Steve Gerber: Marvel comic-book writer

Though originally only a cameo figure in a 1970s horror title, Marvel Comics' Howard the Duck went on to a high-profile comic-book career as a wise-cracking, cigar-chewing character. His range and appeal transcended the traditional audience for four-colour superhero fare and contributed to the opening up of the comics medium to a more adult constituency.

Howard's creator, Steve Gerber, was part of the 1960s comic-book fandom that supplied many of the following decade's industry leaders. He was friends with Roy Thomas (editor of the seminal fanzine Alter Ego, and future Marvel Comics editor-in-chief) and produced his own mimeographed publication Headline. But while many of his contemporaries took up employment with the big two publishers, Marvel and DC, Gerber, armed with a communications degree from St Louis University, joined a copywriting agency – only to find it stifling his creativity.

Thomas recruited him to Marvel in 1972 and Gerber started scripting some of their second-string characters. His sense of the absurd, however, soon lifted him on to The Defenders, about an ill-matched team of dysfunctional superheroes. There, Gerber's knack for juxtaposing the bizarre with the flat-out ridiculous produced a storyline featuring an "Elf with a gun" who assassinated minor characters in a sequence which almost certainly represented Gerber's view of the anarchic nature of existence.

It was while scripting the horror comic Man-Thing that Gerber devised the character that best articulated his own skewed view of the human condition, Howard the Duck. "The Duck" was supposedly a three-dimensional projection from an alternate reality; Gerber creating him whilst he worked in a "trance-like state" attempting to block out the repetitive sounds of a stereo. "The next thing I knew, a cartoon duck was waddling out of the Man-Thing's swamp." Howard survived only two appearances before seemingly being killed off, but such was the clamour from readers that he was awarded his own series.

Howard the Duck ran for 27 issues, becoming akin to a state-of-the-nation road movie, with Gerber describing it as "the living embodiment of all that is querulous, opinionated and uncool". Howard and his human companion, Beverly, battled their way through a myriad jobs, with Howard even running for President of the United States. It fought against the dominance of the superhero, years before Alan Moore and Frank Miller arrived to reconstruct the genre with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

Gerber was a groundbreaker in this regeneration of the comics industry, through Howard and also the short-lived series Omega the Unknown (written with his girlfriend Mary Skrenes). In the latter, Gerber explored the disconnected relationship between a mysterious superhero and a young boy in Hell's Kitchen, New York. By presenting his concept in a deliberately enigmatic way, Gerber's work prefigured the multi-layered approach that Moore particularly would bring to the comics medium.

Howard proved to be a one-writer character, needing Gerber's own voice to provide the appropriate tone. At this time, however, there was no recognition of creator-rights. In 1978 Gerber parted company with Marvel acrimoniously and sued for control of his creation.

Marvel was already in litigation with the artist Jack Kirby over the ownership of characters such as The Fantastic Four and sensing common cause, Gerber and Kirby produced the comic book Destroyer Duck to help cover their legal costs. Gerber settled out of court, though the agreement failed to deliver him copyright on the character. His involvement with the 1986 film version of Howard the Duck was minimal and proved another example of others failing to convey his voice. Instead, George Lucas delivered one of Hollywood's legendary turkeys. "What can I say?" Gerber commented. "It sucks."

By then he had left the comics industry and was scripting animated television shows such as GI Joe and Dungeons & Dragons. But comics remained in his blood and he wrote the highly rated graphic novel Stewart the Rat (1980), the sex-and-violence Void Indigo (1983), and even returned to Marvel for a new Howard series in 2001.

Ian Abrahams

Stephen Ross Gerber, comic-book writer: born St Louis, Missouri 20 September 1947; married Margo MacLeod (one daughter); died Las Vegas 10 February 2008.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Are you looking for part time/ ...

SEN (SLD/PMLD) Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a quailed Teacher ...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Currently looking for teachers ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?