To My Friend by Jerry Whitworth
When I was a kid, for the most part, I was the only person I knew really into comics. Occasionally, I’d run into someone else who read them but it was a fairly solitary existence. My world changed in 2003 when I bought my first computer. I worked at a retail store and rather than a Christmas bonus, they gave you a slip you could use to get 10% off any one item in the store. I used mine for a computer I put on layaway and had a family member help me bring it home because my parents didn’t have a car at the time. Getting online, I found a horde of websites about comic book knowledge like DCU Guide, DC Cosmic Teams, Heroic Images, and the Captain’s Unofficial Justice League Homepage. These sites gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of comics without buying longbox after longbox of comics as I had before. At some point, I befriended Jason Kirk of the Captain’s site and I became a contributor from character profiles to his listing of cinematic appearances of characters to desktop wallpapers. I produced so many background images, Jason made a mini-site called the JLA Desktop and, to supplement it, I created a Yahoo! group called the JLA Micro Desktop. It was through this group I met Glenn Walker. While the group was primarily about images, we also had debates about current comics and past comics. In my thorough research of the medium, people viewed me as some sort of comic historian and thought I was twice my age. Glenn was a frequent contributor to our discussions and he became one of my first online friends before things like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter existed. Over the course of running the group, JLA/Avengers began publication and I decided to host a tournament on the group. People would secretly vote among match-ups I set up and I announced the winner via stories I wrote about the fight. While I was published before for two essays I wrote about my life growing up in Philadelphia and had character profiles on the Captain’s site, these stories I told about these bouts were my first fictional tales that I shared with anyone. Everyone was a fan of these short stories but perhaps none more so than Glenn. He loved them. He wanted more of them. He wanted me to write for a living so he could read these stories that came out of my head. He may have been the biggest advocate I ever had in my life to write.
Over the years, Glenn and I remained in touch. Over the various social media sites I mentioned, we kept finding each other and with little doubt, out of all the friends I made on Yahoo!, we were the closest. I don’t recall exactly when it happened, but I caught Glenn posting about some of the writing he was doing. In time, he ran or contributed to more sites than I can ever keep straight without aid. As a rule, if I have a friend trying to produce their own work and cast it into the void to see if anyone cares, I support them. Part of that is because I know the struggle of trying to get someone to care about what I’m producing, but also because of people like Glenn who encouraged me to keep trying. As a creator, it’s so hard to get people to care about what it is that you’re making. You put so much of yourself out into the world, praying you’re not simply wasting your time and often times, the silence that returns is deafening. I worked for my fair share of sites until finding a home on ComicArtCommunity.com for several years which lead to my contributing to an artbook for the late Al Rio. Along the way, an opportunity emerged to try my hand at another medium. Wizard magazine for several decades was the premier non-fiction periodical about comic books and I joined its second attempt at a message board after its first descended into anarchy (later, I would come to work for the magazine as a site moderator and writer). There, I met Bobby Fisher and we became friends. At some point after the demise of Wizard, Bobby started a podcast called Nerdfect Strangers but his partner had to leave the project for personal reasons. While there were several people Bobby wanted for a co-host, it seemed I was the right fit and came on in 2015. After about six months, Bobby wanted to try having a third voice on the show to which I recommended Glenn. By this time, Glenn had two other podcasts, GAR with his friend Ray and Make Mine Magic with his wife Jenn. Glenn must have impressed Bobby because within two appearances, Glenn was recognized as the Hulk Hogan to Bobby and I’s Outsiders. Over two years and thirty episodes, we three were the Nerdfect Strangers and people started to seek us out to be part of our program. Last year, this would even extend to us being asked to appear on other podcasts leading to Glenn and I meeting for the first time… or so I thought.
The +2 Comedy podcast had contacted me on Twitter about our hosts being guests on their show. The only snag: it was an in-person podcast with a live audience. Nerdfect Strangers is recorded online, Bobby being in Ohio, Glenn in New Jersey, and myself in Pennsylvania. At first, I turned down the offer but the host, Noah Houlihan, was rather persistent and I realized since Noah’s podcast was filmed in Jersey, there was a possibility Glenn and I could do it. So, I asked Bobby if it was okay (I felt like a heel that he founded the thing and here I was doing a public appearance for it) and he thought it was cool. Glenn wasn’t too enthused about performing for a crowd of strangers, but he got behind the idea. The night of the recording, I sat on my front step waiting for Glenn when I saw someone that looked similar to him drive past. This same car came back around two more times seemingly more agitated each time. Almost to the point of throwing myself into traffic, the car finally pulled over and, sure enough, it was Glenn. To say he was upset was an understatement, his GPS apparently would stop giving him instructions when he approached my home leaving him to driving around the block repeatedly in hopes that it would finally inform him he reached his destination. I shook his hand and told him it was nice to finally meet him after thirteen years and he told me this was the second time we met. As it turned out, of the eight Wizard World conventions I attended in Philadelphia, we met at one of them and I have no recollection of it. Glenn commented he must have not been very memorable and chuckled about it, becoming a running joke in our discussions about how I seemingly blocked out any memory of our first meeting in person. The hour-plus ride from my house to the comic book shop destination was amusing, Glenn yelling at the GPS for making no sense, me using my phone to give him other directions which he was almost as skeptical of believing, and his verbose usage of profanity which left me in awe as I never previously heard him curse and the depth of his expletives ran deep. But also along the way, he told me about his life, about his childhood, school, writing, marriage, and his health as he recently had a scare that put him in the hospital that made him change his diet and lifestyle. Glenn offered me something that to this day remains rare. In my life, I’ve prided myself on blazing trails. Despite being obese virtually my whole life, I tried to rise above my condition to live a full life nonetheless. Further, coming from what I would call “comfortable poverty,” I had plans to rise above the station I was born into, to be something more than a laborer as almost everyone from my childhood ended up becoming in their adulthood. The struggle in both of these areas is constant and heartbreaking. I don’t know how much older Glenn is from me, but certainly about my father’s age. And he was almost like an older version of myself who seemed to figure it out and find happiness (something I would almost exclusively attribute to Jenn). We recorded the podcast, had a good time, and parted company. Glenn really wanted me to attend the Camden Comic Con with him last year but between the deterioration of my health and his busy schedule, it didn’t work out and we had hoped to shoot for this year (but my health again made it too difficult). That podcast appearance would be the last time we met.
Every year for Halloween, the Nerdfect Strangers records a special where we riff on bad horror movies in the vein of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. We produced three of these specials with the latest selected by Glenn in Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. Often in our time together, we’ve tried to produce a podcast every two weeks which we’re more successful in doing some seasons than others. After the Halloween special, we interviewed Niall Presnall for his Kickstarter campaign but couldn’t record another podcast two weeks later due to Thanksgiving. We wouldn’t nail down a date for a recording session until about four weeks after our last podcast and something curious happened that day. For a few days leading up to the recording, Glenn didn’t seem to be on social media much. When he was in the hospital, he didn’t post and some months later when he was absent, I contacted him to see if he was alright. As it turned out, he was on a cruise and I was only one of several people who were concerned about his absence. Following that, I tended to wait a week before allowing myself to be concerned. But, on Facebook, he was absent for a whole day prior to our scheduled recording. Glenn’s not the kind of person to leave you high and dry and he was good about remembering when we were recording. I became nervous and texted him if he was okay but didn’t get a response. When the time came to record, Bobby was unavailable due to a show he had to attend with his wife for her business and I decided to record a solo episode (our first such recording). I kept assuring myself Glenn simply forgot and he avoided social media for a day. Jenn called later that night to tell me Glenn had passed away. I had no words. All I could do was keep saying ‘I’m so sorry.’ I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. My father in ’04, my uncle Steve a year later, my author friend Howard, my uncle Mike, my first love Nicole, my cousin Jen, my college mentor Joe… I’ve become so accustomed to losing people that I know how hollow words become and I’m almost numb to death anymore. I still feel the heaviness in my chest making it hard to breath, the vice-like pressure on my head, and the deep, dark thoughts of mortality and pain. I dare say, at this point, I’ve nearly lost the capacity to grieve. Just, instead, feel pain. I wouldn’t qualify Glenn as my best friend, but we were close. We tried to be there for each other, sharing our joy and pain. After he moved to Florida and became a frequent attendee of Disney World, I told him I was living vicariously through him. He mailed me the booklet of cuisine from the park’s international food festival. I’m going to miss my friend dearly. He was one of the better people I knew in life and I’ve known a lot of good people. He loved his wife very dearly and he knew that love was mutual. He was happy which, for a writer, is very hard and made even harder in the harsh world we find ourselves in today. I take comfort in that he will no longer know sickness or pain but feel deep sadness for his loss, most especially for the love of his life. I can’t find any words that can ease the suffering from this tragedy save that he lived a good life, a happy life, and he is loved. For a writer, we produce work because we feel a drive within us to get our ideas from out of our minds and into the world. But, as a consequence, those words will live long past us. In this, Glenn Walker can remain with us forever.