Steve Gerber, R.I.P.


In the 1970s, Steve Gerber was Marvel Comics' most consistently interesting writer. He is dead at age 60. Tom Spurgeon at his Comics Reporter site has an excellent obituary, both telling the story of Gerber's career in detail and explaining his achivements. The summation:

Steve Gerber's role as one of the best and emblematic writers of his generation can't be overstated. He was a crucial figure in comics history. Like some of the all-time great cartoonists of years past, Gerber carved a place for self-expression and meaning out of a type of comic that had no right to hold within itself so many things and moments that were that quirky and offbeat and delicately realized—except that Gerber made it so. 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.

Much of Gerber's best work is still in print in wonderfully affordable black and white reprints. Start with Essential Defenders Vol 2, Essential Howard the Duck, and Essential Man-Thing, and the color reprint volume of Omega the Unknown (currently being "covered" by novelist Jonathan Lethem in a new Marvel series).