Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Farewell to a writing idol

Conventional wisdom says that boys give up comic books as soon as they discover girls. That I did not do so is due primarily to the efforts of one man -- Steve Gerber. Granted, the fact that girls had not yet discovered me had something to do with it, but mostly it was because when I finally tired of the purple prose of Stan Lee (prose that I venerate to this day but purple nonetheless) and others that followed in his footsteps, I picked up Howard the Duck #1 and was blown even further away than I had been when I picked up fantastic Four Annual #6 many moons previously. Gerber was cynical, sarcastic and a master of satire -- all things that the teenage me respected and aspired to. And Howard of Duckworld was not a hero and the few times he was required to act heroically it was reluctantly at best. Gerber also wrote "The Defenders" and "Omega the Unknown" and a ton of other comics for Marvel at that time and all of them were completely different than anything else on the stands at that time. By then there were artists that I recognized immediately upon seeing their work, but Gerber was the first writer that I could always pick out of a lineup of comics. No other characters spoke like Gerber characters, and his plotlines were off the wall, bizarre but in a way that never failed to reach me -- make me laugh or make me think, all things that more mainstream comics had lost the power to do.
As you can probably already sense, this story does not have a happy ending. Marvel fired Gerber, he later sued them to try to win the rights for the character that he loved so much. He lost the suit, Howard the Duck was made into one of the worst movies ever made, Gerber went on to write many more comics, some of them great, some of them too dark for my tastes, but always high quality. He never phoned it in. Like a lot of cynics he had a furious work ethic.
Fellow comics scribe Mark Evanier has written a much better obituary of Gerber than I could ever hope to do, and I urge you to read it here. I just wanted to say thank you and goodbye to a man who amused and inspired me.

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