Pleased To Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name by Jerry Whitworth
For my first post on the new Nerdfect Strangers website, I thought I would reveal a little bit about myself. I was born in Philadelphia in the early 1980s and, as most kids at that time, was big into cartoons and action figures. In first grade, I performed poorly in English and my teacher told my mother she was going to hold me back to repeat first grade because of it. Due to my interests which seemed to center around superheroes (my favorite toys were the Super Powers line and favorite cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends), my mom began to purchase comic books from the corner store at 3 for $1. I would read the books enthusiastically as my mom helped me practice for spelling tests and my grade in English shot up enough to pass. From there I became a huge fan of comics, first with the 3 for $1 DC titles and the Marvel comics generally starring Spider-Man from the supermarket and convenience stores at a $1 an issue. This opened the door to Wizard Magazine, comic stores, comic conventions, and so on. At my local comic shop Ontario St. Comics, I frequently raided their 3 for $1 bins amassing a large Bronze Age collection (including complete runs on Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe and Rom: Spaceknight). By the time I was in high school, however, my interest in comics waned (the content became darker and I found new interest in anime, pro wrestling, and RPGs, both turned-based video games and traditional pen-and-paper). Still, I kept up with Wizard because I felt it let me sample a little bit of everything going on in comics without the investment of time and money. However, it would be Wizard which brought me back to comics and gave me my opportunity to be a comic journalist.
Grant Morrison’s JLA was heavily touted by Wizard where I eventually started buying the trades in the late 1990s. I became a huge fan which lead me on a journey to anything JLA-related (including John Ostrander’s Martian Manhunter and Tom Peyer’s Hourman), James Robinson, David S. Goyer, and Geoff Johns’ JSA, Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow, Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey, Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, Judd Winick’s Outsiders, and anything written by Geoff Johns (The Avengers, The Vision, Hawkman, Teen Titans, Flash, Green Lantern, Infinite Crisis, etc). Around the time I was getting into JLA, I also gained access to my first computer and internet connection which got me my first online writing gig as I did character profiles for the Captain’s Unofficial Justice League Homepage run by Jason Kirk. I also became introduced to fandom by way of Yahoo groups which was nice to actually have a community of people interested in the things I enjoyed (or, equal parts loathed what I enjoyed as it turned out). It was there I first became friends with Nerdfect Strangers co-host Glenn Walker in the early 2000s. At some point, I learned Geoff Johns had a message board called Comic Bloc often frequented by writers and artists. I would join the Bloc, making new friends and interacted with essentially my rock stars. Bloc member and Wizard writer Ben Morse revealed that Wizard was also going to make its own message board and I was one of the first people to sign up for it.
Called the Wizard Universe Message Board (or WUMB for short), I quickly made a lot of friends with the staff and fans of Wizard. Undoubtedly the most fun message board I had ever joined, the staff consistently interacted with the WUMB and took suggestions from its members as the people who frequented the boards came up with awesome games like David Page’s Survival of the Fittest and Larry Joe Mitchell’s WUMB Survivor Challenge (he would also co-create the WUMBie awards). It was at the WUMB I befriended fellow member Bobby Fisher, the co-founder of Nerdfect Strangers. Eventually, while attending the Wizard World Philly convention, I would be approached by Wizard editor Brian Cunningham about becoming a moderator for the website. WUMBer Sal Loria transitioned from being a board member to becoming a moderator and then writer for the site and magazine. It seemed he was the prototype for a change at the site as several others including myself followed a similar path working under site administrator Rick Marshall and later editor Jim Gibbons. The opportunity to become a paid writer was something of a dream I had growing up, though I wanted to write comics rather than articles about them. These changes emerged at perhaps the busiest time in my life as following the death of my father, I returned to college full time as I worked as an English tutor part time and writer for Wizard as assignments came up (I became something of the DC guy who often handled whatever reviews and interviews presented themselves from the publisher). Sadly, those times at Wizard wouldn’t last long.
It was obvious change was in the air at Wizard as people were being let go and others shuffled around in their place. The surprise release of Editor in Chief Pat McCallum shook everyone up at the WUMB and it was the beginning of the end in a big way. Likely, the culling of the staff from that point was what facilitated employing message board members as moderators and writers so it was like jumping onto a sinking ship. Of course, not being physically at the Wizard offices kept the at-home writers from knowing the extent of damage the company was taking but as the in-office staff kept disappearing on the board and as our handlers, we eventually knew it was bad. Some members of the WUMB had the foresight that an alternative had to be created and so the PoP! – Panels on Pages website and message board was born. At the time, however, I had too much on my plate between school, tutoring, and my assignments for Wizard to add work with PoP! to my duties and I bowed out before the site became realized. Still, I joined its message board when it went up and when Wizard did finally cease publication, PoP! was kind enough to accept my final assignments I had worked on for Wizard (interviews with Jay Faerber and Jimmie Robinson). As I started to find difficulty in my major at school (I studied Computer Science but the required Physics classes continued to escape my comprehension), I began to study Creative Writing at the college. When my research paper “A Case For Comics: Comic Books as an Educational Tool” became popular where Sequential Tart would host an edited version of it and I was approached by people to further share the work, I felt perhaps my writing dream had not yet ended. Working for various publications at my college in place of being a tutor, I would be picked up by ComicArtCommunity.com and later Moviepilot to produce content for them. I would go on to publish my first book in fourteen years as the biographer for the Al Rio Tribute Art Book Volume One in 2014 (which I promoted as a guest on The Captain’s Comic-Cast for Totally Driven Radio) and be brought on in early 2015 as a co-host for Nerdfect Strangers.