This morning, I logged onto my computer at work and was saddened to learn that Steve Gerber had died.
One of the first comic books I remember owning was Howard the Duck #10. It was published a few months before my 5th birthday. I am not sure how this ended up in my hands, but I’m guess my parents saw a duck and Spider-Man and must have thought this was the perfect comic book for me. My road to becoming and uber-cool comic book fan was somewhat delayed by the fact that I absolutely hated this book. Like many monsters, I tend to hate things I don’t understand and boy did I ever not understand this comic. It stayed in my collection, and I tried to read it again several times over the next few years. Each time, I grew more frustrated, as I simply did not understand what was going on. Sure, there was some sort of straightforward story that I could follow, but there was also something beneath the surface that I just didn’t get.
That was my intro to the world of Steve Gerber. I guess you could say that I hated him before I even knew who he was.
Of course, we don’t remain petty little children forever and over time, I read more and more of Steve Gerber’s work and the light bulb hidden in the basement of my puny brain eventually came on.
Steve Gerber was one of the most important comic book creators of all-time. His ability to blend humour, fantasy, science-fiction, politics and action into a big bowl of satirical gumbo was something that hadn’t been seen before in comics. I’ve been reading the Essential Man-Thing collection lately, and I’m amazed at how he can make reference to Lord of the Rings and the Hanoi Hilton on a single page without it coming across in the lame ‘there goes the gang at Marvel trying to be cool again’ manner that we’ve seen so often. A true testament to the man’s talent is that his books have not aged at all. They are still wonderfully entertaining to this very day.
When Stan Lee christened him as Steve ‘Baby’ Gerber, it was kind of like calling a fat guy ‘Tiny’ or a bald guy ‘Curly’. Steve’s fight for creators’ rights demonstrated a level of maturity and intelligence that belied his nickname. I don’t have a real appreciation of the inner workings of the funnybook industry, but it is obvious that Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel was struck a real chord, and he became a source of inspiration for many other creators. It is a real challenge to be influential on both a creative and political level. Steve Gerber managed to do both beautifully. He was a rare breed and I am very, very happy that I never gave up on trying to understand Howard the Duck #10.
Rest in peace, Steve. Thanks for everything.