On 28 October, at about 5:04 in the evening, Greg Hatcher died. We here at the Atomic Junk Shop are gutted, as you might expect. Greg never recovered from getting his cancerous tumor removed some months ago, as he kept getting infections that he couldn’t fight off. His wife, Julie, has been keeping everyone updated on his condition, and on Thursday, the worst happened. Over the past few weeks, it seemed that Greg was veering between a really bad pole and a recovering pole, and before Wednesday, it seemed like he might swing to the positive side. But he got much worse on Wednesday, and then it become inevitable. We can’t even imagine what Julie is going through right now.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that all of us here at the blog would automatically say that Greg was the best of us if anyone asked – I don’t think it’s even a question. Greg devoted his life to helping kids, and he had a huge positive impact on so many kids who might otherwise had no good role models in their lives. He’s written about his struggles with addiction before, and he was passionate about making sure young people had outlets for their emotions that he didn’t have, the lack of which helped lead him to alcohol and other drugs. I’m sure I’ll be seeing many, many people write about him on Facebook in the coming days, and we here at the blog decided we would share our own memories of this wonderful man. It won’t make it any easier, but maybe it will help in a small way.
I first became aware of Greg in 2005, when we both started writing for Comics Should Be Good. It became immediately clear what an interesting writer and person Greg was, as he had a very distinctive style and he wrote on topics that were particular even within the genre of comics criticism. He championed old pulp stuff, Sherlock Holmes pastiches, Hammer horror movies, and a lot of other stuff that even the nerdiest people in comics might not be into. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of this stuff, too, which made his writing not only very lively, but ridiculously erudite. He shared a lot about his life, especially his job as a teacher of comics writing and art. He worked for the city of Seattle, which ran an afterschool program for kids to take various classes, and Greg made perhaps his biggest impact with that job. He loved teaching the kids, and he loved defending them against bullies, and he loved giving them confidence to make their way in the world. So many of them came from high-risk situations, and they quickly figured out that Greg and Julie were their allies no matter what, against anything that tried to harm them. Greg did not suffer fools and aggressors, and he was able to show so many of these kids why they weren’t wrong and how they could be strong. He did this for years, and he had a huge positive effect on the lives of many, many kids.
I first met Greg in person in 2012 at the Emerald City Comicon. I have always liked Seattle, so getting to go to the convention there was a treat, and getting to meet Greg and Julie was extra special. We had dinner with him and some of his students, and fellow CSBG writer Sonia Harris came along, and a good time was had by all. Greg liked to try to meet up with his old CBR mates if they came to town, and so we did whenever we made it up there. It was very cool checking out his table at the con, where his kids sold their magazine they had put together in his class. It was a very neat project, and they got a lot of visitors to check it out who were impressed that a bunch of kids, some quite young, could put together something that looked so good. Greg encouraged them to interact with the people (many of them were painfully shy, which isn’t surprising as they were a bunch of art nerds), do sketches, and charge money for said sketches, which blew their minds because people actually wanted to pay them for drawing. When I was in town for the con, I often hung out at Greg’s table and just watched the nerd world flow by. It was a lot of fun. Many comics professionals stopped by, too, because they knew Greg or at least knew of him, and they wanted to encourage the kids as well. The last time I went, in 2017, Greg and his kids weren’t tabling – I think they got priced out – but he had taken them to smaller conventions in the area, where they continued to show off their wares and prove that Greg knew what he was doing.
I loved hanging out with Greg. He was a born storyteller, in a far more interesting way than I am (I’m pretty good, I know, but I do tend to go off on tangents a lot). Greg was able to get your attention very easily and keep it as he kind of meandered through the story, always staying on point but also expanding the original idea very nicely. The best stories he told were about the CBR boards of the 1990s, which was the Wild West Days of the comics internet. I still don’t feel like it’s appropriate to relate some of the things Greg told us about some people, because even though he’s no longer with us I still want to respect his privacy. But he could tell some stories, and his one nemesis on the boards is someone whom a lot of people like, so getting Greg to talk about this person was a treat. He was also very passionate about the idiots who run the government, especially the conservative ones, and making Greg angry was an entertaining option, because he remained clear-headed but he let the expletives fly, and he was very determined to not let those assholes ruin his day or the lives of those he loved. As in everything, Greg was the smartest guy in the room, and a lot of people in power could have learned a lot if they had heard him rant once or twice.
As I noted, the last time I saw Greg was in 2017, which is the last time I went to Seattle for the convention. My wife went with me a few times, and she loved Greg and Julie too, because who wouldn’t love them? I was planning on going in March 2020, but of course COVID hit and the con was canceled, and I never got back to the city to see Greg. That sucks, but I still cherish the few times I met him in person, because he was such a wonderful guy. My heart breaks for Julie, and I hope she can be strong in the face of this tragedy. I will miss Greg’s writing, which was always interesting, and I will miss getting dinner with him every couple of years. His positive impact on the world cannot be quantified, because it was too vast. This world sucks sometimes.
I met Greg in person at the 1997 San Diego Comic-Con. I’d noticed him before that, of course; most of us had, because he was one of the most intelligent and simultaneously one of the most gracious and funny people on the site, which at that time was known in the comics industry for having an extraordinarily intelligent and well-mannered membership. The primary rule at the old CBR was “Don’t be an asshole, you have the rest of the internet for that.” Some time after that convention, Greg became moderator of the Film & TV Forum, which was one of the more contentious places on the site, but he handled it beautifully.
I still remember that first meeting. In those days, there was no Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., and posting photos was not as easy as it would become, so most of us had never seen each other before a bunch of CBRians collected ourselves outside the convention center before heading off to the Old Spaghetti Factory. Honest to God, he looked like Clark Kent. Tall, square jaw, glasses, and an amused smirk. That evening, and many to follow, were made delightful by Greg’s wit.
Greg’s usual speaking pattern was sotto voce, sarcastic remarks muttered quietly for those who were paying attention. Sarcasm was his native language, but it was never vicious; mostly he commented on the amusing foibles of the human pageantry going on around him. When he spoke up and fired off a one-liner in conversation, it was invariably devastatingly hilarious.
Both of us have remarked on more than one occasion that we each were better brothers to each other than the ones biology had served up for us.
Over the next 24 years, we saw each other a number of times; my family and I drove up to Seattle for his and Julie’s wedding, then drove in a caravan to their honeymoon at SDCC. We had dinner with them when I was on a panel at Emerald City Comic Con. One time, I enlisted his help creating a bunch of little illustrations for a phonics textbook.
Around 2002, I had started a website (MonkeySpit.com) with another friend from CBR, and on a few occasions turned to Greg for assistance with the weekly fake websites we created; I’d email him and say “so I have this idea, and he would go nuts with it. He wrote the ads for “Jerry Springer’s Love Line” (premise: people go on the Springer show, destroy their marriage, then sign up with his dating service for others destroyed by his show; I picked a bunch of hideous photos from a now-defunct site, and Greg took it from there), and also wrote our page for “IVORY, the Magazine of White Culture” (Greg: “THIS one I was born to do. I spent my childhood in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which is the WHITEST PLACE ON EARTH. We had a Town Negro, honest to God. The Manatee thing and Alcoholics Unanimous I’m blanking on, sorry. But IVORY… my God, I could riff on that for hours.”) I think my favorite thing he did was a kind of weird one; it’s a fake entry for a fake TV show on a fake site dedicated to forgotten TV shows, called “Me and the Dinosaur,” simultaneously mocking bad mid-century TV, fan culture, has-been child actors, and internet memory pages. Greg wrote all the episode synopses and behind-the-scenes descriptions of the show (and the level of detail he added is amazing), and I wrote the comments section; we had a blast, and even though there are maybe 30 people on the planet who would get what we were doing and think it was amusing, we loved doing it. Greg also appears in a photo in the comments section as has-been child star “Kirby Levin,” and my first-grade class photo appears as Kirby in his heyday, so I think this page cements that we’re brothers after all.
One year, when my family was planning to stay in one of the cabins at the KOA campground in Chula Vista for another SDCC, we rented a second one and invited Greg and Julie to join us. They brought a nephew along, and a decade later, Greg talked about how great that weekend was and how meaningful it was for their nephew. That was Greg; he was always trying to be the adult he wished had been around when he was a kid, and there is a long list of young people out there who are grateful that he was that for them.
After CBR was sold and the new owners handed down editorial guidelines that might as well have said “don’t do any of the things that Greg does,” he was pretty dissatisfied and was looking for an excuse to leave. Sadly, just about all of the other pop culture/comics/media sites out there were exploiting unpaid writers working “for exposure,” and Greg wouldn’t write for free. He knew his work had value. I told him, “there’s working for free, and there’s working for yourself; you could set up your own site, set your own editorial policies, and if it takes off, you get the profit.” Greg, being Greg, decided it was a good idea, but it would be better if he brought his friends along. So Greg’s little site of his own became Atomic Junk Shop. He named it, he picked most of the founding members (the ones I brought in didn’t stick around, for various reasons, but all of Greg’s are still here), and he set the tone for everything we do here. Frankly, we should have titled it “Greg Hatcher’s Atomic Junk Shop.” It’s really his site. The rest of us are here because of him.
Goodbye, Greg. I’m going to miss you, my brother.
I first became aware of Greg Hatcher some time in the late ‘00s, maybe 2008 or so, at about the same time I discovered the CBR’s Comics Should be Good blog. There were tons of great things being posted there, but Greg’s weekly “Fridays” columns instantly became my favorites.
Not sure which of his “Fridays” columns I first read, but I know it contained some of his reminiscences about growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon and his discovery of some cool geeky thing that became a life-long love, like the explosion of pulp paperbacks being reprinted in the 1970s, or possibly the one about how he first became captivated with the groovy Marvel comics written by guys like Steve Gerber, Don McGregor and Steve Englehart.
One reason I liked Greg’s columns so much at that point was because they reminded me so much of my own pre-teen and then teenage forays into comics and then related stuff like SF & fantasy novels, pulp fiction, etc. – and the fact that my own geek Odyssey had taken place only about 20 miles south of where Greg had been (but a bit later, as I’m about 7 years younger).
But the other, main reason I loved Greg’s columns is because they were so damned well written and so engrossing. He could take a topic like, say, his discovery of and love for the Weird Heroes line of paperbacks in the 1970s and spin a whole story out of it that really put you, the reader, right there with him as he recounted his excitement at finding some new cool thing to read, and the paths he went down discovering similar things. But those columns of Greg’s weren’t just simple forays into dewy-eyed nostalgia: he also provided background and context on whatever he was talking about and tied it into the wider pop culture milieu of the time (as Other Greg noted above, his knowledge of such things was encyclopedic). And he was never sentimental about any of it, because he often sharply critiqued the media he consumed from the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s.
Just as good, if not better, were Greg’s columns about his work with children, mainly teenagers, in various art programs in the wider Seattle area. Again, every one of these was like a miniature novel: he talked about his motives for doing what he did, the work he put into organizing them with the various school districts, the problems he encountered in overcoming with bureaucratic hurdles, and of course, the work with the kids and all of the related challenges and rewards. You could always tell that this was a labor of love for Greg, and he wore his pride over the accomplishments of his students on his sleeve (rightfully so, I should add).
And Greg’s columns only seemed to get better after the Atomic Junk Shop was established (and they have a high re-readability factor – I can say that something I’ve done more than once is click that ‘Greg Hatcher’ link on the sidebar and end up spending an hour or so re-reading his various columns).
Anyway, roughly ten years ago, I timidly shot an e-mail off to Greg, asking him a question about some obscure bit of comics or pulp fiction trivia, and we struck up a sort of electronic friendship, occasionally shooting e-mails back and forth about some geeky topic. And then in mid-2013, when Greg started contributing stories to the various anthologies of ‘new pulp’ and Sherlock Holmes pastiches published by Airship 27, he asked me to be one of his beta-readers – which I saw as a singular honor (and it also tickled me to no end). Don’t know how much I helped him, though. The ‘rough drafts’ he sent to his beta-readers were already polished and ready for publication as far as I was concerned – besides spotting an occasional (very occasional) typo and catching a total of one minor factual error (in his novel, Silver Riders), I never had any notes on his output. Mainly he just got effusive praise from me.
I could ramble on and on about Greg’s writing and what a great guy he was, but I’ll just wrap this up by noting how immeasurably happy I am that I was able to meet with Greg and his wonderful wife Julie in person a few years ago, in early 2018. I flew in the US to visit family in Oregon, and as luck would have it Greg and Julie were taking one of their road trips right through the same area. We met in downtown Salem, OR, and chatted for a quite a bit before they had to head out (more details in Greg’s column on their whole trip). The whole reason for my visit to Oregon had to do with some rather emotionally taxing family matters, so spending some time with Greg and Julie was far and away the highlight of that trip.
So long, Greg. Thanks for all of the great writing you gave us, thanks for all of the great books, comics and other media you’ve recommended over the years, and thanks especially for all of the great work you did that made the world a better place.
I never got to meet Greg in person. I got to know him the same way most of you did: Through his writing.
Following the internet bread crumbs back, it looks like I’ve known Greg for over ten years now. I read and enjoyed his old column over at CBR, frequently commenting there (sadly all the comments were purged when they changed over to the new owners), first emailed him in 2010, became Facebook friends with him 2014, and in 2016 he was nice enough to invite me to join him over here at the AJS.
The only time I actually got to talk to Greg in real time was earlier this year when he guest starred on my podcast, the SNL Nerds, to talk about the 2004 Starsky & Hutch movie with us. He had so much to say about the original Starsky & Hutch show, his thoughts on the movie version, and Aaron Spelling dramas of the ’70s, that we ended up going for two hours. The last full column he wrote here at the AJS was footnotes of the things he talked about with us. That was the thing about Greg. He knew a little something about everything, and he knew a lot about a whole lot of things. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about comics, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and other fictional worlds, but Greg left me in the dust. I learned things reading his columns I never picked up elsewhere. (Who else remembers The Three Investigators at this point? Greg did. That sort of pop culture obscurity was where he lived.)
Right now my feelings are at a three-way intersection of denial, anger, and acceptance. I’ve spent way too much of the last five years seeing good people and great friends pass away unexpectedly. Talented folk like Len Wein, Darwyn Cooke, Denny O’Neil, and Bernie Wrightson, and personal friends like Marty Pasko, Xum Yukinori, and my best friend Frankie Viturello. And all of them got shittier hands from life than what they deserved. It’s draining, and it chips away at your soul.
I spent most of Friday rereading Greg’s old columns, our Facebook exchanges, and our occasional email correspondence. Greg was tickled when I shared my recent discovery that Steve Englehart had his own Sherlock Holmes Chronology. I was lucky enough to be a beta reader for his Sherlock Holmes and Doc Fixit stories for Airship 27 and offer my feedback on his stories in progress (Like Edo wrote above, Greg didn’t really need much help, but it was a pleasure to read his stuff early and go down the rabbit hole with him). And he talked about his plans for future writing projects.
I guess I just want more of Greg, and it kills me that there won’t be any more now. We’re not going to get that fourth Dr. Fixit story, the Silver Riders sequel, or his planned Sherlock Holmes novel about Holmes’ year undercover in America as Altamont. And we’re definitely the poorer for it.
Greg was pretty upfront in his columns about his shitty childhood, exactly why it was so shitty, and his struggles with addiction. And out of all that pain, he built a new life for himself as a writer, a teacher, a husband to Julie, and a parent to Rowan. Even when life dealt him a shitty hand, he spent it doing good and helping other people. Greg was an unabashed fan of Batman, (His CBR piece on the classic ’70s story “Night of the Stalker” was so good it got a write-up at the AV Club.) but as far I’m concerned, he made himself into Batman. He overcame a traumatic childhood, gained knowledge, trained himself to be the best he could be, and became a force for good in the world. Which, extending the metaphor further, I suppose makes us here at the AJS the extended Bat-Family of sidekicks and proteges, following in Bruce Wayne’s footsteps and trying to fill his shoes when he’s absent.
Good night, Greg. I hope you sleep well. Those of us left behind will try to carry on in your stead and follow your example. Thanks for all you’ve given us. I wish you could be back next week with something cool.
I love that Batman family metaphor, John (or are we both fellow Robins?).
I think Comics Should Be Good came over to Comic Book Resources around 2008, and that’s where I first encountered the Gregs, as well as other great columnists over the years. But Greg Hatcher was special. From the book scouting reports, to the stories about teaching his kids, to posts filled with amazing amounts of knowledge that also contextualized the information he imparted upon us, his columns were always a weekly treat. His love of detective fiction has honestly changed my own reading habits over the last several years, as he’d introduced me to the genre and either through his direct recommendations or tangents from those, I’ve read so many greats, like Agatha Christie, Donald Westlake, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, and most of all, Rex Stout and the wonderful Nero Wolfe and his associate Archie Goodwin. (It delights me in looking through our correspondence, I found that I had given Greg a bit of knowledge for once when I told him something he didn’t know, that when the great comics editor and writer Archie Goodwin started writing in the 1960s, Ellery Queen Magazine told him he couldn’t use that pseudonym because it was Nero Wolfe’s associate, to which Goodwin replied that it wasn’t a pseudonym.)
I mentioned this in our Anniversary post, so I hope that Greg got a chance to read it, but two of the proudest moments I’ve had in re: my own writing were due to Greg. After Greg Burgas said that I’d probably be interested in joining what became the Atomic Junk Shop, Greg Hatcher seconded that notion, which filled me with pride. Secondly, in the last couple years, one of the email addresses I use came up for some reason, and Greg asked if I was a moderator at CBR who used a similar pseudonym. When I told him I was not that person, he said he hadn’t really thought so, as I’m funnier than that person was. To impress someone who wrote with Greg’s high caliber was a real treat. I really hope he read that and knows how much I loved him.
I never got the pleasure to meet Greg in real life, or to speak with him in real time like John, which fills me with regret. But I love that I got to interact with him at all, and that he helped improve my life as he did with so many other people. My heart breaks for Julie and for anyone else whose loss of Greg is so much greater than mine.
I’m new to Atomic Junk Shop, having joined only in the past year. That means I’m walking in his footsteps, using the platform he created, hoping to carry on, in my own way, his vision for the site.
There are people who, in their lifetime, affect those around them for the good. And then there are people who, even when their physical presence is gone, continue to change the lives of others. Greg was both.
I first encountered Greg late in his career as a moderator on the CBR forums, when he’d become a less frequent poster. He’d reached out to me because of issues with moderating YABS, Gail Simone’s forum on the site. To make a long story short, it was essentially a disagreement with the other mods over how much to tolerate hate speech, especially against the LGBTQA+ community. I thought perhaps I was overreacting to my frustrations. But Greg came to me and, having much more inside baseball knowledge of the situation, filled in all the details I was missing. It was a revelation. It eventually solidified not just the moving of the YABS forum off CBR but also confirmed this theory of moderating: if you only give the assholes a slap on the wrist, they’ll keep coming back and eventually poison the well for everyone.
Greg was the opposite, someone who expanded the well so it could reach all that needed nourishment.
Kelly Thompson [I – that is, Greg – reached out to Kelly because she was such a big part of CSBG and we – Greg and I – had a fun relationship with her, even though we’ve never met. So I thought she might want to contribute, and she did, but a bit after we posted this, so I thought I’d just edit it in. Thanks, Kelly!]
Greg Hatcher was one of the good ones. And everything feels a bit less now that he’s gone. I feel like I knew him well and also not at all – our writing careers intersecting in strange ways – which is to say we were on similar paths in some ways and completely different ones in others. One of the ways in which Greg’s career was different than mine is that he was always giving back – especially to his students. His passion for words, art, education, and his students was palpable. He made a difference there. A huge one. So few of us can say that. And what could possibly be more important than that? So many lives were made better by knowing Greg. I know mine was.
You’re missed, my friend. I will think of you often, and always fondly.
I first met Greg as a bright eyed little sixth grader who wanted to make the best art ever. I was (am?) an overthinker and perfectionist, and I immediately wanted his approval. There was one day in Cartooning that he did a sketch of some other kid and I was, looking back on it, jealous. Why wasn’t I good enough for him to want to draw me? But upon further reflection, I realized he gave me something better than the ten or fifteen minutes it took to sketch a figure; he truly saw me.
I think that’s why I came back as his assistant in high school and university, asked him to oversee my Senior Project, and then came back around again when it was time for me to apply and interview for the job I later got in Japan. It was during this time that he imparted so much more of his wisdom to me. And, he always talked about the nickname his afterschool kids got from his colleagues– the Island of Misfit Toys– but around him, I never felt like a misfit. I never felt wrong, or bad, or like I had to be anything other than who I was at that given moment. Greg was just like that; creating space and filling it with the purest form of love: acceptance.
And he was always there for us, his kids who had been dubbed the Hatchlings. You could ask him anything, even if it was “I don’t really know what I’m asking, but this is what’s going on,” and he’d have a calm, rational break down of the topic and advice at the ready. I think I might miss that the most.
When I wanted to come out to my birth parents, a conservatively religious pair, he coached me through it. He and Julie helped me navigate the ups and downs as I tried to work things out with them, and then slowly realized I needed to end the relationship if I wanted to live authentically and find my own happiness. They were both right there with me through it all. So, when time and therapy made things feel Right, I asked Greg to be dad, and Julie to be mom.
It was immediate. “Oh, you know you’re already our kid, but if you want it official, it’s done.”
That was probably the best moment of my life. And that’s just who dad was.
So, while it’s going to suck that I can’t pop on messenger and send him a plea for wisdom and advice, I know it’s his voice guiding me when I get quiet and listen. Though there are so many things I wanted to do with him, and for him, I can still take his memory into the new parts of my life. And, in the same way that he showed me love and acceptance, unconditionally, I can then take that energy and cast it out as far as it will go. For surely, there are more kids out there like me; kids who won’t feel quite as alone on the Island of Misfit Toys.
I feel like everything I would have said is already written in the posts Greg made before. His articles chronicle his whole life including, when we met, school teacher diaries and especially when we became parents to Rowan. That, and he loved Halloween. I’m sure others are already aware of Greg’s generous nature, he didn’t ever want anyone to know it though. Greg always said, “Don’t tell anyone it would ruin my grumpy old man street cred.” I want you all to be assured that his acts of kindness will always live on in the lives he helped in AA, the Restorative Justice Project, our kids (Hatchlings) and in you his clan at Atomic Junk Shop and Airship 27.
As for his last night that he was totally himself, we spent it like the geeks we are; we spent it enjoying the 1963 film, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Our journey together ended as it began; laughing and loving, together. Greg was my heart. I was the blessed one in this grand love we have, despite what Greg would say. As Lester Holt always says at the end of his broadcast “Be kind to yourself and each other.”
We’d like to encourage everyone here to share any stories they have about Greg. It’s almost impossible to express how much of a positive impact he had on this world, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying! As you might know, neither Greg nor Julie ever made a ton of money, and unfortunately, money is important, so one of his “Hatchlings,” Brianna, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help Julie with anything that might come up in the future. It’s obviously not a perfect system, but if you can donate anything, it would help her a lot. Julie is just as amazing a human as Greg was, and anything that can make her loss the tiniest bit better is appreciated. Here’s the GoFundMe, if you’re interested. We also have a donation button at the top of the page, and for the time being, everything you donate will go to Julie. I don’t know how long the GoFundMe will be up, but if you can’t donate now but are able to in the near future and it’s not around anymore, we will still be giving money to Julie. Just so you know. I’ve also linked to his novel The Silver Riders below, so if you want to support Julie by buying some of Greg’s fiction, I’m sure that would be excellent, too. Here’s his author page, if you want to peruse.
We’ll keep blogging, of course, and we’ll even keep making jokes and having fun, because life goes on and Greg certainly wouldn’t have wanted us to stay gloomy. He loved so-called “junk” culture, and we owe it to him to keep writing about it. We’re going to start reprinting all his old CBR columns here, from the very beginning (even the ones that are out a bit dated!) because the old site is not terribly user-friendly and we thought it would be nice to have them all in one place. So look for those soon.
Greg was a unique, wonderful person. We are going to miss him. Rest in peace, my friend.