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for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Steve Gerber

We lost one of our best this week.

Steve Gerber was one of the first people I met when I went to work for Marvel Comics in the fall of 1972. I didn't know his work well at that point - he had yet to fully come into his own - but I liked him from the moment he made a point of coming to the office I shared with Sol Brodsky to welcome me aboard. Then and now, I'm of the opinion that, if you didn't like Steve, there was something fundamentally wrong with you.

Steve didn't actually come into his own. It was more like he exploded into his own. In what now seems like the blink of an eye, he became one of the best, most innovative, most influential writers of my generation. His work on Defenders, "The Living Mummy" in Supernatural Thrillers, Man-Thing, Marvel Two-In-One, Son of Satan, Tales of the Zombie, and, of course, on Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown just plain crackled with his skilled and passionate voice. Cocky as I was in those days - and I could be insufferable - I was still smart enough to study his work. Every now and then, when I'm reading a comic I wrote back in the day or something I've just written, I can spot the occasional Gerber influence. It's a rare writer that can become part of another writer's approach to the work. Steve wasn't just a rarity. He was unique.

Some of my best work at Marvel was a direct result of Steve's ready willingness to share his fertile imagination with and support other writers. Early in my run on Ghost Rider,, I'd written Johnny Blaze into a corner. He'd lost his protection against Satan and his soul would surely follow. It made for one hell of a cliffhanger, but I had no idea how I was going to get Blaze out of this situation. Steve and I were talking about this, when half-joking, half-serious, he said:

"Why don't you have God save him?"

It was an absolutely brilliant idea and I ran with it for the rest of my two-year run on the series. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that I was far from the only writer to benefit from Steve's generosity. He was as giving a person as there was.

I got to hang around with Steve a bit during my brief time in New York City. When I was dating a woman who was a close friend of Mary Skrenes, Steve's writing partner, I spend many an evening at Mary's apartment. It wasn't exactly the Algonquin, but, being in the presence of such good and talented people, I felt the nobility of being a writer. Yeah, I know that sounds extreme. But, in an industry that so often feeds upon creators, those times when you're absolutely certain that you're doing important work keep you going through the times when others try to convince you otherwise. That was one more I owed Steve...and Mary...and the lovely Lark Russell, who I hope is happy and well.

Many people have written about what a good friend Steve was. I can vouch for that.

When New York has beaten me down to within an inch of my life and I decided to move back to Ohio, my departure was imperiled by a rent dispute with my landlord who a) wouldn't give me an itemized final bill, and b) suddenly insisted on being paid in cash instead of the usual check. Steve and about a dozen friends had come to my apartment to help me load my possessions into a rented van. The apartment manager called the police, who threatened to throw me in jail. Steve, Paul Levitz, Paul Kupperberg and others - forgive me for not mentioning them all - dug deep into their wallets and saved me from a night in the hoosegow.

A couple years later, I moved back to New York for less than a year. It was an ill-fated move in many ways, one of them being that my roommate who, despite my always giving him my half of the monthly rent, had not paid the rent for a couple of months. Which led to our being evicted.

Steve and the other members of the Mad Genius Studio took me in. He, Mary Skrenes, Jim Salicrup, and David Anthony Kraft let me crash on their office sofa for a couple weeks while I found another apartment. Despite the inconvenience of having me under foot, they never asked for a dime in rent.

When New York City beat me down a second time, I moved back to Cleveland. I didn't have any contact with Steve for a pretty long time. The last time I saw him in person was either at a San Diego convention or one of the parties Marv Wolfman used to throw after San Diego conventions. Steve was as friendly and as welcoming as the day we first met. After that, we did manage to exchange a few e-mails every year. I wish there had been more e-mails and a lot more meetings. That this is the nature of the comics industry does not diminish my chagrin that I can't manage my time well enough to tell people that I love, people like Steve, that I love them more often than I do.

And this where I take a moment to cry...

In between this sentence and the previous one, I visited some of the online places where Steve is being remembered. Mark Evanier has a wonderful tribute here...

...and one just as good at Steve's own website:

Tom "The Comics Reporter" Spurgeon wrote a fine obituary for Steve, which you can read here:

The 1970s were a chaotic time in American comics. There were so many new creators coming into the field and many of us, myself most definitely included, didn't always conduct ourselves as nobly as we should have. But I never knew Steve to knowingly do anybody a bad turn. He was as great a man as he was a writer.

I know I didn't mention a bunch of other terrific Gerber comic books earlier. His editorship of Crazy and his incredible Kiss comics and Foolkiller and Destroyer Duck and, most especially, the brilliant Hard Time for DC Comics. The last one is the one I frequently point to when someone claims the writers of my generation can't cut it anymore. It was fresh, brilliant, moving, and every bit as good as Steve's best work from decades earlier.

If I failed to adequately describe the treasure that is Steve Gerber, I apologize. I hope I have, at the very least, given you some idea of what he meant to me.

God bless and keep you, Steve Gerber.

You will be missed.

Tony Isabella

<< 02/12/2008 | 02/13/2008 | 02/14/2008 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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