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Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Steve Gerber -- I check my email almost first thing every morning, and this morning the first thing I read was an email from Alex Ness telling me writer Steve Gerber had died. Alex wanted to know if I had any thoughts about Mr. Gerber, and I do, but I wish they were deeper and better-informed.

My earliest memories of Steve Gerber's work were in the 1970s, reading his Defenders and Howard the Duck runs. For me, they anticipated my later experiences with some of Alan Moore's writing, in that Gerber's were obviously good comics being written by a very smart guy, but I was a little too young and far too unformed as a thinking human being to be able to fully process their wonders.

Gerber was a genuine hero of creator's rights, being one of the first to stand up and call bullshit on the egregious work-for-hire system; he wrote Destroyer Duck in an effort to continue his battle, and I bought it, at the time not fully aware of how deep the unfairness of the North American corporate superhero comic book system went; mostly I bought it because it was not published by Marvel or DC, and at the time I was just beginning to realize the very best comics were almost always going to come from other publishers, so in my way, again a little too young to fully understand the implications of the book, I supported what Gerber and friends were trying to do. And there's no question whatever progress has been made in recognizing the rights of comic book creators came in large part because of Steve Gerber and his enormous will to fight.

I mentioned that like Alan Moore's work, I didn't always "get" Gerber; unlike with Moore, I didn't really keep trying. Eventually the nuance and wonder found in most of Alan Moore's writing clicked with me, as I grew older and more patient and appreciative of nuance and skill. But when asked to talk about Gerber, beyond Defenders and Ducks Howard and Destroyer, it's hard for me to recall what else Gerber did. I'm embarrassed under the circumstances to admit I fairly hated the first issue of Gerber's Hard Time but given the acclaim the book later got and the shallowness of my review, it may very well be another case of Gerber being too smart for me, and me just not being ready.

I guess I recognized this deficiency; when the Howard the Duck Omnibus was announced, I reflected on how I would dearly love to go back and re-read those stories with an additional three decades of life experience to inform my reading experience. But I decided not to buy it on the grounds that the Omnibus volumes are extremely expensive and thus something not already within my personal canon of great comics is unlikely to be bought, at the risk of hating it and having wasted enough money to buy a nearly week's groceries. After all, I bought the 75-dollar edition of Stray Toasters, and sure as hell didn't get that, either.

If I have a point, I guess it's this: I don't think I'm dumb, and sometimes I get caught thinking of myself as fairly intelligent. But writers like Alan Moore and Steve Gerber always made me feel like there were smarter people than me creating comics, and there's a kind of reassurance in that, like sleeping on the backseat while Mom and Dad take care of the driving and keep you safe. There are no Alan Moores or Steve Gerbers at Marvel and DC anymore, no one whose work makes me feel dumb or inadequate or like I have a bit more growing up to do before I can appreciate the complexity of their thought processes. Instead, I feel like no one's driving the damn car at all.

We need smart people like Steve Gerber writing comics. We need many smart people like Steve Gerber, and instead this morning, we have one less. So, Steve, I didn't always appreciate you as much as I should have, but I knew it was me, not you, and I wish you were still here to make me feel like I still have something to learn about life, and about comics.

Tributes to Steve Gerber can be found at the blogs of Mark Evanier, Roger Green and Tom Spurgeon.



Blogger Jason Marcy said...

You can always pick up the Essential Howard the Duck, a real steal despite it's black and whiteness...
A real heartfelt tribute by the way. One of the better one's I've read.

12 February, 2008 07:25  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Thanks a lot, Jay. I appreciate it.

12 February, 2008 08:42  

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