It’s a sad, sad time. We lost one of the CFC Family. I lost a friend. Bear with me, as this is going to be a self indulgent piece where I work through my own grief and process this horrible turn of events. Brandon Gray has passed away at the young age of 22. If you knew Brandon, you probably knew him as Derpdevil, his Twitter handle, or Derp for short. He was an incredible person. One of the funniest, strongest, most creative individuals I’ve ever come across. This is so unfair and so tragic, but I felt I had to honor him. I had to tell the world what a great soul we have lost and celebrate a dude I really loved.
I never met Brandon in real life. I’ll always be furious I’ll now never get that chance. I met him on Twitter, as well as the rest of his friend group, back in 2019. We all bonded and connected and I was gratefully welcomed into this community with open arms through our shared interest in primarily comics and manga. This site exists because I wanted to tap into each individual’s personal connection to the medium and my motivation for that was very much driven by the bonds I started forging with complete strangers on the internet over comic books. Brandon was one of those key bonds. He and his friends composed a group of incredibly insightful, ambitious people that were hungry to make their mark on the world. Brandon was a co-host on a Podcast called Looking Glass and that was where I first started vibing with him. Slowly I got to know him and his circle more.
I remember one of the first conversations we ever had privately was about trying to find high resolution comic images for articles and how we should share a Marvel Unlimited account, which inevitably led to us talking about the frustrations of that app. We talked about writing and building something of our own about comics and our nerd interests. It was good stuff and I think really spurred both of us on to do what we wanted.
As our friendship grew on Twitter, we had more and more DM conversations. I remember one day I got a “Yo” out of nowhere. For me, you never knew when Brandon was going to hit you up but when he did it was always worth it. He wanted help custom binding some comics to make his own big hardcover of Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman run. I helped him through the process and laid it out for him, doing anything I could. We talked all about the run and I sent him things to hopefully get him into binding fulltime. At the end he offered to pay me. I refused because that’s nonsense but that was the type of guy Brandon was.
Brandon was also someone who could brutally roast you. There were times I was dying laughing at some of the Photoshop meme magic he’d pull on our friends or some of the hilarious Twitter comments he’d post. Guy could be vicious and you loved it. Brandon was REAL. He was authentic. You always knew where you stood and what to expect with the guy and I always appreciated that. There was so much to love about the dude.
When I started expanding the site, Brandon was one of the first people I hit up to see if he’d be interested in being part of the team and I told him I was paying. His response:
“To put this into perspective, I was 100% going to say yes when I thought it was free. Now you telling me you gone pay me? Count me in.“
From there we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. He locked himself in to do an arc by arc series on Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force which he described as his favorite comic run hands down. I’m getting pretty upset thinking we will all never get to read that and see into his unique viewpoint on the material. I could immediately feel his intense passion for that book and from what little he actually did tell me about it, I was so excited. I am so incredibly sad I couldn’t share this series and his mind with you all.
During all this, members of that previous podcast, Brandon, Jason, Church and Ken started up a new podcast called Share Your Peace. Share Your Peace is a Black owned podcast dedicated to the betterment of mental health through comics and manga. In conjunction with Hope for the Day, these four inspiring creators try to tap into the personal connection of this media we all love by breaking the silence of suicide and mental health. Comics, manga, anime, movies, music – all of these things that uplift and help us keep going in life and always mend our constantly fragile mental health are celebrated and discussed. It is one of my favorite podcasts and I am constantly floored by all of the team’s really impactful, honest conversations. It is to me, the main partner site for CFC. I will always support and love them. I listened to one this morning before writing this just to hear Brandon talk about what he feels and deals with everyday. I hope all of you will listen too. He was an incredibly relatable, entertaining person you could just listen to for hours.
As time went by, me and Brandon grew closer. We’d text, we’d DM. He had more ideas for this site like an Immortal Hulk horror retrospective team up with Ken. He had been taking copious issue by issue notes on the X of Swords crossover and we were working on turning that into a published article. Both of these I never got to see the docs he had worked up for them. For one reason or another they never materialized. I deeply regret not pushing to see them before he was ok with sharing. I’ll always have to live with the thought that I didn’t reach out enough. That we could have talked more. We could have done more.
But it wasn’t just this site or comics that we connected on. I remember he once told me after I posted some pics on Twitter of turning 32 and celebrating my first anniversary with my wife that my life was his life goals. That I had achieved the ideal 30+ life and he wished he could fast forward to what I had. This opened the floor up to me being real about my own depression and troubles when I was younger and life seemed hopeless. We talked about ways to try to be happy and to keep going day by day. I was always so impressed with how strong he was, taking one day at a time while constantly dealing with depression, anxiety and an overall feeling of as he put it “never knowing what happiness is“. He felt pressure and anxiety and panic from all of the usual societal bullshit that constantly tears at our mental health. He was always comparing his own successes or failures to others and we would talk a lot about ways to try to deal with that while pushing on and living. I tried extremely hard to make him feel better, to tell him I don’t have a perfect life and almost everyone deals with these same issues. Mainly I just tried to be there for him and he was there for me. We really connected and I could see he was at the exact same place I was at his age. I will always remember and treasure our talks on the future and mental health. I was always impressed and inspired by his strength. But now I will always feel guilt over not potentially doing more.
Fast forward to December 2020 and I was finally able to publish Brandon’s work:
Please take the time to read his work. It’s heartbreaking to read now as it was only the start of a very long Spider-Man read through analysis he had planned. I was so interested in how he viewed the work. He came to me with this one saying this:
“But in the meantime I had a rejected article that “wasn’t professional” enough that I wanted to share with you. I wasn’t using professional language lmaoo. I suffered under these article sites because it felt like I was relaying news like a reporter instead of writing my own shit. They were hardcore on slang and what looked “unprofessional.” And trust me, I can write professionally, I just don’t like it. Doesn’t feel like I can infuse myself into soulless writing.“
One of the things Brandon always got was that writing should have the unique flavor of the actual writer. That there is no point to creating something if you can’t make it personal as well. He was to me, one of the essential building blocks of this website. This was a young, brilliant mind that was getting squashed by another site (I know which site and they can go fuck themselves) which preferred he took all the soul out of his writing and frankly was pretty racist towards him. We always vibed so hard on putting forth our own unique voices into things we made and I will always be so happy I got to work with him on adapting his notes when reading into a piece I feel honored to have published.
As I said, we had so many more plans. For Part 2 of this series he had this to say:
“I want to do this in parts. I’ve summarized the first 25 issues pretty well and I think writing anymore would just make it a jumble. Because a specific arc ends at that moment. The series doesn’t get serious until after this, so the perspective of a light hearted Spider-man before all the trials he was put through is very nicely presented here. The villains are there, but he’s not been in the game long enough for them to hate him like they do now. And we still don’t know who that Green Goblin fella is. The next part can be a more functional representation of when it stops being a fun side job, and more his life.“
Even the guy’s DM’s were publishable work.
His main passion project however was a series examining the character Flash Thompson. He told me often how he identified with the character and he found him to be one of comic’s most interesting figures. His pitch was delving into how the character had changed and grown and gone through so many terrible things but ultimately ended up a hero and a major player in the Marvel Universe. His initial bits were:
“Flash Thompson’s placement as Venom. A personal favorite, and a bold move uplifting a minor character who had such an iconic and negative beginning. Reading ASM from the beginning will only make it easier to write up my Flash deep dive. Cause I’m already seeing a lot of bits and pieces that don’t add up to like how JMS wrote him, or even Slott and Quesada.“
We talked more and more about it and how intriguing it would be as we developed his 60’s Spider-Man series and things seemed so great.
This was our last time speaking on it. Right after his article was published and he told me more of his mindset on Flash. I reached out a bunch of times after that and heard nothing until I heard of his unfortunate passing. It absolutely guts me. There was just so much more to do. So much more life for him to live. So much more creative, genius content for him to share with all of us that would make us think and connect. He was a strong, hungry person that did things that mattered. It’s extraordinarily depressing but I know the guy would have wanted us all to stop messing around, be real and to celebrate him.
Brandon’s usual favorite character in comics was Jason Todd. I’ll never be able to read anything with that character now and not think of him and the brief time I was able to be in his life. Brandon was great because he was the type of guy who absolutely loved Jason Todd while acknowledging he never had a good story. That being this fan was suffering. He’d be able to shitpost about the arc where Jason was a tentacle monster while also taking the time to highlight what parts of that arc actually did work for him. Like I said, he was anything but average, he was a voice you WANTED to listen to. I’ll miss him dearly. I’ll always treasure the times we did have. The times we got to talk about Four Loko, manga vs comics, how fucking terrible Three Jokers was, marriage, love, happiness, Daredevil, mental health, just about anything and everything. We take for granted how silly things like comics and such arent as important as they really are. Without them I would never have met this amazing person that ever so briefly, in their own unique way, made the world a better place to be in and made my life better too. I can only hope and pray I did the same for him. Please take a minute out of your day and read his piece, listen to his podcast, and just honor, remember and say a good word about Brandon.
I’ll always miss you Derp.