Feb 22, 2008

Rest in Peace, Steve Gerber

(Originally written Feb. 17, 2008)

I came to Steve Gerber's writing through a Vegas showgirl and her dancing ostrich. I kid you not. The story "Piss on Earth" in the vertigo Winter's Edge anthology introduced me to Nevada the dancer and her ostrich, and when the series came out, I picked it up, and found out that the genesis of the series had come in an issue of the late 70's comic "Howard the Duck".

Wasn't that that crappy movie from the 80's, you may ask, and yes, yes it was. It was a crappy movie. But, intrigued as I was, I searched out the 16th issue of Howard the Duck, one in which Mr. Gerber ruminates on the creative process and his cross-country move. It was, in a word, revelatory.

Now, I'd been reading the "big names" for a few years. There was little that Grant Morrison, Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman wrote that I didn't voraciously devour. I prided myself on being a literary comic fan, not doting on artists, but on writers (though I've since revised that pompous practice). I was stunned to have found this wonderful dissertation and never have heard of the writer. Dutifully, I tracked down every issue of Howard with his name in the writer's credit (even the terribly expensive 1st appearance of KISS in a comic book), and read them. And it was brilliant. A vibrant and witty slice of the 1970's in the USA. A satire of the ideas and ideals sweeping through the nation in the wake of the hippy generation, a more cynical, yet every bit as optimistic, lens through which to read the culture. It was wonderful.

Unlike those other names I talked about earlier, I did not immediately go out and find all of Mr. Gerber's works right away and read them. But when I did come across one, it was always picked up and read and enjoyed. More recently, on and excursion into the 1970's Marvel output, I focussed on his work, his Defenders, Man-Thing, Tales of the Zombie, in the excellent Marvel Essentials series, and again I was blown away by his work.

Just yesterday (Saturday), I was in a comic store, rummaging through their $2 bins for copies of "Superman presents The Phantom Zone" and "Omega the Unknown", I found the two issues of "Creatures on the Loose" that he scripted, and the first installment of the Shanna the She-Devil story that was serialized in Marvel Fanfare. I came home, entered them into my database and read them. Then, while surfing the net last night, I found out that he had died a week earlier.

I won't go all weepy, and say it was like losing a friend or anything, because it wasn't. I only knew him through his words, and most of them things he wrote 30 years ago. But for talent, passionate talent, like that to be lost to us is terrible. It is useless to sit and wonder what he might have produced with another 10 years, but I do it anyway. I'm glad that I still have so much of his work to find and to read, but the sad bit is that when I have tracked it all down (and I'm a little obsessive, so I will), that'll be it.

I pulled out my Howard the Duck collection today. I think it's time to read them again, and pay my own little tribute to a guy who wrote comics like no one else did before, or has since. Thank you, Mr. Gerber. Your presence will be missed.

L.A. Times obituary

N.Y. Times obituary

Mark Evanier's remembrance

Steve Gerber's Blog

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