Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Remembering Steve Gerber

I learned from Cliff's blog this morning that comics writer Steve Gerber had died Sunday. Gerber was probably best known as the creator of Howard the Duck, but he wrote far more than the adventures of his web-footed alter ego. Steve's somewhat quirky take on the Marvel super team The Defenders made the book much more interesting to me than the more mainstream Avengers title in the 1970s. He also wrote Omega the Unknown, a super hero title which pushed the boundaries of the medium. Actually, I suppose that's a good definition of Gerber's comics work in general. Nothing he did was quite like anything anyone had done before. His work was very personal and if sometimes confusing, never boring.
Probably my favorite bit of Gerber's writing was the Howard the Duck story "What Do You Do the Night After You Save the Universe?" You know how at the end of a book, movie, comic or whatever the heroes just manage to save the world at the last second? Ever wonder what happens after that? I mean, waking up the next morning has to be something of a let down. In Gerber's story, Howard wanders the streets of New York all night, coming down from the high of saving the universe from destruction. I still find that a clever idea.
On a more personal note, I actually met Gerber at one of the first comic book conventions I ever attended. I would have been 13 or 14 at the time. The con was held in the cavernous basement of some downtown Atlanta hotel, and my father and my uncle had dropped my cousin Rick and me off before adjourning to the hotel bar.
I was wandering around the dealers room, marveling at all the amazing things for sale when I happened across the area where the creators were sitting and there was Steve Gerber. I absolutely loved Howard the Duck at the time and I wanted Gerber's autograph, but the only thing I had with me was an old Thor annual that I had purchased because it was cheap and because it had Jack Kirby art that I'd never seen before.
When I got up to the front of the short line at Gerber's table, I said, "I know you didn't have anything to do with this comic but it's all I have with me and I'd really like to have your autograph."
Steve Gerber happily signed my comic, and told me that he remembered that issue very well and was a big fan of Kirby's work. I still have that comic book.
Gerber was another of those creators who blurred the lines between fiction and reality, appearing as himself in one issue of Man-Thing and at least one issue of Howard the Duck. As I've noted before, that sort of early meta-fiction always fascinated me and Gerber certainly influenced my own writing.
Anyway, I was saddened to hear of his death. He was a gifted and original writer in a field that often rewards mediocrity. He'll be missed.

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