NYCC: Steve Gerber Memorial
The memorial panel for the late great writer Steve Gerber was about as eclectic as he was. The panel began with a slideshow tribute to Steve’s work, set to the tune of the Beatles’ “Revolution.” Moderator Mark Evanier and Steve’s friends and relatives made sure Gerber’s spirit was as much in attendance as it could possibly be — his ashes were present on the panel table:
Mark even made a joke about how appropriate it was that the box bearing the ashes had gotten a little cracked.
Gerber may have had a cracked sense of humor, but what emerged from the anecdotes told about him by those who knew him well and those he inspired was his tremendous generosity. Mark recalled an incident when the two of them had heard a scream coming from outside, and in the few seconds Mark began to act on that sound Steve was already outside hoping to help the situation. While the noise turned out to be a false alarm, Mark pointed out how it was indicative of Steve’s “immediate compassion for a stranger.”
Mark and others mentioned how clear it was that Steve’s work was immediately recognizable as something special, and his brother (not sure if it was Jon or Michael) spoke about what he called the “prequel” to Steve’s writing career — how as a kid he would create comics with blue pen on folded-over sheets of paper towel held together by staples, then turned a Brownie camera and a tape recorder into teenaged movie-making, his book for a Bye-Bye Birdie musical set in Russia performed by high school classmates, and how mesmerized he became by watching Superman on TV.
Gail Simone recalled how giving and generous Steve had been to her as a fellow comic professional, overwhelming her as she was such a fan of his writing, which she said gave her the courage to pitch unusual concepts to publishers after observing how well he could handle such offbeat subject matter. She also marveled at how so much of his writing still works, almost nothing of his seems dated.
Paul Levitz expanded on the theme of Steve’s generosity, particularly towards his many fans. Paul praised Steve’s mastery of letter columns, and reminded the audience of how Steve was fighting the good fight for fairness and justice in the industry long before any actual legal issues came to court.
Steve’s friend Hildy Mesnick, who worked with him at the Sunbow animation studio, introduced a short Christmastime film created by the Sunbow staff in Los Angeles for their east coast counterparts a couple decades ago, cautioning that some of the material consisted of in-jokes but that overall Steve’s personality came through in spades, which it did. My favorite line had Steve typing at his computer while reading aloud to himself, “then he turns into a skillet…”
More stories were forthcoming from Buzz Dixon, who related an anecdote about a bankruptcy hearing which culminated in the observation that “he had fans who loved him in the most inappropriate times and places”; and Marty Pasko, visibly moved as he talked about how valuable he found Steve’s friendship. “He never told you that he liked you — he just was… he was always there.” He said Steve “had no ego whatsoever,” which was a foreign concept in Hollywood, but he was never showed any bitterness nor rancor to those who didn’t get the concept of, say, Howard the Duck. Pasko recalled how the general public didn’t really know Steve’s name until it became associated with the notorious movie whose negative association still hung over Hollywood so much that, when Scorcese was busy making The Last Temptation of Christ, those who felt that movie faced so many pitfalls dubbed it Christ the Duck — and when Pasko told that to Gerber he laughed uproariously.
Last to speak were two of the most important women in Steve’s life. His daughter Samantha Voll had fond memories of him taking her out for shopping and corned beef sandwiches, and all the little wonderful things that daughters remember about their dads after they’ve passed. (For obvious reasons, I couldn’t stop crying at her lovely eulogy.) Although she admitted that “I didn’t know a lot of my dad’s writing as a kid, ’cause I wasn’t allowed to read it, Samantha was touched that so many people would remember her dad’s lasting legacy. Mary Skrenes, Steve’s writing partner, thanked all for coming and mentioned asking Steve what music he’d like played at his funeral, and he’d responded “either ‘Revolution’ or ‘I Am The Walrus,'” which explained the soundtrack to the opening montage. She also revealed that Steve’s ashes had been transported to New York to be sprinkled in various spots throughout his favorite city.
Many of us with fond memories of Steve didn’t get the chance to speak, but some of us can express them in a blog post, so I’d like to take this opportunity to plug a few gifts that Steve gave us all, which can be found here on the CompuServe Comics and Animation Forum’s Yahoo mailing list — script files he sent out in various formats to aspiring writers frequenting the Forum and picking his brain about structure. It was just one more way in which Steve’s tremendous generosity and talent will live on into the ages.