This is a story about a person who never gave up on me, and I am a better person because of him.
It was the sixth grade… 2000? I believe? I’ve gotten to that point in my life where Greg would tell me you stop caring or counting, the years just happen. My school handed out flyers for after school clubs and I was determined to find “the one.” I had just started drawing, but my sixth grade brain told me that I was excelling, I was the best, and when I saw Cartooning Club, my little ego went: “bingo.”
The classroom the club was held in was in the basement of the school, the woodshop room. Being brand new to middle school, going down into the basement of a 100+ year old school was terrifying. Concrete walls painted white, fluorescent lights, dark concrete floors, an echo-y hallway… a space I would learn to cherish. The classroom itself was your typical workshop-esque classroom with large tools, building materials all about, and large tables with what I think was aluminum tops and tall metal and wood chairs. Directly to my left, as I walked in the door, I heard: “Welcome.” There was Greg. Sitting in a chair by the door in what I would call his “uniform:” a black t-shirt, forest green fleece zip up I would come to recognize from a mile away (along with his plaid button ups with the sleeves rolled part way up), lanyard with his picture around his neck; a stack of paper, pencils, Sharpies, and rulers by his side on a table. On his face, a half grin, one where his eyes would crinkle only slightly under his wire-frame glasses, eyes twinkling. Kid me thought the expression seemed oddly eager for a teacher in a basement, adult me knows better—it was an eagerness, but the kind where one kindred spirit sees another, that twinkle was a devotion that I had no idea would save me in so many subtle ways, nurture me, and help me find myself.
Over the next three years, Greg would kindly, with all the snark, check that ego of mine, and put me in a space to grow. He would poke at me for not storyboarding my work, for not writing out my plots, for rushing through and not thinking about my layouts. He would endlessly remind (sometimes with great exasperation) me to “HATCH LIGHTLY” when I shade, that if you have light reflecting in a character’s eyes that the rest of the shadows and reflections have to match, no it does NOT matter if you like the eyes to look that way, shift your shadows over then, kiddo… He would also go on to teach me how to recognize that other people are people too, that it’s OK to be frustrated, that it’s OK to be proud, to be confident, but humble, to own my achievements, to take risks outside my comfort zone, and how to value myself over other’s perspectives—that I get to determine my value… which is so important when you are a preteen. He always celebrated my accomplishments, he always grieved with me when I felt pain or disappointment. He stepped into a role that he didn’t need to, not just for me, but for any of the kids in his program, whenever we needed that person, that safe adult. At the time, I didn’t fully understand his stories about his life—he was so good at filtering for 11-13 year olds, but you got the impression that this man had lived through so many things, and he channeled all of that into a mission to be the parent that he never had, as Jim put it so eloquently the other day, for any kid who needed or wanted that.
Greg would joke and laugh with us when we were being silly, lecture us when we were perhaps TOO “silly” (to say the least), and be there as support when any one of us were struggling. We were a family and we behaved as such, with Greg at the head of the table. Greg had life lessons that he would bestow on us, and advocate for us when we needed help with school or home. Two days a week I would hurry to that basement classroom, my arms full of work for Greg to review, and burst through the door. Greg would always be there, right inside the door to the left, with a big smile.
I remember him taking me to my first comicon, Emerald City, that first year in middle school. We’d get the booth for the club set up, proudly display our work, and Greg would remind us “speak up, you are here because you are pros. Show off your work!” Every year he would take us to ECCC, and every year say the same thing: be proud, you are here because you are the pros, you make comics, and they are good. He encouraged me to attend different art functions in town, to learn from others, to appreciate everyone in the community. Through him I met people who also became influences and inspirations in my life, was exposed to things that would become my own passions and interests, things that would eventually evolve my career and codes.
Then he met Julie. I remember him sharing about this gal he thought was wonderful—she taught pottery down at the Alki Beach House and they had been talking for a while, just as friends; at the time her wasn’t sure how to approach her because he felt she was too good for him. He described her as the sweetest, most caring person he ever met—like a light, you couldn’t help but feel warm and happy when she was in the room. Me, being twelve, and not keyed into the complexity of adulthood romance just shrugged with very little enthusiasm: “You like her, right? Let her decide for herself. You get to be happy too, Greg.” Greg smirked: “I better get on it then.” He introduced us to Julie that following comicon, she was supposed to just drop him off, but ended up staying for the whole day, engaging with us, cracking jokes. Naturally, because Julie is the sweetest human on this planet (and I dare you to find someone sweeter), we all loved her, and after that day, you never thought of Greg without Julie, nor Julie without Greg. Comicon would eventually become the inside joke following in the footsteps of Julie’s introduction that this was where the nerd-parents were introduced to the kids’ new partners for approval. If the new partner could hang at the con, Greg and Julie gave the badge of approval.
I stayed with the club into high school as a teacher’s assistant and then, I went to college in up in Bellingham in 2007, about 90 miles away. College took up all of my time and going to cons, which now became the “family reunion” of sorts, became very difficult. My first year in college was the last year I was able to attend for a while. I collaborated with other club grads to put together a book to raise money for the club which, at the time, had its funding dramatically cut. There is, in fact, a piece in the West Seattle Herald from that year that highlights the club and our little soapbox about how important this program is to continue.
When I was attempting to find any photos I have of Greg (my family being in the middle of moving, naturally everything I want to use is in a box… somewhere), I looked up his old column with CBR and went through twenty years of history. Reading about little moments in time, moments of my life through his eyes, was an absolute trip It was also reassuring for me, as I always have felt like my years in college put a strain on us, I felt so distant from the cartooning family; but as I read through column after column, I saw that Greg thought nothing of it, he was proud not just of me, but the other grads as we went on to pursue adulthood. It was like getting some closure in that moment.
Between college and now, through any life trial, Greg would be one of the first to send a message letting me know that he and Julie would be there in a heartbeat and, if I needed to, their home was always open to me. As I am writing this… it hits harder just how much Greg was like my second dad and Julie, my mom. Greg and Julie referred to the kids in Cartooning Club (and eventually the Young Authors Club when it was established) as their kids. “Brianna, Julie and I aren’t going to have kids, but we have you guys, you are our kids, and that is enough.”
Greg came into my life during a time where my parents weren’t really there. My dad had emotionally checked out and exhausted, struggling to cope with the ongoing divorce from my mom while trying to find his identity after being married for almost twenty years, and my mom was incredibly abusive without me fully understanding at the time that was my situation—how do you know you are being hurt when it’s been normalized in your family, right? Greg caught it though. Greg never stepped into my family life without my consent—at least not that I am aware of—but he would be there, for little talks, reassurances, and being a consistent presence. He taught me that the only people worth being in my life are people who don’t make me question my value. That I deserve to be happy, that I deserve to be cared for. He always made sure I knew that he, and Julie, were there for me if I ever needed them, if things got bad. Always steadfast with support and love, without judgement… all the way to the very end.
Greg was always in the periphery of my life in some way—cons, events, and just talks. I introduced him and Julie to the person I would marry, Brandon, in 2013, and of course it was at con for our traditional nerd-parent approval. Which they did give, I am happy to report. They came to the eventual wedding in 2016, I would go on to have a child, Asher, in 2018. We always stayed in touch as much as life would allow us, through all of its ups and downs.
The last time I saw Greg was earlier this year, this past summer. This visit was Greg and Julie’s traditional anniversary road trip to somewhere with good used bookstores and breakfast diners, and this year they picked Bellingham. I was so excited. About a year after Asher was born, roughly, the pandemic hit, and Greg and Julie had still not met him. Like a good nerd-mom, I had immediately immersed my son with comics and nerd culture from the moment he was born, and after finding one of my JLA books (one that Greg had actually given to me), Asher discovered Aquaman. As soon as I informed Greg that Asher was all about Aquaman, he immediately searched for a copy of the very first Aquaman book he had and sent it to Asher. Greg was tickled to have this in common—Aquaman was his first favorite and now he had a connection with Asher too. I was so excited to have Greg and Julie meet my nerdlet, their first baby grand-nerd born to the Hatchlings.
When they arrived in Bellingham, we went out for breakfast at Nelson’s Market and Marlin’s Café for good ol’ diner food. Naturally, my kid was overtired and absolutely WILD instead of his usual charming self—but Asher was pretty excited to meet Greg. Asher’s favorite picture in our home is the drawing Greg drew as a wedding gift for Brandon and I. Every morning, Asher would pick up the picture and carry it around and talk about who was in it and would tell us “Greg drew this! It’s Greg’s picture.” So to finally see Greg in the flesh was like meeting Santa Claus.
After breakfast, I was excited to show Greg and Julie my favorite comic book shop in town: The Comics Place. It had just reopened and had strict mask policies (for immune system considerations), and Greg had assessed he would have the energy to manage one more stop. At the store, Greg and I chatted (but I mostly wrangled my toddler who was grabbing every toy and book like a maniac because of course he was). I wish that, looking back, I had asked Brandon to come with us to help me with Asher more. I so desperately wanted to engage and give all my attention to Greg and Julie, but soloing a condensed form of a tornado with a sassy attitude really had me splitting my attention. I remember giving him and Julie a quick hug when they had to leave, partially because Asher had found a bin of little Pokemon figures to get into, partially because the pandemic has really altered how we physically connect and I didn’t want to push boundaries. Had I known that would be my last time, I would’ve said screw boundaries, let Asher wreak havoc, and asked for forgiveness from Django and the other store staff later if it meant I could hug Greg a little more, a little longer.
I don’t have many pictures of us together. I’ve been trying to look for some… Like a parent, he was always the one behind the camera, always catching the little moments of my life. We always had drawings and art. Those I have. From the sketches I begged for at the art fair when I was twelve and he looked at me and sarcastically teased “You know people pay me $10 for this, freeloader,” to the last drawing I received, the wedding gift.
I know he knew I loved him. But I regret not showing it more, being verbose, and being honest with him. Maybe I was shy, but also maybe that was just our relationship. We didn’t need to say it, not often, because we just… knew. He was my nerd-dad and I was one of his nerd-kids, fondly referred to as the “Hatchlings.” Without Greg, I don’t think I would’ve found comics, or loved them as much as I do now, I wouldn’t have pursued art with a broad and open perspective, I wouldn’t be working with kids as I do now.
Greg, wherever you are, you are truly never far from any of us. Thank you for being the person you were. Thank you for devoting your life to kids whose lives needed the parent you never had but that you became. Thank you for letting me be your Hatchling and sticking with me for, literally, my entire life.