Charles E. Jones Jr., writer

Creator of popular "Glen Burnieland" zine told tales of suburban life

December 19, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Charles E. "Chuck" Jones Jr., creator of a quirky comic zine about his native Glen Burnie and an occasional sidekick on Sun columnist Dan Rodricks' radio show on WYPR, died Dec. 12 of complications from diabetes at his New Market home. He was 49.

Mr. Jones was born and raised in Glen Burnie, which, years later, would provide ample fodder for good-natured skewering in a quarterly comic called "Glen Burnieland." Initially designed as a creative way to keep up with friends and family, it chronicled the trials and tribulations of living in the suburbs for hundreds of subscribers around the world.

Topics including Halloween parties, overwhelming telephone bills, kite-flying with toddlers, and negotiating with the Tooth Fairy were presented in ways to amuse readers, poke fun at himself and universalize his experiences.

"Glen Burnie is like any other town," Mr. Jones said in 1993 in an article in The Sun. "No matter where I go, there's always a little bit of Glen Burnie in me."

Mr. Jones developed juvenile diabetes at the age of 11, according to his brother Steven M. Jones, and he would struggle with the disease for the rest of his life. But his mother, Janice Jones, said it also helped transform him from a quiet child who preferred to read alone to an outgoing teen who sought to use humor to connect with others.

"That's when he came out of himself, and became very outgoing," his mother said.

Mr. Jones graduated from Martin Spaulding High School in 1979. He earned a degree in mass communications in 1984 from what was then Towson State University. In his spare time, he performed classic Abbott & Costello and other standup routines at senior centers with a friend, Steven Jones said.

He married Maria "Maggie" Jones, a native of Manila, in 1986. She was the only thing that could make him leave his beloved Glen Burnie: After they married, they chose to live in Laurel and, later, New Market.

He worked for two decades as a writer and senior editor for Life Association News, a publication of the National Association of Life underwriters. But it was "Glen Burnieland" where he shone creatively and received his most widespread attention.

"Glen Burnieland" was highlighted in The New York Times, the Village Voice and The Baltimore Sun, and received a mention in the now-defunct Factsheet Five, a well-known compendium of zine culture. In 1996, City Paper selected it as "best zine": "This is an upbeat, real-life soap opera about facing everything from cancer to kids who can't get up in the morning," the paper declared.

"It was only for close family and friends, a way to reach out and say, 'This is what's going on.' It totally took on a life of its own," said sister Janice Polcak of Pasadena.

He shelved the zine in 1997 to focus on writing fiction, but revived it for a few years in electronic form in 2001. "Because it won't go through the post office, it's guaranteed to be anthrax-free," he wrote to supporters.

In February 2005, he lost his right leg to cancer, a sarcoma on his tibia. He used a prosthesis and got around with the aid of crutches or a cane.

He was laid off later that year from his staff writing job. He applied for hundreds of jobs in the Washington and Baltimore region, with dozens of face-to-face job interviews that ended with the same result. In late 2006, he wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post about the challenges facing disabled people who were out of work.

"I suppose we disabled people can always work at Wal-Mart, giving out happy-face stickers for minimum wage pay, but most of us are capable of doing better than that," he wrote. "I only wish the working world would give us a chance to prove it."

Mr. Jones eventually did find jobs, but they were short-lived. In 2009, he began contributing to "Midday with Dan Rodricks" on WYPR, where he helped produce "County of the Month" segments. Family members said the radio work was a career and personal highlight for Mr. Jones.

"He had this great sense of humor and sense of place, being proud and amused at the same time about being from Glen Burnie," Rodricks said. "He was on crutches, but he never let his condition stop him, and he always had a corny joke or a funny line."

Services were Friday.

In addition to his wife, mother, brother, and sister, Mr. Jones is survived by two children, Christina G. Jones and Peter G. Jones of Frederick; another sister, Cindy Stiles of Pasadena, and one grandson.

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