade. He took his work just as seriously as the others, but he didn't limit himself to superheroes. He was interested in comics as a medium, writ large. He looked at not only a broader array of material -- different venues, different genres, etc. -- but also put it in the perspective of their times and broader culture. He wouldn't write just about the illustrative style of Winsor McCay or the surreal landscapes of George Herriman or the storytelling ability of Lou Fine, but he put that in the context of everything that was going on around them. The first extended work of his I read was Comics as Culture that quickly became a seminal piece of writing in terms of how it got me to think about comics.

Shortly after I discovered him back in 2007, I wrote...
From the little I've read of his work thus far -- I have a few scattered essays on top of the book I cited earlier -- he not only treats comics with an inordinate amount of respect, but he understands them in a way few people seem to. He's able to keep things in a historical context, and show their social relevance at the time. I can't think of anyone offhand who really has this sort of perspective across the entire medium and speak to it in a freshingly simple, yet intelligent manner.
More importantly, though, he actively encouraged and even assisted getting new comics scholars up through the ranks to get even more scholarship about our favorite medium out there. He not only paved the way for them, pushing through many books and papers to get published that, before him, there was simply not an audience for -- or at least, not an audience recognized by publishers -- but he also reached back behind him to help pull others along with him. Most of the comic scholars I know owe much of their career very directly to Tom, who personally encouraged them onward.

When I last heard Tom speak in 2018, he expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the state of comics scholarship compared to when he started. He was humble enough to see it as the work of everyone currently involved, and took little credit for spearheading pretty much all of it. I'm glad, though, he was able to see how far things had come since his earliest efforts and the truly impressive collective body of work people have put forward. Whether Tom had ever read -- of, for that matter, even seen -- any of my work, I don't know, but I've always been thrilled to add whatever minor contributions I can and Tom was a big part of getting me started on that.

My consolences to his family, friends, and colleagues who have lost a towering figure of comics scholarship.
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