Goodbye, Jeff

It was in January four years ago that I woke up to a telephone call that a friend had died; this time, it was through e-mail but no less shocking.

Jeff AlexanderI’ve known Jeff Alexander since 1998, when we both started volunteering for the Small Press Expo (SPX), a local convention for alternative and independent comic books. We quickly bonded over our love of not only comics, but all sorts of things; Doctor Who, Japanese culture, gaming, mysteries, movies, card games, and everything else in-between.

Jeff was part of a group of friends that for about three years, every Friday night would meet for drinks at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, then walk across the street to the AMC theatre and catch a movie. And even when I inadvertently ended that ritual (due to marathon training at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings), for years we also would meet up for half-price hamburgers at Whitlow’s on Wilson on Monday nights, catching up on everyone else’s lives and talking about anything and everything.

He was an amazingly talented artist, able to shift styles and techniques at the drop of a hat. Every year he drew a comic strip for the SPX program in the style of George Herriman, and the number of times where I was asked how we’d found pieces of original Krazy Kat art to use for the program was too high to count. For SPX 2010 he drew one in his own style, and I am so happy that everyone got to see just how good his own method of drawing looked, too.

He loved paint ball and gaming, and had just asked if my partner and I were interested in playing mahjong with him and his fiancee Erika. I never knew when I was going to get a random question (from ideas on what to do for a friend’s 50th birthday, still half a decade away, to questions on where to get rid of old manga volumes) but I always welcomed it. Jeff loved giving presents but hated receiving them. I still have a Christmas present for him, wrapped and labeled, sitting in my hall closet that he’ll never receive now.

Jeff was sarcastic but good-natured, dry but humorous, smart and quick to help out. I shared a hotel room with him and another friend when we went to San Diego Comic-Con in 2002, 2003, and 2005, and he was a great traveling companion. It was on that 2005 trip that he talked me into taking over the Ignatz Awards in 2007 from him (so he could become first Assistant Executive Director, then Executive Director of SPX) and I remember a year later thinking, “Wait, how did he get me to agree to this?”

Like so many friends, I look back now and think to myself, “I never did enough with him.” But Jeff was always the kind of person who wouldn’t complain if you hadn’t seen him in months, but rather would pick back up right where you’d left off. I miss the years where we’d run into each other at Big Planet Comics in Vienna on Wednesday evenings after work, and end up chatting for hours until the store closed.

A few months ago I gave him back a handful of DVDs that he’d loaned me years ago, but I’d never gotten around to watching. “You can keep them longer if you want,” he said, but I told him I felt guilty for having hung onto them for so long. Now I look at the spot on my coffee table where they’d sat for years, and selfishly wish I’d hung onto them, a little reminder and souvenir of all those good times together.

Jeff was worried about his hair and bought a fedora, and when I told him he was trying to look more like Peter Davison from Doctor Who he took that as a victory. He just finished up a degree in business and was looking to expand his career possibilities. Jeff loved his fiancee Erika and her two daughters Connie and Wilma more than anyone could possibly imagine.

Jeff Alexander was a wonderful friend, and someone who will never be replaced, only missed.