Interview With Steve Gerber
(December 1997)

Steve Gerber has worked in the comics industry for many years and is well known for his creation Howard The Duck. Mr. Gerber also wrote Daredevil in the 70's and is currently working on a series for Vertigo. Enjoy!

Kuljit Mithra: How did you make comics a career choice? I read from your web page that you used to work for an ad agency.

Steve Gerber: I had always wanted to work in comics. In the early 70s, that meant relocating to New York and spending at least a few months working at one of the publishers' offices. It had been years, really, since anything had opened up at Marvel or DC. Comics were a very tiny industry at that time, and opportunities were very rare, even for artists, let alone writers.

The advertising work was making me crazy, though, and I knew I had to find something else. I wrote a letter to Roy Thomas, whom I'd known for a long time through fandom, and asked if there were any openings at Marvel. By sheer luck, my letter reached him just at the time that Marvel was on the verge of a major expansion. Stan Lee was about to become publisher. Roy was about to be appointed editor-in-chief. And Marvel was about to start adding new titles to its line.

Roy had me take a Marvel "writer's test," which was essentially six pages of pencil art that I had to dialogue. (Interestingly, it was a sequence drawn by Gene Colan for a Gerry Conway DAREDEVIL story.) I passed the test, and Marvel hired me -- at a $25-a-week cut in pay from what I was getting at the ad agency. I took the job anyway, of course. And that's how I got started in comics.

KM: You are well known for creating Howard The Duck. Did you know that he would become so popular in the 70's? How did you get the idea for the character?

SG: Howard's first appearance was a two-part story that appeared in ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #19 and MAN-THING #1. When we apparently "killed off" the character in the latter book, Marvel was flooded with letters of protest. A couple of fans from Canada even mailed a duck carcass to the office -- it had been their Christmas dinner, or something -- with a note attached that read: "MURDERERS!!"

At that point, it was apparent to me that I'd struck a nerve. There were other people at Marvel -- including then-editor Roy Thomas -- who _liked_ the character, but I think I was the only one who really believed Howard could carry a book on his own.

So, yeah, I had a hunch the character would be popular with fans. What caught me a little off-guard was how popular it became _beyond_ the bounds of comics fandom. The mainstream media latched onto it very quickly, and suddenly I had reporters calling me from New York Magazine, The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and so on. I knew the character would appeal to a more general readership should they ever happen to see it; I just never expected that they would.

As for where the idea came from -- I was writing the plot for ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #19, and I had to have a visual that topped a barbarian jumping out of a jar of peanut butter. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and the window of the room where I worked faced out on a block-long row of backyards.

Someone in the neighborhood had apparently just gotten a new stereo and was blasting salsa music out over that row of yards. The stereo must have been expensive, too, because I swear the guy could only afford one record. He kept playing the same song over and over again.

I think I went into a kind of trance-like state to block out the noise, and the next thing I knew, I was typing something about a three-dimensional cartoon duck waddling out of the brush in Man-Thing's swamp.

I realize this sounds like one of those fabricated "legends" behind the creation of a character, but I'm not joking or exaggerating. That's literally how it happened.

KM: You are also well known for your ongoing battle with Marvel for ownership of Howard The Duck. Can you tell me how the resolution occurred and what rights you have for the use of the character?

SG: Well, the battle isn't "ongoing." It ended when the lawsuit was settled out of court. Marvel owns a character named "Howard the Duck," and I don't. Nor do I have any rights to use a character named "Howard the Duck". Those are the concessions I made to Marvel to settle the suit. Marvel made certain concessions to me, as well, but at Marvel's insistence, I agreed that the exact terms of the settlement would remain confidential.

KM: Recently you worked on Spider-Man Team-Up which featured Howard. However, you have been less than pleased about the use of the character in other Marvel Comics, and you now consider him 'dead'. Can you go over this situation for those you don't know about it?

SG: Rather than repeat it all here, it's probably best just to direct people to my "official" "Howard the Duck DEATH Page". Having gotten the vitriol out of my system, I'm hesitant to reintroduce it.

KM: What did you think of the Howard The Duck movie?

SG: What can I say? It sucks. In retrospect, though, after eleven years that have brought us so many _worse_ films, it's not _quite_ as sucky as the reviews might have led you to believe.

Still, there are big problems with it -- chief among them, the duck costume and the duck's bland voice. I liked the performances by Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and Lea Thompson, though. Lea wasn't playing "my" Beverly, but she did reasonably well with the role as it was written.

KM: Sludge was a character you created for Malibu for their Ultraverse line. Marvel bought the company a couple of years ago. Do you retain the rights to that character?

SG: No. Marvel owns Sludge, too. At the time, I joked that if I were paranoid, I'd be tempted to think that Marvel was following me around, buying up anything I ever created. Then I realized, it did matter if I were paranoid or not -- they really were doing it! (Not for that reason, of course.)

KM: Many people don't realize that you had a stint on Daredevil in the 70's. Was Daredevil a title you wanted to write, or were you assigned to it?

SG: In those days, DAREDEVIL was one of a couple of books that were routinely assigned to new writers. The book sold fairly consistently, but not very well, so there was nothing major at stake if the writer flubbed it. It served as a low-risk arena in which writers could hone their craft.

I had been writing IRON MAN for a while -- another book that was used the same way back then -- and was very eager to move on to DAREDEVIL.

KM: Why do you think Daredevil is not as popular as Spider-Man, for example? Should he be?

SG: I've always had a hunch about that, and it dates back to very first issue of the book. On that first cover, there was a large shot of Daredevil and little vignettes of Foggy Nelson and, if memory serves, Karen Page. It was as if the cover were saying: "Hey, kids! Here's Daredevil! This comic book comes fully-equipped with sidekick and girlfriend!" You had the feeling that this series had been "constructed," whereas SPIDER-MAN had grown organically.

That first issue, with the Bill Everett artwork, was just beautiful, but DD's original costume was a little clunky, and the story was just a little too pat. It read like an "origin" instead of a story, if you know what I mean.

The next several issues, while they also had some gorgeous artwork, also had problems. Most of the villains weren't very interesting. The relationship among Matt, Karen, and Foggy got stale very quickly. Matt was a lawyer, but we almost never saw him practicing law. By the time they were trotting DD off to the Savage Land to swing around the jungles with Ka-Zar, I was already losing interest in the book as a reader. I continued to buy it over the years, but it was never among my favorites.

To be honest, it really wasn't until Miller came along and stood the entire series on its head that DD completely left all those problems behind.

KM: You worked with Gene Colan on Daredevil for many of your issues. What do you think of his work? He had returned to Daredevil this year, and critics have said his style isn't what's needed for today's market. Comments?

SG: Gene and I also worked on HOWARD THE DUCK together. I love his work. I haven't seen his new DAREDEVIL stuff, but if it's anywhere near as powerful as what he used to do, it's _exactly_ what the series would need.

You have to remember, Gene's style was very unusual even for the 60s and 70s. He was among the few artists at Marvel who hadn't been hugely influenced by Jack Kirby. Over the years, Gene did manage to adopt certain elements of Kirby's storytelling and apply them, particularly to his action scenes, but the way he draws is completely different. Colan works with light and shadow as much as he does with outline. He's as concerned with the people in a story as he is with its action. If DAREDEVIL is still being written as a crime story rather than as a straight superhero, Gene would be ideal for it.

KM: The Black Widow was part of your run on the comic. Does Daredevil (as a title) work better with her as his partner?

SG: If I recall, Black Widow also _left_ during my run on the comic. And I have to say, in all honesty, I didn't miss her. I think Daredevil works better as a loner.

One of the keys to understanding the Daredevil character is that he's one man alone, in darkness. Mitigate the totality of that darkness and the character becomes much less interesting. Natasha was a mitigating factor. However much I may have liked _looking_ at her, she just didn't belong in DAREDEVIL.

KM: How about Daredevil as part of a super-team?

SG: Same problem. He works as an _occasional_ member of a team -- I used him that way in DEFENDERS -- but not as a regular.

KM: What other comics have you written, besides the titles I mentioned above?

SG: After 26 years, the list is a very long one. I'm probably best-known for HOWARD THE DUCK, of course, and then for my work on OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, DEFENDERS, and MAN-THING. The other Marvel stuff I've written includes -- in no particular order -- the FOOLKILLER limited series, IRON MAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, MORBIUS, TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE (the Thing's team-up book), SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL, SON OF SATAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and lord only knows what else.

For Eclipse: DESTROYER DUCK and a graphic novel called STEWART THE RAT.

For Epic: the very short-lived VOID INDIGO.

For Image: a brief run on CODENAME: STRYKE FORCE, a WILDC.A.T.s special, a CYBERNARY miniseries, and, most recently, the SAVAGE DRAGON/DESTROYER DUCK special.

Until recently, the most notable thing I've done for DC was probably the PHANTOM ZONE miniseries, back in the early 80s. I'm now working on a new series for Vertigo.

KM: What's your favourite work of your own?

SG: Until recently, I felt that the FOOLKILLER limited series was the very best thing I had ever written for comics.

I've had to revise that judgment. The new series I'm doing for Vertigo is much, much better.

KM: Who are some of your favourite artists and writers?

SG: Artists: Colan, Kirby, Barry Windsor-Smith, Frank Miller, Dave Sim, Teddy Christiansen, Phil Jimenez, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Amanda Connor, Sergio Aragones, Carl Barks, Will Eisner, Neal Adams, Olivia -- okay, I give up! There are just too many. I hereby apologize to the couple of dozen people whose names should and would appear in this list if I had an hour or two to compile it.

Writers: Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Steven Grant, Mark Evanier, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis (on TRANSMETROPOLITAN), Kurt Busiek (on ASTRO CITY), Grant Morrison (on INVISIBLES, not JLA), Jamie Delano, James Hudnall (on AGE OF HEROES). And a similar apology to the writers I know I must've omitted.

KM: What projects are you currently working on?

SG: As I mentioned earlier, I'm currently writing a new series for Vertigo. It's called NEVADA.

It's about a Las Vegas showgirl named Nevada, an ostrich named Bolero, a drunken mystic, a gangster whose head is in a very strange place, the true nature of good and evil in the universe, and the current state of human relations.

As a series, NEVADA has a great deal in common with MAN-THING and HOWARD THE DUCK, in that it's impossible to categorize. It's a crime story, a horror story, a slice-of-life, and a cosmic saga all at once. And it's very funny. If readers come to it with an open mind, not expecting one thing or another, but rather one thing _and_ another, they'll have a very good time.

The penciller on the series is Phil Winslade, who's best known for his work on the Vertigo miniseries GODDESS and the recent WONDER WOMAN: AMAZONIA. Steve Leialoha, who worked on many of the HOWARD THE DUCK stories, is doing the inking. Karen Berger is the editor.

Frankly, I think it's the best thing I've ever written, for comics or any other medium.

The first issue of NEVADA will hit the stores in March, 1998.

KM: Can you list your web page address and e-mail address? What do you think of the Internet as it relates to comics? Do you think we'll have paperless comics in the future? Or should companies just rely on the Internet to advertise and keep in touch with fans?

SG: E-mail: SGerber@compuserve.com.

Web page: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Sgerber.

It's very difficult to predict how the Internet is going to affect comics. Paperless comics are certainly a possibility -- but not at 28.8 or even 56K. When something at least as fast as ISDN becomes the _entry-level_ standard for accessing the net, though, you'll see this begin to happen.

Within the next ten years, and probably sooner, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see comics made available on-line by subscription over the net, especially if color printer technology continues to improve and get less expensive.

In the meantime, you'll begin to see comics on CD-ROM, complete with soundtracks, some limited animation and special effects, and so on -- not unlike the weekly Spider-Man strip that appears on AOL, but with much more advanced graphics technology than AOL provides.

I don't think this spells the end of comics on paper, though, by any means. There are certain types of comic art you wouldn't _want_ to get over the net. Digital graphics may be okay for an ordinary issue of SPIDER-MAN, but they'd never do justice to, say, Alex Ross.

For now, though, I think the publishers can best use the Internet for communication with the fans and possibly as an order desk for back issues.

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(c) Kuljit Mithra 1997
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear
http://www.manwithoutfear.com
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