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It’s snowing and Steve Gerber is Dead.

by  in Comic News Comment
It’s snowing and Steve Gerber is Dead.

(Written 11 days ago)

List of things I did when I found out Steve Gerber died:

  1. Went and sat on the toilet for 22 minutes.
  2. Immediately logged into CSBG to see if the news had been posted.
  3. Felt slightly jealous that Cronin had posted it before I did. Aren’t Greg Hatcher and I THE big Steve Gerber fans, here?
  4. Relentlessly, almost violently, refreshed the Comic Weblog Updates page, and watched the tributes roll in.
  5. Read Defenders 29, and 31-37 from the Essential Defenders volume 3, the Howard the Duck Treasury edition, Marvel Two-in-one 6-8, Sludge # 2, Countdown to Mystery 1-4, Void Indigo # 1, and some of the Gerber bits from Essential Tales of the Zombie.
  6. Never cried, but got teary eyes reading Gail Simone’s piece on Gerber, and sniffled a little.
  7. Ate oranges, mechanically and compulsively. Also health food soup.
  8. Made a depressing song playlist, and listened to it obsessively. (See below)
  9. Tried to stay up and wait for Journalista! to post, but fell asleep on the couch with my laptop.

For the record, my version of this piece would probably have read something like.

Steve Gerber is dead.GeeeeeeeeyaaaaaaaaaahHHHHHHFUUUUCCCCCCK!

So it’s probably better I didn’t post the news here first.

One note before I start serious essaying.  I’ve been hacking away at it for the last couple weeks, and accidentally deleted decent size chunks ‘o text a couple times.  I think the essay holds together alright but since my perspective changed a lot in the interim I’m gonna note when I wrote what.

(Written Seven Days Ago)

Bleh. It’s been a week, and I’m still of sad in fits and spurts. Like every three or four hours it creeps into the back of my brain. Steve Gerber’s dead. Dammit.

When I’m sad, I’m sad in fits and spurts. I don’t have the mindset or, honestly, the attention span for sustained depression. So I forget about being sad, until I remember. But then I have to deal with it over again, and it’s still kind of a big ‘ol shock to the system. It’s like everything around me freezes, and I turn all internal and sad.

And all of this leads to a bunch of mixed, bad, feelings. And I thought it might help me (and maybe, MAYBE, some other folks) if I thought through them publicly. So here goes.

(Written Five Days Ago)

I develop strong relationships with bodies of work.

Or maybe “strong” is the wrong word. Maybe. obsessive? Unhealthy? Juuuuust over the line into mild insanity? Probably one of the above. But I count on art to challenge me and to define and effect how I think about EVERYTHING. So when one of the folks who’s works really affected me dies, it always hits me hard. Not AS hard as when someone I really know, who’s a constant presence in my life kicks it. But stomach-ache and snifflies and general malaise for a couple of days level hard.

And I’m not entirely sure why. I think it’s more the idea that this guy who WOULD be a kindred spirit if we HAD met died that hurts the most. Or just the general sense of unrealized possibilities. Or, hell, maybe just seeing how sad everybody else is, especially the folks who did know and really care about him. (I hope Mary Skrenes is OK.)

And the last one leads to a weird sense of guilt.

Like, there are some people this is really, REALLY gonna hit hard. Like, life-destroying hard. So do I deserve to feel sad about this, considering how minuscule my degree of sad is compared to other people’s? And then there’s a DOUBLE sense of guilt for worrying about something this convolutedly stupid in the face of tragedy.

I’m also filled with the need to DO something. See, most of the time when people who are close to you die you have no lack of stuff to occupy your time. If it’s your spouse/parents/children/BESTbest friend you have a lot of hard decisions to make, both dealing with the physical after-effects of death and psychological questions about how you’re going to live your life.

And if it it’s not an s/p/c or a VBF then you’re placed into a role where it’s your job to comfort the people who are really sad. When it’s someone who you only know through their work – Read: Didn’t know at all, I guess -there’s not much of practical value you can accomplish. I’m really glad I have this space to bang out a sorta tribute but there’s a pretty big gap between writing about my feeeeeeeeeelings and actually doing somethin’ worthwhile.

So I feel sad. And I feel guilty. And I watch the snow fall and listen to sad music.

(Composed 12 Days Ago)

10 Songs on my ” Music for when Somebody Dies” playlist:

1) Cold, Cold Ground – Tom Waits

2) See that My Grave is Kept Clean – Blind Lemon Jefferson

3) Fistful of Rain – Warren Zevon

4) What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye

5) The Freedom Suite – Sonny Rollins

6) Crescent City – Lucinda Williams

7) Spider Cider – Man Man

8) Dead Homiez – Ice Cube

9) The Future – Leonard Cohen

10) Graceland – Paul Simon

The good aspect of death is that it brings a community together. In the real world, it brings friends and families who might not see each other for years at a time together. In the weird little comics-blogsphere virtual bubble there’s the swapping of ancedotes, testimonials, raised glasses and, most interestingly, a bunch of people really, REALLY looking at the man’s work, trying to show WHY it’s important. And, therefore, why Steve and his passing are important.

Because this feels almost like DOING SOMETHING. And in lieu of actually doing something, I do want to try’n explain why Gerber’s stuff connected with me so strongly.

(Written Two Days Ago)

So I want to try it to, but first a disclaimer:

One of the REALLY fucked up things about death is how it turns people into symbols.

I dunno. I guess it’s pretty obvious, but I think about this whenever anyone I know, In Real Life or not, passes. They’re gone. You’re left with ONLY “What this person means to you,” these symbolic ideas that are all we have left to substitute for the real person in our headspace.

But they’re really inaccurate, really incomplete, and don’t even come close to representing or, godammit replacing!, a real living, breathing, vital human. We try to make sense out of dead people’s lives because it makes us feel better, but it’s all just ephemeral bullshit. Memories and ghosts, not really adding up to much.

And I’m totally doing it here, too, reducing the man’s work to a series of simple abstracts, and doing it, now, without fear of reprisal because if I seriously get it wrong he’s not alive to correct me.

Still, doing “What Steve Gerber’s work means to me” is all I CAN do, and it does sort of satisfy the do-something need. It’s not a fitting tribute to who the man was, but it might make me feel better, and it might be interesting to some of you. So here’s what Steve Gerber means to me.

(Written Three Days Ago)

Steve Gerber is .. dammit, WAS… my absolute favorite scripter in comics.

A lot of it’s the voice, of course. Mainstream comics are like TV and Hollywood movies in that they favor commercial concerns over the artistic. And these commercial concerns demand that the artists working in commercial art stay squarely in the audience’s comfort zones.

But not Gerber.

I mean, it didn’t seem like Gerber was concerned with breaking these boundaries, exactly. I DO think he thought a lot about his audience, and I’ll get to that in just a minute, but I think he was trying to relate to them as individuals, not as some monolithic group that must be pandered to or shocked. He was trying to make the most personal, most… um… Steve Gerber-y stories he could. To REALLY simplify, the basic themes of Gerber’s works loosely linked around the idea of of the (generally heroic) outsider trying to live a morally and intellectually worthwhile life in the midst of a society with VERY different values and the challenges, sacrifices, and winnable/un-winnable battles that this entails.

Or, if you want MORE than the cliff-notes version, hit up Seven Soldiers of Steve, down there below the search bar on plok’s blog. (And I know I’m a few…um… years late with my piece, but I have it done. Just needs some editing, and me to dig up my Son of Satan books to check two things. Soon.)

So it’s not that Gerber is the best writer in comics, but he is the most like himself. Howard the Duck’s struggle for self definition was… well, I can’t say fer sure that it was Steve Gerber’s struggle, but it damn sure felt like it was.

But, yeah, let’s dig just a little deeper here. You could always tell a Steve Gerber comic by the voice, but the voice wasn’t completely unified.

Or at least he worked from both ends of the Eisner/Kirby continuum.

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Glad you asked.

The Eisner/Kirby continuum is a thing I invented to semi-objectively look at art. It’s based on my interpretation of Eisner and Kirby’s seventies work. Eisner made art like a TEACHER. One of the (although not THE the) major purposes of his Contract With God era work was to impart a moral lesson to his audience. Nah. scratch that. Broaden it. To teach them how to live. Kirby, circa the Fourth World books, was a STUDENT. He’d pull elements from his own life and the world around him and throw them into his work without planning or calculation. It feels to me he was using his art to gain perspective on and make sense of the world around him; Using it to learn.

Steve Gerber was both, and it’s easy to find traces of TEACHER and STUDENT in virtually everything he wrote. Individual examples of these are easy to find: 1975′ Howard the Duck #16, the infamous, all-text “Dreaded Deadline Doom” issue was simply Steve Gerber wrestling with his duties and responsibilities as an artist. Very STUDENT… But he’s also talking directly to the reader, and he’s telling us what it MEANS to be a writer, which is pretty TEACHER.
One more example, from the 2000 Howard the Duck series. Here, we have Howard as student talking to, well, a TEACHER y’all will probably recognize.

(Image borrowed from Tim O’ Neil here, and you really should go read the rest of it. Click to make it bigger.)

(Written Tonight)

And, see, it’s easy to see elements of both in most of Gerber’s work if you look. So I think THAT’S what make Gerber my fave. Geber positioned himself as a poor schmoe like the rest of us, one who CERTAINLY didn’t have all the answers, but one that didn’t mind stopping to share what he had figured out. He might not have cared about our (the audience’s) traditional comfort zones, but I always got the sense he cared about US, at least enough to try’n help us through the problems of day-to-day living.

So maybe that’s it. Simple reciprocation. Since I felt that he cared about ME as a fan of his work, *I* cared about him as a creator, and as a guide. It might be too much to say I’ll “miss” a guy I never met, but… nah, fuck it. Steve Gerber, I miss you. You met a lot to me. R.I.P.

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