June 17 - Hey there. Thanks for checking in on The WOMP-Blog. As you might remember from the last entry, it's been a bad few days for me, but it has been worse for my friends. Guys in their early thirties aren't supposed to die, and guys in their early thirties aren't supposed to lose a friend. Many of the original Official Friends of WOMP have been affected by this untimely passing, the first from their close-knit group. I've been there...sort of. I have lost childhood friend and nextdoor neighbor, George "Georgie" Kozelka, as well as one of my closest grade school pals, Dennis Paulson. While neither was among my five closest lifelong friends, both were closer to me than my own cousins. Georgie was a little younger than I was, but he and I were very good friends. Together, we shared all sorts of boyhood milestones, including sleepovers, bike races, treehouses, toy swaps, and trouble. Georgie's hero was Evel Knievel, so much of the "trouble" involved ill-constructed ramps, illegal fireworks, and property damage. Also, while my parents provided me with not much more than a stick and a rock to play with (or so the legend now goes), Georgie's parents bought him every single "hot" toy of the day, like Stretch Armstrong, The Six-Million Dollar Man, and, of course, the Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon Stunt-Cycle Playset. My "secret" envy must have been pretty obvious because Georgie often just gave his old toys to me, including both Superman and Aquaman MEGO figures. Years later, a father to his own young heck-maker, Georgie lost a battle with cancer, leaving behind at least a thousand "This one time..." stories ("This one time, Georgie thinks he can jump his bike over a car..."). Yep, he was a daredevil to the end. Dennis Paulson was a friend from school, one of a small circle that included those who would become The Keystone Kopps (as we were called...by ourselves). He was a mystery to me. He was clearly a fan of comics and science fiction and such, but he also seemed to enjoy - GASP - sports as well. He was there for all of my grade-school-days highlights, including seeing Star Wars nineteen times, sneaking in to Close Encounters, memorizing the lyrics to Disco Duck, and even the "invention" of Monkey. An early (VERY early) supporter of my comics work, Dennis egged me on when I didn't have any other reason to do so. Perhaps tellingly, he even inspired Enigman, one of the characters from what is now The World of Monkey. To me, Dennis was an enigma...as well as a hero of sorts. Cancer got him, too. Damn it. Losing a friend is hard. You mourn the loss...then you reflect on your own mortality. Dennis was my age. Georgie was younger. It's selfish, I know, but the passing of a childhood friend eventually reminds you that you, too, will die. And that selfishness causes a bit of guilt. Later, you catch yourself laughing at something, for which you may also feel guilt. Of course you will focus most of your thoughts on the memory of your friend and on the family that he or she left behind, but some part of you will struggle with those other emotions. That's OK. That's just the way it goes. With time, the guilt dissipates, the laughter returns, and a revelation comes. The friend may have passed away, but the friendship continues. And wouldn't your friend want you to stay safe, and to laugh again? Don't feel guilty for doing what keeps their memory alive. It was a gift to have had their friendship, and that gift now lives with you. So live, and laugh! It's OK! In fact, let me get that rolling for everyone. Here, just to get back to some kind of "normal," are several days-worth of Pantsless Comic Book Characters of The Day - June 14 - Omaha, The Cat Dancer, June 15 - Chewbacca, June 16 - Daffy Duck, and June 17 - The Silver Surfer!