Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Gerber, 1947-2008

I heard the news a few hours ago that comic book writer Steve Gerber died this past Sunday. Tom Spurgeon has a very good bio/appreciation up on his blog.

Steve Gerber was a huge part of my comics-obsessed childhood (I was born in 1967.) . There was real shit going down in his comics; I didn't get all of it, but it had a serious influence on me that a writer could take life inside the comics he was writing so seriously. I'm bad at describing a writer's work, so here are a few pages from his incredible run in Howard the Duck, published by Marvel.

From Howard the Duck, issue 2:

Gerber wasn't afraid to show pure negative rage on the part of a hero. I appreciated the honesty. That page is from the first appearance of Howard's nemesis, the Kidney Lady, who is pretty great, as nemeses go. (And much better than Dr. Bong, one of the series only missteps.)

From Howard the Duck, issue 5
Gerber's Howard the Duck series is often remembered for broad parody, social satire, and absurdist humor. But unlike, say, MAD or Nat Lamp, in Howard the Duck real human emotions are on display everywhere. It's a sentimental scene, but I love it. Howard is desperate for money, so he takes a job working for an appliance retailer. He goes to follow up on late payments for a TV and can't bear to repossess it when faced with the scene above. This is from one of my favorite issues. In it he also beats up a TV clown and protests against defamatory representations of ducks in comic books.

From Howard the Duck, issue 11
During a nervous breakdown, Howard is stuck on a bus with a bunch of crazies. This issue is really intense. The next few issues get even more intense (and supernatural). But this bus story is always what sticks in my mind.

From Howard the Duck, issue 19
Howard's human for an issue.

From Howard the Duck, issue 23
In a two-issue sort of parody of Star Wars, Howard is again allied with Korrek the Barbarian (who I think he met during his first appearance in Fear and Man-Thing). Howard also learns to use "the farce" which enables him to shoot deadly non-sequiturs out of a gun. At the time, it felt late to do a Star Wars riff (it was already 1978! Ancient history!) But I remember feeling relieved that this story wasn't quite as high-stakes as what had come before. By the way, the Chewbacca stand-in for the story is the Man-Thing.

I'm sad knowing that the man who created these stories isn't alive and died too young. But, cliche and all, his work is still an inspiration to me.


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