Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The night after you saved the universe

"Plants are like people. Writers are like plants. Therefore, and this may come as a surprise, writers are like people. Given them light, water, nourishment, a comfortable pot and an encouraging world and they'll grow."

-- Steve Gerber, Howard the Duck #16

A couple of years ago, Steve wrote a blog post thanking a group of friends who helped him move into his new apartment. With characteristic self-effacement, he said:

Why I have people like these around me is a mystery. Nobody could be nice enough to have earned their friendship, least of all myself. Somehow, I got very, very lucky.

To which I had to reply:

You know, this turns out not to be the case.

Turn back the calendar to the Spring of 1976 and see an overenthusiastic teenager attending one of his first comic book conventions, excited beyond all description because his favorite comic book writer is going to be there in person. Said writer — who at that time was enjoying prominence and attention equivalent to what an Alan Moore or a Grant Morrison possess today — took a table in the dealer’s room and made himself available to anyone who wanted to chat with him. Said teenager remembers spending pretty much the entire day at that table, and not being shooed away by said writer or being put in his place for asking endless naive and eager questions about Omega, the Defenders, Starhawk, Howard, and all the other pressing topics of the day.

Instead, at the end of the day, you thanked me for being interested in your work. To top it off, you even gave me a free “Howard The Duck for President” campaign badge — even though you were selling them at the convention — as, so you said, “a token of your gratitude.” I left that day knowing that while I may have been totally obnoxious and wanting to hog all your time, you still made me feel like I had done you a favor rather than vice versa.

Some of my later encounters with favorite comics creators were much less pleasant…but these weren’t as upsetting as they might have been, because I always had you as an example of how a truly classy person behaves. Years later I ended up working at Marvel and a few other comics publishers…and though it all, I always remembered meeting you as proof that someone in this business could demonstrate class and respect for others; the rock star ego trip was not inevitable. And whenever I’ve gotten praise for my own writing, I’ve always tried to emulate the example you set.

Nowadays, the mere fact of this blog is evidence that you’re still the same guy who’s willing to be honest and accessible even with strangers, and that you still care about making people feel appreciated. And I’m forced to assume that the folks who’ve known you in person all these years see the same thing. I’m just saying, is all.

I was fortunate enough to see Steve again at two other conventions here in New York before he moved west, but it was a much bigger thrill many years later to start corresponding with him when Steve was briefly a member of the Jack Kirby Discussion Group. Our correspondence was about non-comics stuff -- mainly to do with depression, relationship issues, why we both loathed Florida with a passion -- so I fell into the unbelievable position of regarding Steve simultaneously as an impossibly distant childhood idol, an approachable real life hero and role model, and a regular guy with whom I discussed regular guy stuff. In those e-mails I never mentioned having met him all those years ago nor what an impression he made on me as a thirteen-year-old, feeling he'd be uncomfortable with gushing hero worship. I kept quiet about it for a long time...and I'll always be glad I finally took the opportunity to tell him what that formative experience meant to me. I'm glad I had the chance to know him not only as an icon but as a person, though it means I'm feeling the loss of both right now.

(Who else in life do we know at first as gods, then as heroes, then as all-too-fallible mortals, then at last -- if we're lucky -- as friends? I think we usually only have that full gamut of relationships with our own parents. Which would explain why it feels as if I'd lost another parent.)

Also a couple of years ago, I wrote an appreciation of Omega the Unknown that says more than I can bring myself to say right now about just how much Steve did for me with his work and by the example he set.

(Thanks to magnetgirl for the button illo at top.)


  1. I didn't know much about Steve Gerber until I found out he created Howard the Duck in eulogy posts. Now again, as nearly always, I feel like I just barely missed something (or someone in this case) amazingly awesome.

    Very nice memorial.

  2. Oh...my. Your convention story brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful. I'm so terribly sad I never got to meet him and let him know as you did what he meant to me.

    That's not my link, actually. I ganked the picture off of google. Hopefully I'm not hurting anyone's bandwidth!

    Duckworld mourns...

  3. Lovely piece, Richard. Gerber's death hit me harder than I'd have thought, 'cus I've been reading ESSENTIAL THE DEFENDERS vol.2 for the last week or two, and it had been causing a tremendously Proustian rush, and serving as a reminder that he was head and shoulders the best writer of his generation. And then, wham!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.