Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More crummy news

Now I find out that another person I really dug as a young lad, comic book writer Steve Gerber, has just died as well (here's hoping that Werner Herzog is in good health). Gerber was but 60 years old, and had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.

Steve Gerber was one of the great comic writers out there back in the day. He did his most impactful work in the 70's, when he wrote a slew of memorable titles for Marvel including "Man-Thing". "The Defenders", "Omega The Unknown", and of course, he also created "Howard The Duck." At his best, he had a highly-individual style that acknowledged the conventions of the medium while playfully tweaking and attempting to expand them at the same time.

If you only know of "Howard The Duck" from the justifiably reviled movie version that squirted out of Hollywood's festering bunghole in 1986, don't blame Gerber. The "Howard The Duck" comics (at least the first 27 issues Gerber penned) were highly-literate, satiric deconstructions that used absurdist humor to take aim at everything from religion to the treatment of the mentally ill, poverty, the media, politics, disco, high-energy prices, self-help gurus and anything else that dared to raise it's head during the mid-to-late 70's. It also had kung-fu, vampire cows, deadly turnips from outer space, evil cosmic accountants, Canadian villains who wore giant beaver exo-skeletons and giant gingerbread men controlled by a Hare Krishna-type leader. I am not exaggerating one whit when I say that it added many words to my young vocabulary.

Gerber was also an early and outspoken advocate of creator's rights, decrying the rather Draconian "work-for-hire" system in place during the 70's that deprived creators of ownership and revenues from their creations. He was one of the few that balked, even taking Marvel to court at one point over ownership rights to Howard, which helped create the much more creator-friendly climate that the writers and artists can enjoy today.

For a mere $14.99 you can get "The Essential Howard The Duck", a black & white phone book-sized reprint of issues #1-27, plus Howard's 1st appearance from "Fear" #19 and his subsequent mini-stories in "Giant Size Man-Thing" (possibly the inadvertently dirtiest comic book title ever) from your friendly neighborhood comics store. You'll chuckle at Howard's brief run as a 1976 presidential candidate on the "Get Down, America!" ticket ( I still have my pin with this slogan on it), watch as he spurns the evangelical rantings of The Kidney Lady, thrill as he encounters the rock band KISS at a mental health institution, read rapturously as he thwarts the machinations of the sinister Dr. Bong, and scratch your head as Howard (and Gerber himself) suffers a nervous breakdown as depicted in an issue with no panels or word balloons, just long copy prose with single illustrations. You also get great art from Frank Brunner and the fabulous Gene Colan. I'm so glad I was a young kid reading comics when this came out - it's truly great stuff.

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