As far as producing went, I did everything wrong, but I will never regret the time I spent trying to do it. I'd set up the bar in my parents' basement as a sort of all-purpose set and studio and spent just about all day, every day down there, ostensibly working on development, scripting, filming, redecorating... and trying to integrate myself into the community. A number of producers were doing a lot of livestreaming back then, but one in particular who was on during the day was Justin "JewWario" Carmical. I never missed one of his streams, and as a regular, eventually he started recognizing my name and saying hi to me when I showed up in the chat.
One day, he started talking about wanting title cards for his old episodes, and was looking for artists who might want to claim an episode to illustrate. He couldn't pay for the art, but we'd get a link under the video...
Title card art wasn't what I wanted to do, but the fact is I've always been a pretty good artist. Although I'd almost never do free artwork NOW, at the time, I was completely unknown as an artist. I had no audience and had never thought to charge money for my art. Doing a title card seemed like a decent foot in the door to me. So I volunteered.
It was the first time I had ever used a tablet to do art. I found it incredibly difficult to control the pen while looking at a screen. The result was wretched (I mean really, REALLY wretched -- http://fav.me/d31j8a9 ), but he didn't complain. Rather, after sending him a link to my gallery, he liked the rest of my art so much, he pimped my gallery on his stream on several occasions. So I did more art fan art. I stuck around the streams. And slowly, people came to know me. I made friends. A few months later, I went to my first con -- MAGFest. I met someone who became my partner in podcasting for a long time. Together, we interviewed about half the producers on TGWTG. I did his title cards (doing the art by hand, because I had no faith in tablets). Both of us were aiming for some coveted spot on the site. My partner found one as a podcaster with another producer.
Tony and I kept working together until I started noticing a name showing up regularly on my "recent visitors" box on my DeviantArt gallery. It was a vaguely familiar name -- Oancitizen. I went to my friend and brother-from-another-mother Smarty (also someone I knew through Justin, still one of my closest friends who I consider a brother). Smarty confirmed that he was one of the newbies recruited to the site and thought maybe he was looking for a title card artist. He immediately dragged us both into a call together, and sure enough, that's what this guy was up to. He asked me to do some example sketches for him while he was in the process of moving. I learned only after he decided to take me on as his artist that he had just moved 4 blocks from me.
And that's how I met my best friend. And how I got onto the site, first as an artist, then as an occasional cameo character. That's how I began to be accepted as a member of this funky, quirky, crazy, entrepreneurial, opinionated community.
It was on Justin's recommendation and advice that I moved to Charleston, SC in September 2013, in a housing arrangement with producer and host of Radio Dead Air, Nash Bozard -- a close friend of Justin's. That arrangement didn't work out, but the failing was mine, not Nash's or the advice I got from Justin. It was a worthwhile experiment and a necessary step forward in my life, even if it was followed by a step back.
There is more to our friendship. There are more friends I know only because of him. But this story is long enough. And some of it isn't the kind of thing you tell to strangers on the internet. Since that day I gave him my art and he gave me more support and encouragement than I could have dreamed of getting, we became close friends, and in a way, he was part of my family. He was more or less singlehandedly responsible for the shape of the past 4 years of my life.
Two days ago, on Thursday, January 23rd, Justin committed suicide. He shot himself in the bathroom of his home in Colorado Springs.
My last memory of him was from this year's MAGFest. He spent the last night of the con with me and m'lady in our room at the Aloft hotel. There are things that make sense, in retrospect... 20/20 hindsights that pick at my brain, trying to make me think I could have done something if I had only paid closer attention, been wiser, judged better... but I know there's no way I could have guessed it would come to this, even though I could see that he was depressed in a way I'd not seen him before. I've also known suicidal people before. It's a sad truth that I've known enough of them to know that one person's depression is not another's, and no experience could have prepared me to read his state of mind that clearly.
He spoke with my girl the day he died. They talked about dresses and he sent her a picture of how bright the moonlight was, shining on the snow at 3:00 in the morning. "As bright as day."
That was him, to me. As bright as day in the darkest, coldest times. He was there for people when they needed someone like that. He was always willing to be strong, supportive, infinitely generous with his time and his love. He changed lives, and he saved lives.
No words can express how deeply his loss is felt in our community. No words can describe how precious and how IMPORTANT his life was. No one can measure how much he gave to the world, because it was more than himself. He was a man who gave other people to the world, by saving their lives, by finding their strengths, by showing off their virtues, by keeping them as friends. That is his legacy -- *WE* are his legacy, the people whose lives were changed for the better because he was in them. He was a good producer, an entertaining and creative man, and one of the best friends anyone could ever hope to have.
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