Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Gerber and the Duck – Part 2

Say the Secret Word

The secret word is cacoethes. One of the first Steve Gerber scripts I remember editing was Howard the Duck #3, the “Master of Quack-Fu” issue. This would have been in early 1976 when I was brand-new associate editor.

The plot for that issue had been done before I started at Marvel. The first I saw of the book was at the penciled and scripted (dialogued) stage.

One more time, in case there’s anyone out there still unfamiliar with creating comics “Marvel style”: The writer writes a plot, the penciler draws the story, then the writer writes dialogue and captions to go with the pictures and indicates where the copy should be placed within the panels. Then the book is lettered, inked and colored. Theoretically, the editor, me in the case of HTD #3, sees and checks the book at every stage.

Reading a comic book at the pencil and script stage as the editor is a far different experience than reading the printed book. If you do the job right, you read the plot first to get the overall picture. You have to know where the story is supposed to be going to evaluate the copy that’s supposed to be getting it there. Then, you are forced to read the script slowly. Consider it carefully. Balloon by balloon. Pausing a second between units of copy to check to see if the corresponding numbered, blue-pencil placement indication on the board (or photocopy of same) is properly located and spacious enough to accommodate the words. Checking to see that the copy matches what was drawn—can’t have a person with a calm, smiling face screaming “AAARRRGH!” Checking everything.

What you’re doing, if you’re doing it right, is reverse-engineering the writer’s process. This copy was written to accompany this image as a step toward this destination. What was the writer thinking?

Too often, the “what was the writer thinking” moment was more like, “What the $#%&#@ was he or she thinking?!”

With HTD #3, and with pretty much every Gerber script that ever crossed my desk, when I realized what must have gone on in his head panel by panel I said, “Wow.”

Not far into the script for HTD #3, I put my blue pencil down. His copy was clean and compact. Not a wasted word. If a word wasn’t absolutely necessary to the point being achieved, then it was there for the rhythm of the line, or to give a more natural feel. Nothing purposeless, ever. And, joy of joys, he could spell!

Gerber was one of the most gifted wordsmiths I ever encountered. He was also among the most talented creators. Best storytellers. Best dramatists. Most thoughtful and insightful analysts of the human condition, though he tended to be a little dark and cynical.

Which brings us to the secret word: cacoethes. It means an uncontrollable urge or desire. It may suggest a desire for something harmful. My dictionary offers the example “a cacoethes for smoking.”

Steve smoked, as I recall. Hmm.

But the cacoethes I’m talking about is of the “incurable passion for writing” kind, per Roman poet, author of the Satires, Juvenal.

Steve apparently had stuff to say that he just had to get out.

Then, he had more stuff to say, and had to get that out.

Cacoethes. A “chronic, overwhelming desire.” Also, “a mania.”

Steve often did his writing at the Andrews Coffee Shop around the corner from the office. He’d sit there for hours drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. You could smoke pretty much anywhere in those days.

Guess he just had to get out of the apartment. Sometimes a change of venue helps me, too. Sometimes the isolation one finds in a public place is better than the same four walls of your apartment or office screaming at you. It’s especially good if someone is bringing you coffee.

Steve was always late. Often badly late. Disastrously late. Cacoethes or not, it must have been hard giving birth to all that stuff sometimes. Painful and difficult, I’m guessing.

More than once, Steve showed up at the office with the revised, pushed back, extended, no, this-time-we-really-mean-it deadline looming, found an empty desk in the editorial room (sometimes Roger Stern would volunteer his) and type as fast as the keys would rebound. Then he’d hand me the final pages of whatever and I’d read the stuff right away, because John Verpoorten would kill me if I didn’t.

Clean copy. Compact. Perfectly composed. All spelled correctly.

While writing this little piece, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to re-compose, retrofit a thought or correct a glitch. I have a sort of double-letter dyslexia that makes me type “Veerporten” when I mean Verpoorten and “isuue” when I mean issue. And, I will occasionally make other spelling misteaks, which must be ferreted out. And I type slowly with two fingers!

In several pages of copy, Steve might have a spell-o or two overstruck with X’s and corrected on the fly, but that’s about it. (Old-fashioned typers back then. No computers.)

Some may wonder, if Steve was capable of churning out pages of perfect copy in a few cigarettes worth of time, why he was ever late. I think I know. When the fear of not delivering eclipses the fear of committing words to paper, things flow.

Can’t trick yourself. Can’t fake the fear. Cacoethes notwithstanding, sometimes you have to be ready to burn at the Man-Thing’s touch before you can purge what’s been growing in your gut.

I rarely had any problems or suggestions regarding Steve’s scripts. Once in a while, I’d improve a balloon placement, moving the copy off of a character’s body into a less obtrusive space. Once in a long time, I’d see some opportunity to tweak a line. Inevitably, Steve would explain to me precisely what he had been thinking when he wrote the line, his solid rationale for doing it the way he did—and then say, but your suggestion is better. Let’s go with that.

Whether it was really better or merely did no harm and he was just humoring me, I don’t know. But, whatever. We never had any conflict over the scripts.

Except for one. More on that in a minute.

The one time I know I contributed something useful was in HTD #3. Toward the end, there was a panel that was the key, punch-line moment for the whole story. Steve slipped. He misstated the point.

It was one of those things where you start a scene one work-session, get tired, sleep, and finish it when you wake up without re-reading what you wrote last time. This results in things like Stan’s famous Captain America gaff: a line at the end of one page, the words more or less, “Only one of us is going to leave this place alive…” and the next page starting “…and it won’t be me!”

The first script I ever edited at Marvel, in 1969, was a Stan Lee Millie the Model story that was a long, shaggy-dog build-up to a punch line about the moon. Stan blew it, making the punch line a non sequitur about Mars. I showed him the mistake. He was very grateful for the catch.

Just as Steve was. He thanked me profusely.

If I had a copy of the book, I could show you the panel and explain the glitch, but I can’t do it from memory.

Moving right along….

For all his ranting about the freedom to do graphic violence and other X-rated stuff as described yesterday, Steve never, to my knowledge, attempted to do anything beyond the Marvel specs in Marvel publications. He argued his philosophy but respected the conditions of his employment.

Someone suggested that I was implying previously that Steve wanted to do gratuitous sex and violence. No. He was talking about legitimate, story-essential, harder-edged stuff. He was an excellent writer. I doubt that he ever did anything gratuitous.

The one time we had a serious conflict was over the first Howard the Duck story Steve wrote after the lawsuit was settled. I’ll talk about the lawsuit tomorrow, by the way. But anyway, he wrote a story that excised all non-Gerber Duck stories from Duck-canon. I had no problem with that. I objected, however, to the way he did it, which I felt was denigrating and insulting to the writers of those stories.

Gerber wouldn’t change it. I did. He found my rewrite unacceptable. So, the issue never saw print.

It has been often said, and it still says on Wikipedia that I objected to the rest of the story, beyond the opening that dealt harshly with those who dared to write the Duck in Gerber’s absence, which parodied Secret Wars. Nope. I found that part wickedly funny. I didn’t touch it.

It was brilliant parody. It was reminiscent of early issues of HTD, which humorously savaged works by McGregor, Moench and others. Fowl play, you betcha—hysterical and right on.

And fitting, perfect revenge for Secret Wars II #1.

If you think I did the wrong thing regarding Steve’s treatment of the other Duck writers, ask them how they felt about it. Ask their friends how they felt. How would you feel?

It was a big enough deal, there was enough sensitivity, and Gerber had proven he was litigious, so I went to both Publisher Mike Hobson and President Jim Galton with my objections to the story. They absolutely supported my position, and Marvel stuck by it.

NEXT: Suits and Lawsuits



Gerber and the Duck – Part 1


Gerber and the Duck – Part 3


  1. Dear czeskleba,

    It was Mike Hobson who characterized my edits as minor. I don't remember how extensive they were.

  2. And, like our disagreements about the first Star Wars movie, we end up pretty much in the same place, albeit through different approaches: I, too, am quite the fan of Steve Gerber's writing. I won't get into a pissing match about who's the better Gerber fan, but I'm certainly up there.
    Now, when I say something like that, some folk tend to think that I love and worship everything he ever wrote, without question. That is not the case; I can and have been critical of his writing (Nevada, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, Suburban Jersey She-Devils, Cloak & Dagger, even a few issues of the original run of HtD) But when he was great, he was really great (Foolkiller, most of HtD, Omega, Phantom Zone, Hard Time, Man-Thing).
    In fact, I was fortunate enough to be his assistant/guide during his visit to our area for a weekend comic book convention and got into quite a few interesting discussions with him. I have some anecdotes and observations from those 3 days with him that I could bore you with, but I'll just tell one:
    I said that even when he wrote a comic book that I thought was beneath his talents or him not writing at his best, I felt his wordsmith-ing (?) was superior to any other writer in the business. I knew he wrote advertising in his ancient past and, no matter what one may think of that kind of writing, it forces you to choose your words carefully and use them effectively; sort of like journalism or technical writing.
    He laughed and said there was no way he could allow himself to believe for one second that I was correct in my ascertainment of his abilities. He then went on to compare himself to another writer, claiming he was nowhere near as good as that other writer, who was Neil Gaiman. I told Steve I disagreed and that I believed he was a better wordsmith than Neil. He asked me how I could say that and I referenced Destroyer Duck #1's opening captions. It's certainly not his best comic book writing, but re-read those opening narrative captions and marvel at the rhythm of the phrases and the diction and concise & incisive language. Then go to his better comics (HtD #5 or Metal Men #45, for two examples) and see what I mean. He was silent for a moment or two, looked off for a bit and then stared at me and said, simply, "Thank you."

  3. My comment above that you quoted was my feeble attempt to reconcile the conflicting accounts given by Shooter and Gerber: Shooter says the edits were minor, while Gerber said they were significant enough to warrant his quitting the job. I was trying to give them both the benefit of the doubt and postulate a way they might both be telling what they considered the truth.

    But perhaps there's no way to reconcile the two accounts. I've read Gerber's comments over the years and I know he felt strongly that he in an unworkable situation, that he was not being dealt with in good faith, and that there was an agenda behind the editing.

    The reason I'm curious to hear Gerber's specific description of the edits is that I'm curious whether Jim Shooter would dispute what Gerber claims was changed, or whether he would agree with the specifics but disagree with Gerber's characterization of them as major changes. I know you probably have better things to do than retype the whole thing, but if you could paraphrase or summarize what Gerber said was changed, I'd love to find out. As is probably clear from my postings here, I'm a huge Gerber fan… he is my favorite comic writer ever. One of my favorite writers, period.

  4. czeskleba,
    I don't know whether or not we're splitting hairs here, but Chirreep is an artist who uses a machine (the same way a graphics artist uses a Mac) to make her movies that are the b&w HtD stories, the same way that Bereet used a machine to make her movies in Hulk #269 (which I have not, admittedly, read in quite awhile – I'm not even sure I own it anymore). It's clear in the script that Chirreep is creating the stories using a machine and a machine is not doing the creating, but I fail to see how that can make a difference on whether or not any of the other writers are insulted. And, in this case, Mantlo is the only writer we're really talking about because the stories Gerber wanted to remove were the b&w ones, which were almost all written by him; Skeates wrote one in #9. Anyway, the ACT of Mantlo wiping out Moench's Hulk continuity, whether through Bereet or her machine seems like, well, uh, splitting hairs.
    Also, re: sharing the details from TCJ #101 dealing with Jim's specific edits; I'll see what I can do, but it's fairly lengthy and complicated to quote.
    In another of your postings on a related thread, the third HtD one, I think, you say:

    "I've wondered why Gerber would object so strongly to minor changes in his script, to the point of walking away from the project. Based on the above comment, it seems there was just too much lingering mistrust and bad feeling, likely stemming from both the lawsuit and the circumstances of his departure from Marvel in 1978."

    You may have a point there but, again, Jim's edits were not "minor."
    As other posts of mine have revealed, I am a fan of most of Jim's writing and I truly admire what he accomplished throughout his career, especially as Marvel EiC. Also, I am really enjoying finally hearing his side of things after all of these years of others badmouthing him, except for two instances: the Kirby art controversy and the Gerber/unpublished HtD #1 script. Both are rather skimpy, simple re-tellings of complicated situations that are ultimately unsatisfying. Taking into consideration Gerber's possible lingering mistrust, I think it's fair to consider that Jim's severe editing of Gerber's script possibly had more to it than protecting Mantlo's feelings. I leave those to others to ponder and I'll keep my own ideas about that to myself, for now.

  5. Jeff wrote:
    There is a sidebar in which Gerber discussed the changes Jim made and how those changes severely damaged the logic and cohesiveness of the plot, which I won't go into here since a lot of people have not read the unpublished script.
    I wish you would, as I'm really curious. There seems to be a pretty significant disagreement between Shooter and Gerber about how substantial the changes were. I'm very curious to hear what Gerber said about it at the time.

    As to the issue of insulting Mantlo… I haven't read the Mantlo story in which he eliminated the Moench Hulk stories from continuity so I'm not sure how it differed from Gerber's. Gerber portrays the Mantlo stories as being generated by a machine, which could be construed as insulting. But if Mantlo did the same thing with Moench's stories, it would negate that criticism.


    There is a sidebar in which Gerber discussed the changes Jim made and how those changes severely damaged the logic and cohesiveness of the plot, which I won't go into here since a lot of people have not read the unpublished script.
    However, I have a copy of the script and have read it, and here's the only line I can ascertain where it COULD be interpreted as a put-down of the other writers' stories:

    "Chirreep: Don't you understand? I've lost my AUDIENCE! They HATE my recent work!"

    Chirreep's "recent work," of course, being the b&w HtD stories.
    BUT, Gerber then pokes fun at himself two lines later:

    "Chirreep: In 'Void Lemon', I tried to say we practice a PASSIVE form of violence — and I provoked Krylor's first MASS RIOT!"

    And that, as far as I can tell, after two readings, is the ONLY possible negative comment contained in the unpublished HtD #1 script dealing with Mantlo and the other writers' b&w work.

    And here's another quote from TCJ #101:

    "Mantlo himself said he had never been consulted by anyone as to whether he would be insulted if gerber had turned his Howard stories into movies for continuity purposes. 'This is the first I've heard of it,' he said. Mantlo would not comment on whether or not he would have been insulted if his stories were written out of continuity"

    And, a final question: Did anyone ask Doug Moench if he were bothered by Mantlo's writing his b&w Hulk stories out of continuity? Probably not, since it was done around the time he left Marvel for DC.

    Jeffrey D. Clem

    The Comics Journal #101 features great news coverage by Tom Heintjes on Gerber pulling the edited script back.
    I cannot reprint the whole article here, but I can isolate some areas of it for perusal.
    For example, at first, Gerber's plans involved keeping some material and discarding the rest:

    "Gerber said he was willing to allow Mantlo's two issues of the color Howard (#s 30 & 31) to stand as part of the official continuity, but that he wanted to completely eradicate the stories from the b&w magazines. In doing this, though, Gerber said that dropping any continuity would have to meet two criteria: Gerber would be able to retain any elements of the b&w stories that he felt did work, and any elimination of continuity would have to be done in a manner that could not be interpreted as embarrassing or insulting to Mantlo…"

    Mantlo eradicated Doug Moench's Rampaging Hulk continuity in Hulk #269 by saying that those stories never really happened in the Marvel universe; that they were, in effect, movies created by Bereet, who was a Krylorian techno-artist.
    Gerber used Mantlo's idea and created another Krylorian techno-artist named Chirreep, who created movies that were the b&w HtD stories.

    From TCJ #101:
    "Gerber added yet another plot twist – that Chirreep's film-making machine had brought into existence a 'shadow universe' where Chirreep's movies actually took place. 'In other words,' Gerber [said], 'I postulated that the stories by other writers both did and didn't happen'"
    "Since a Mantlo-scripted story served as an inspiration for Gerber's plot, it didn't appear likely to Gerber that the story would be an embarrassment to Mantlo or the other Howard writers."


    "[Gerber]: 'I think he [Shooter] thought the story was intended to disparage others who worked on the black and whites, but that wasn't my intention at all – I did it specifically not to offend Mantlo. Mantlo himself used the Krylorian techno-artist. I didn't think it could possibly hurt Mantlo's feelings.'"
    "Even though Gerber took steps to make sure the script wouldn't offend anyone, he felt that Shooter edited it to the point where it violated several points Gerber was trying to make."


    "Gerber said the first notification he got regarding the script was that it had been accepted 'with minor changes.' 'I looked at it and said 'This is not minor editing, this is a complete rewrite.'"


  8. Yes, I sent Steve the Disney-agreed designs so we could decide how to visually depict the character in the 2002 miniseries. As noted in that interview, Steve disliked the design intensely. The weird compromise we came up with (suggested by Bill Jemas, if I remember right) was to have Howard mutate into various different animals throughout the series. For story reasons, he wound up being a rat for most of it. Phil Winslade eventually came up with a version of the "approved" duck design that satisfied everyone, including Steve, to some degree at least.

    The designs, shown in Jim Shooter's next blog entry, had been printed some years before in one of the Bill Mantlo black-and-white magazines along with an accompanying article and (I think) some of the documents on the Disney settlement. So this was absolutely public information, even then.

  9. Anonymous

    Didn't realize that Gerber had written Marvel's 10-issue "Foolkiller" series. That was one of my favorites as a kid. Not a book for kids, though, I'd have to say, although it didn't carry a "for mature readers" warning, probably because the mature elements were moral themes rather than gore and nudity. For some reason I though Marvel had reprinted that series in TP form, but I guess not. –MikeAnon

  10. Anonymous

    "I love your blog, but I must point out that you wrote 'Misteaks' when you meant 'Mistakes.'"

    I'm pretty sure he meant to do that, tongue-in-cheek style, seeing how he was talking about his occasional spelling errors.

    "Robinson & Goyer's JSA re-wrote the 'Armageddon 2001' ending to be a plot by Mordru."

    Thanks for the reminder. I had forgotten about that. (In my own version "Oblivion 2001", the Lords of Chaos, distressed by the totalitarian order that Captain Atom would impose on the world as Monarch, tampered with Waverider's abilities so that upon Waverider's touching Captain Atom the identity of Monarch would pass to Hawk, whom the Lords of Chaos figured they could more easily control. It's kind of gratifying that Robinson & Goyer thought along a similar line and made a Chaos Lord responsible for Hawk's fall!) –MikeAnon

  11. Dear JayJay and czeskleba,

    Thanks for identifying the Gerber panel. Although I've read Essential Howard the Duck, I've hardly read any Man-Thing. That's why the picture didn't ring a bell. I should pick up the Essential Man-Thing volumes. I didn't even know they existed until now. I just discovered that even Omega was reprinted – just a year after I bought and read the whole set, including the conclusion in The Defenders. I'm ordering the Omega TPB so I can have it all under one cover.

  12. demoncat

    interesting that one of the very few howard the duck stories steve did after the legal battle is one of those stories that never saw print. for kind of fgured steve would want to undo any damage he felt was done to howard by others. and can see why it never saw print due to certain content. not to mention this post proved how hard your job as editor was jim including if it had to do with steve

  13. Gerber was a writer's writer, and I'm happy your blog entry reflects that. He and I had a few very short email exchanges several years ago, and he seemed like a very decent sort. His HTD, Man-Thing, Hard Times, and Nevada are pure gold.

  14. What convinced me of Steve Gerber's "incurable passion" or "mania" for writing were his text pages. When he just had too much to say that the "sequential art" approach wasn't viable, he would put in huge blocks of typeset text (usually with some illustrations around the edges). I was very impressed by that, and with the fact that his editor(s) let him do it. They made for a very dense read, but always worth it.

    I'm reminded of an interview I once heard about 'Homicide: Life on the Street.' I forget who was being interviewed. They were talking about how writers on other shows would see something on 'Homicide' and try to "get away with it" in their own shows. The network would say no, and when the writer said "You let 'Homicide' do it," the answer was "You're not 'Homicide.'"

    Which is to say, Gerber could do text pages and make it worth the read. I'm glad other writers were not allowed to do it, too. Because they weren't Gerber.

  15. Also — I thought Ty Templeton did a great job with Howard the Duck. Of all the non-Gerber writers, only Templeton seemed to understand that Howard is not a comedy or fantasy character: he's a normal person who happens to be aggravated and depressed because he's a talking duck living in a world that isn't his own.

  16. To Tue Sørensen: The Gerber quotes were from an interview about the 2002 MAX series. While writing and preparing for it, Stuart Moore sent Gerber the papers and design drawings from the Disney lawsuit.

  17. Pat

    I hated this issue. The first two issues were terrific, and then it was like it was time for a lecture on how Kung-Fu fighting wasn't really cool. Like everybody was Kung-Fu fighting outside that stupid disco song.

  18. ireactions said:
    [begin quote]
    Steve on Disney's Duck design: "… the agreement Marvel signed with Disney. Stuart [Moore] faxed me a copy and my heart sank. I've done a lot of complaining about the people who used to run Marvel, but I never expected to see their monumental stupidity memorialized in writing. They allowed another company to redesign their character! As far as I can tell, they never attempted to submit any alternative designs and Disney gave them the ugliest, most unappealing, least salable character imaginable.

    "Marvel's former management was not only grossly incompetent; it was a pack of craven cowards. They were tough when it came to dicking around their writers and artists, but they pissed their pants at having to negotiate with Disney. The Disney artists who destroyed Howard must have had an enormous laugh at their expense, and the Disney lawyers must have thought they were dealing with a bunch of nitwits who lacked even the most basic instinct for self-preservation."
    [end quote]

    I'm a bit confused about which administration this is in reference to. When he mentions Stuart Moore, surely most of this is about the last Howard the Duck mini-series from 2002, and as I understand it off-hand, the super-ugly Disney design wasn't used at all, because Howard appeared as a different animal in each of those issues.

    So are those comments in any way about the Shooter administration…?

  19. Jim that's absolutely something i agree with you on and respect that is that when working in a shared comic book universe it's extremely unprofessional for one writer to take obvious potshots at another writers work.

    I'm not really mentioning the whole bruhaha with Dr. Doom and his Doombot that went on between Claremont and Byrne cause that went over my head completely.

    I don't want to point out any other examples that are more modern by certain "hack" writers that i despise but needless to say it doesn't make anyone look good at all.

    but of course there is a difference in making fun of the company which Marvel often did at that time and taking obvious potshots at other writers and their stories.

    sorry for rambling :/

  20. Dear Marc,

    The picture at the bottom of today's blog is a panel I found on some web site, but I believe it's from an early issue of Man-Thing.

  21. Dear cease ill,

    I thought it was pretty groovy. However, with any other writer and any other character, that idea probably wouldn't have gone over as well as it did.

  22. My experience at Steve's editor on SLUDGE is very similar: often late, but very tight. Steve was a pleasure to work with.

    Thanks for sharing these stories, Jim.

  23. Anonymous

    Dear Mr. Shooter,

    I love your blog, but I must point out that you wrote "Misteaks" when you meant "Mistakes."

    I actually learned about this common foible in the "Mighty Marvel Fun Book" published in 1976!…

    Thanks for the memories! Sincerely, Modernmoonman

  24. Anonymous

    "Gerber should have left Mantlo alone and unleashed his wrath upon the REAL enemies — those responsible for the Howard the Duck movie."

    Ellis Weiner's novelization actually did a fair job of that.

  25. Marc, that drawing of Gerber is by Jim Mooney and comes from Man-Thing #22, the final issue of the first series. That issue features Gerber getting involved in the storyline, escaping death, and then resigning from writing Man-Thing for his own personal safety. The editors decided to cancel Man-Thing rather than endanger another writer. A story clever enough that Chris Claremont basically just rewrote it for the final issue of the second Man-Thing series six years later.

  26. The black and white Howard the Duck did have some very nice art (by Colan, Golden, and Marshall Rogers). But man, those stories were awful. In fairness to Bill Mantlo, though, taking over HTD had to be a thankless job. Jim has said that Mantlo was known for being the guy who would accept assignments that nobody else wanted, and I bet that was the case here. Following Gerber on HTD is like taking over Peanuts from Schulz… some characters just cannot be written effectively by anyone except their creator, and Howard was clearly one of them.

    I remember Gerber once saying that the way for another writer to approach Howard would be to throw out everything he (Gerber) had done, and totally remake the character in his own image, and find his own unique voice. But invariably, every single non-Gerber writer instead attempted to imitate Gerber, which is both impossible and a creative dead end.

  27. Steve was always my favourite writer at that time ( and since actually ), 'cos he made you work for your entertainment. I always knew I'd enjoy a Gerber book, but I also always girded myself as a kid before reading one. I knew I'd have to pay attention and actually THINK. And Howard ish 3 is one of my favourite Steve stories ever. It's a great example of why comics are such a powerful artform: He communcated there exactly what he wanted to say about cultural / movie violence vs. real violence and, even as a kid, I got it. From his brain to the reader's brain, with nothing inbetween, THAT'S an artist. Great post, Jim.
    I would say tho' that I can appreciate Bill Mantlo's HTD. It's Howard lite, but the poor guy had to try'n write in another, singular artist's style and I think he did a fair job. Totally understand Steve's point of view tho'.

  28. Dear Jim,

    I appreciate your description of the editing process. It may not be as exhausting as writing from scratch, but it can be intensive in its own way.

    I get the impression that all Marvel writers — regardless of whether they could draw or not — needed enough visual sense to place copy correctly and to estimate how much copy could fit into its designated location.

    I've long been impressed by Gerber's writing. Now I'm also impressed by his typing. The "delete" key on a computer keyboard is my friend. I don't miss the old days of liquid paper. I hardly wrote anything before I got a computer. I wonder how many people would have written but didn't because they had trouble with typewriters.

    Perhaps such folks lacked cacoethes. That word literally means "bad character." But an "incurable passion for writing" isn't necessarily a bad thing. Lots of people can write. Some do write. However, even fewer have the cacoethes that separates the pros from the amateurs.

    PS: What's the source of the panel with Gerber at the bottom of this entry?

  29. Just want to add — Steve was talking about something that was very personal and personally upsetting. However, if we've learned anything from this blog, it's that Mr. Shooter cannot be held personally accountable for everything that happened while he was EiC. It's easy to portray the EiC as the King of Marvel, but this blog would indicate it's more like being a knight-errant who has to work within restrictions and demands laid down by people, some of whom have a baffling hostility towards Post-It notes on walls.

  30. Steve on Disney's Duck design: "… the agreement Marvel signed with Disney. Stuart [Moore] faxed me a copy and my heart sank. I've done a lot of complaining about the people who used to run Marvel, but I never expected to see their monumental stupidity memorialized in writing. They allowed another company to redesign their character! As far as I can tell, they never attempted to submit any alternative designs and Disney gave them the ugliest, most unappealing, least salable character imaginable.

    "Marvel's former management was not only grossly incompetent; it was a pack of craven cowards. They were tough when it came to dicking around their writers and artists, but they pissed their pants at having to negotiate with Disney. The Disney artists who destroyed Howard must have had an enormous laugh at their expense, and the Disney lawyers must have thought they were dealing with a bunch of nitwits who lacked even the most basic instinct for self-preservation."

  31. @Tom LOL I still won't bring myself to check out the movies "based" on Steve's work.
    @Jason: you ever do that, please let me read it!

    My Dad died of the same disease, same age, the year before Steve. I think Steve found some solace or distraction in his final scripts; it is frightening for your lungs to basically turn to scar tissue. Gerber inspired me to write songs(including a few tunes inspired directly), as well as certain concerns for stories .

    I had the opportunity to correspond with talented Mary Skrenes about her characters made for Omega the Unknown. I prefer to respect her privacy, but I did write about Amber and Dian (no single theory on their ending and I know not to ask), as well as Bev. I wonder what Mr. Shooter and other fans have to say about this exquisite, if nebulously executed and prematurely terminated, story line.

    Mr. Shooter, any thoughts on the album issue, HTD #16? The material had many inspired bits but I see how it was emphatically NOT what readers looked forward to reading, while it was faithfully Gerber all the way.

    (Had to do some fly editing; appropriate, here!)

  32. http://www.manwithoutfear.com/interviews/ddINTERVIEW.shtml?id=Gerber

    Steve Gerber on the HOWARD THE DUCK movie: "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."

  33. http://www.stevegerber.com/interviews/diamond.php3
    Q: Can you tell us how your Howard differs from the film version?

    Steve Gerber: "In the film and most of his appearances by other writers, Howard has been a visual gag and a mouthpiece for lame one-liners.

    "The original series was never a humor comic. Howard wasn't comedic. He was depressed, rude, had a tendency to waddle over other people's feelings. The humor derived from the absurdity of his situation –- a sentient duck from another dimension, trapped in a world of talking hairless apes –- and from Howard's observations on the world around him.

    "Howard had much more in common with Spider Jerusalem than with Donald Duck. The series itself dealt with the kind of subject matter that comics rarely addressed. Howard and Beverly Switzler, his human companion, were always between jobs, struggling to make the rent every month. Howard bounced from one humiliating job to the next. Beverly posed as a model for life drawing classes. Along the way, Howard got peripherally involved with a religious cult, had a nervous breakdown, ran for president, gained an arch-enemy who was an embittered former rock journalist, and so on."

  34. I can only think about how Gerber must have felt about the abortion known as the Howard The Duck movie. I was just a fan of the comic growing up, and I wanted to murder somebody after seeing it. I don't know how his head didn't explode 20 minutes into it. It must have made Allan Moore's reactions to League and V for Vendetta look like happy time.

    Can anybody point out a place to read Gerbers comments about that bombed out cinema disaster?

  35. Andrew Rubio

    Robinson & Goyer's JSA re-wrote the "Armageddon 2001" ending to be a plot by Mordru. Meanwhile, Captain Atom finally became Monarch after Infinite Crisis (and during the Countdown train wreck).

  36. Gerber should have left Mantlo alone and unleashed his wrath upon the REAL enemies — those responsible for the Howard the Duck movie.

  37. Anonymous

    There was one time I would have liked to write a certain story out of existence. That would be the ending to DC's Annual crossover event "Armageddon 2001." Wonderful series until the very last issue, when the identity of the villain Monarch was revealed to be someone it really couldn't and shouldn't have been. (Apparently someone had leaked the identity of Monarch, so DC changed the ending…horribly.) I wrote up a springboard for a miniseries called "Oblivion 2001" that basically would have restored the rightful Monarch to his throne while paying respectful homage to the ghastly "Armageddon: The Alien Agenda" sequel and a few other story elements that had metastasized since the original debacle. I sent the springboard to Denny O'Neil, who by that time was editing the Bat-titles, and got back a nice form letter about how Batman stories weren't being accepted. (Batman appeared nowhere in the story — a testament to the wonder of form letters.) A few years later I sent the springboard to Dan Jurgens (artist on the original series) just as a lark, and that was the end of that, as things have long since passed the point that my springboard would have been relevant to current DC continuity. –MikeAnon

  38. <<<<<<<<<<< Jim Shooter wrote: It has been often said, and it still says on Wikipedia that I objected to the rest of the story, beyond the opening that dealt harshly with those who dared to write the Duck in Gerber’s absence, which parodied Secret Wars. Nope. I found that part wickedly funny. I didn’t touch it.<<<<<<<<<<<

    I have amended Wikipedia along with a link to this blog. It now reads:

    "In a story rejected by Jim Shooter, Marvel's then-editor-in-chief, Gerber explained that "a Krylorian Cyndi Lauper" named Chirreep had made up the events in the Mantlo stories much like the events in The Rampaging Hulk magazine were considered made up by Bereet, though those stories, as originally conceived, were intended to fill in material left by the publication gap between Incredible Hulk #6 and the Hulk's appearances in Tales to Astonish. Shooter considered this an insult to Mantlo, not regarding the insult Mantlo's stories may have been to Gerber (Mantlo himself had used the Krylorians to erase Doug Moench's contributions to the Hulk's continuity), and Gerber's story was never illustrated. He also identified Howard's parents as Dave and Dotty, names that differ from the Mantlo stories, in which his parents are named Ronald and Henrietta.[7] Gerber's script also lampooned Secret Wars, written by Jim Shooter, but Shooter has denied this played any role in choosing to reject the story, insisting that he only took issue with the insults to Mantlo.[3]"

  39. Anonymous

    Dear Mr. Shooter,

    While I did not expect any kind of savaging of Gerber's character or work, I did not expect to read a post like the above piece. Given what I know about Gerber and his relationship with Marvel in general, I thought I would be reading about a more problematic working relationship. That's unfair to you, as nothing I've read in your blog indicates that you would write anything negative without good reason. Your post was a pleasant surprise, and I regret my presumption.

    While I understand that other writers would be annoyed if their stories were taken out of continuity, Howard the Duck is Gerber's baby. Yes, Marvel owns the character and has the legal right to do as they wish, but I can only imagine what it would be like seeing one's biggest creative contribution be used to tell other people's stories. Gerber had a personal connection to Howard, and, in a perfect world, would have been the one to tell his stories. I'm glad Gerber got to return to Howard a couple times before he passed away.

    – Mike Loughlin

  40. ~P~

    I have a copy of that "new" HtD # 1 script, but haven't read it in ages.
    I do remember being very impressed by it, and yes, a bit taken aback by the slap to non-Gerber writers.

    As a youth, I was a reader of the Duck (having been introduced via my being a fan of Man-Thing) but also enjoyed the BW Magazine stories (by Mantlo, if I'm not mistaken).

    While Gerber-penned Howard was THE legitimate take on the character (Howard WAS Steve), I also enjoyed some non-Gerber stories (the BW Mag had awesome artwork by Gene Colan, Michael Golden and others to lure me in with pretty pretty pictures).

    However, I could easily understand the desire… the NEED…the cacoethes… to want to make sure that anyone's touch other than his own be wiped away from his creation.

    Gerber was awesome. Genius doesn't always "play well with others".

    MORE, Jim. Please.

  41. Awhile ago, a friend of mine found himself co-writing a script for a ROBOCOP TV mini-series. Because the ROBOCOP sequels and TV shows had been so awful, my pal and his co-writer felt it best to set the their sequel 10 years later in order to allow them to ignore all the sequels without outright contradicting them. I asked if they'd felt any desire to have some lines of dialogue mocking ROBOCOP II and ROBOCOP III, and they told me they'd thought about it, but ultimately felt it wasn't right to make fun of other people's work, and it would be better to tell their own story rather than obsess over someone else's.

  42. Gerber's rejected 1985 Howard the Duck script used to be available at stevegerber.com. The site is still up, but the link for that script is, like Gerber, currently dead. I was able to find it here: http://tinyurl.com/3zjwuon though the formatting on that page makes it a bit hard to read.

    Gerber's idea to erase Mantlo's Howard stories was a clever turnabout. He used essentially the same device that Mantlo had used to erase the Doug Moench Rampaging Hulk stories from continuity, namely that they were fiction created by someone from the planet Krylor. I don't recall the specifics of Mantlo's stories, but I imagine the key distinction was that Gerber had the Mantlo stories being generated by a machine, and he was openly insulting to those stories in his script.

    I can certainly see why that would be considered inappropriate, though I can sympathize with Gerber because the Mantlo Howard the Duck stories were quite awful. It saddens me the project was aborted… Steve's uncompromising nature is part of what made his work great, but he also shot himself in the foot many times because of it. My fantasy is to get rich and commission Val Mayerick to draw this script for my own personal enjoyment…

  43. Good piece. Thank you for this bit of insight. I suspect I never would have thought to search for this story on my own (Howard the Duck has never been one of my big heroes), but it was nevertheless highly illuminating.

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