In Memory of Steve Gerber, 1947-2008
As we reported yesterday, comics legend Steve Gerber passed away Sunday. Anyone looking for proof of the impact his work had on generations of comic readers need only take a quick look around the ‘Net.
Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter provides a long, detailed look at Gerber’s career and a wonderful assessment of Steve Gerber’s legacy:
His Howard the Duck comics remain amusing when read today, perhaps more poignant now, laying into their broad targets in a way that communicated a kind of critical consciousness into the minds of many devoted superhero comics readers, fans that simply wouldn’t have been exposed to those kinds of ideas any other way, the concept that media might lie to you, the notion of absolute self-worth in the face of a world that seems dead-set against it. Steve Gerber’s superhero books were a tonic to the over-seriousness of most of their cousins, and his horror-adventure books were frequently classy and reserved in a genre that tends to reward the blunt and ugly. No creator save Jack Kirby has as a cautionary tale and a living example saved so many creators the grief of turning over their creations without reward or without realizing what they had done. Few creators in the American mainstream were as consistently fascinating as Steve Gerber. Even fewer have been as outspoken and forthright, or in that way, as admirable.
Mark Evanier, who provided my first notice of Gerber’s passing, describes the reason so many professionals rallied to his cause during Gerber’s legal battle with Marvel over creator rights:
When Steve was involved in his lawsuit with Marvel, many fellow professionals rallied around him with loans and gifts of cash and some of us put together a benefit comic book, Destroyer Duck, to raise money. People did that because they knew, first of all, that Steve was fighting not just for his own financial reasons but for matters of principle relating to how the comic book industry treated its creators. That some of the more pernicious business practices soon went away had a lot to do with Steve taking the stand he did. Also, those who knew Steve knew that when you were in need, he would do anything to help. He was, in every sense of the word, a friend.
Gail Simone paints a picture of Gerber’s role in the industry as a creator who broke all the rules well before the most celebrated of comics’ rulebreakers — and discusses the value she placed upon their friendship over the years:
Some of you know of my adoration for this man. He’s one of the few creators that I idolize so highly that I got stage fright actually talking to him.
Steve was Alan Moore and Grant Morrison before those guys were themselves. He always had a spin, an askew way of looking at everything, that made every story feel new and fresh and unique. Like we were party to something special. When he wrote a character, he showed you their secret side.
He made you feel like you were getting away with something taboo when you read one of his stories, no matter what the subject was. With Steve, the guy on the title wasn’t the star, the WRITER was the star, just by virtue of his overwhelming talent and viewpoint. In a time when ‘weird’ was frowned upon, Steve owned the word in comics, in the best possible way.
Heidi MacDonald over at The Beat fondly remembers Gerber’s work as her introduction to the comics world, and the source of of one of her favorite final panels ever created:
Steve Gerber changed comics. In a medium where the writing is often suspect or the awkwardness of the enforced pairings of writers and artists results in substandard work, he showed that someone with a unique style could work with any number of artists to create great stories. His writing inspired many many people to do better work or their best work. He fought battles which caused him great personal pain but paved the way to improve things for everyone who came after.
Looking back, I’m amazed at how many times I’ve used the word struggle or battle in this piece. I didn’t really know Steve Gerber so I don’t know how much of a struggle or battle his life really was. I did read his blog at the end, and that was a battle, a sad one which was probably doomed to have an unhappy ending. But so do all our stories. There is very real grief in the comics industry tonight as I write this. There is much more to be said by people who knew him better, who have their comics by them to reread.
… And this is all the impetus I need to step away from the computer, open up the longbox next to me and reread one of my favorite single issues of any comic ever created, Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing #5, “Night of the Laughing Dead”.
I love the writing in this story so much that I own six copies of it. In fact, I can’t help buying another copy whenever I run across it at conventions. It felt like a literary masterpiece when I first read it decades ago, and continues to feel that way to this day.