require ("../globals.inc"); $pagetitle = "MAD GENIUS, ANGRY FOWL? - Diamond.com"; $banner_name = $BASE_URL . "images/featuresbanner.gif"; $alt_text = "Special Features"; require ("../header.inc"); ?>
Howard the Duck
vol. 1 #1
Howard the Duck
vol. 2 #1
Steve Gerber talks about his unexpected return to Howard the Duck|
Interview by Nate Shelton
In 1975, Marvel Comics let writer Steve Gerber hatch a mainstream series unlike any that had come before:
Howard the Duck (HTD).
The title character was no super-hero; he was just a cantankerous little guy named Howard who was, in the words of his creator, "the living embodiment of all that is querulous, opinionated, and uncool"…and happened to hail from an alternate Earth populated by "funny" cartoon animals. Then came the day that the Cosmic Axis shifted, and Howard found himself here, "trapped in a world he never made!"
But HTD wasn’t a "funnybook," either – Gerber used the duck to rail against the many ills of society, and the comics community took notice. As word-of-mouth spread, sales skyrocketed, and the bi-monthly title went monthly. A few months later, Gerber’s duck became a Presidential candidate, and shortly thereafter starred in his own nationally syndicated newspaper strip.
One highly publicized creators’ rights dispute after that, Gerber was gone, taking what many maintain was Howard’s soul when he left. HTD lasted only a few more issues as a color comic, and was finally cancelled altogether after a short black-and-white magazine stint. Outside of a few one-shots, guest appearances, and the oft-panned HTD movie, there’s been nary a "waugh!" since.
Gerber fared far better, finding steady work in animation as a writer for G.I. Joe, The New Batman/Superman Adventures, and others. He’s also continued to produce groundbreaking comics, but he’s never managed to regain the fame – or notoriety – that he enjoyed during those few strange years at the House of Ideas.
Now, the Cosmic Axis is ready to shift again. A new six-issue Howard the Duck mini-series is in the works for MAX Comics, and – believe it or not – Gerber has returned to write it.
HTD vol. 2 #1 will be out in just a few months, which doesn’t leave much time to prepare. Fortunately, the October-solicited Essential Howard the Duck TP (OCT011909D4) will be out prior to the new series, giving everyone a chance to catch up. To give its customers a crash-course in Quak-Fu, Previews Online caught up with Gerber for this extensive interview.
Previews Online: We might as well get this out of the way first – given the well-publicized history between yourself and Marvel over the title character, the news that you had agreed to write a new HTD series for the company came as a shock to many. What was the overriding factor or factors in your decision to return to the character, and was it a hard choice to make?
Steve Gerber: It probably came as a bigger shock to me than to anyone else, and, yes, it was a very difficult decision to make. I'd been treated poorly by Marvel in the past, not only with respect to Howard the Duck, but in various ways, on various other projects, as well. I like to think I'm capable of learning from my mistakes, and one mistake I was determined not to repeat was crawling into bed with a company that, historically, has held its talent in utter contempt. I never expected, or wanted, to work for Marvel again.
Then I got the call from Stuart Moore (Note: Marvel Knights & MAX Comics Editor – PO) about doing a new HTD series. I knew Stuart from his work over at Vertigo, so I had to take the proposition seriously. When he told me that it was Phil Winslade, my collaborator on Nevada, who'd been campaigning for a new Howard book, and that Phil wanted to draw it, I honestly didn't know what to think. Phil and I had been wanting to work together again, and this seemed like an ideal project.
As it turned out, there was some skepticism about the idea of a new duck book on Marvel's side, too. Joe Quesada wasn't sure the character would work for today's audience; he thought Howard might have been strictly a phenomenon of the '70s and inextricably bound to that period. Stuart asked me to write a brief sample story, something to indicate how I would handle the character today. At first, I resisted that idea. I didn't think I should have to "audition" for this particular job. Eventually, though, I decided that this might be the best way to find out if Marvel would allow me to write the book the way I felt it needed to be written for a contemporary audience.
I wrote up a few paragraphs on a story deliberately calculated to offend just about anybody – a story I figured was so politically, culturally, and commercially incorrect that it would put an end to the whole discussion. Marvel would just decide not to do the book, or to do it with another writer, and that would be that.
A day or so later, I received an e-mail from Stuart informing me that Joe, and Bill Jemas, absolutely loved the story. That was among the few moments in my life when I've literally been rendered speechless. My response was something brilliantly original and articulate, along the lines of, "You've got to be kidding."
All of a sudden, there were more reasons to do the book than not to. I had an editor I respected and could trust, an artist I enjoyed working with, and what appeared to be support at the executive level for the creative direction I wanted to pursue.
So I said "yes."
PO: Are you enjoying your reunion with Howard?
SG: More than I ever imagined I would. One confidant who looked at the first plot remarked that it read as if I'd been away from the character for 25 minutes, not 25 years. That's the way it feels to me, too. I slipped into Howard's voice and found the tone of the book almost immediately.
PO :As you probably know, a lot of people outside the comics industry only know Howard from the HTD motion picture. Furthermore, your last issue of HTD came out over 20 years ago, which means that there are probably even a lot of current comics readers who aren’t familiar with the "real" character, either. For their sake, can you tell us how your Howard differs from the film version?
SG: In the film, and in most of his comic book appearances by other writers, Howard has been treated as little more than a visual gag and a mouthpiece for lame one-liners. In the original series, he was a much more complex character.
Howard the Duck was never a "humor" comic in the traditional sense. Howard wasn't even a comedic character. He was frequently depressed, congenitally rude, and had a bad tendency to waddle all over other people's feelings. The humor in the series derived from the absurdity of his situation – a sentient duck from another dimension, trapped in a world of what he called "talking hairless apes" – and from Howard's mordant observations on the world around him. In contemporary terms, Howard had much more in common with Spider Jerusalem, for example, 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.
The film, in a misguided attempt to appeal to a mass audience, turned Bev into a rock star and told a rather simple-minded alien monster story. There were some nice performances in the film – Jeffrey Jones was particularly funny, and Lea Thompson as Beverly was very pleasant to look at – but it wasn't Howard the Duck.
PO :The Essential Howard the Duck TP solicited in this month’s Previews will give everyone a chance to witness your acclaimed run on the first series. How well does the material in this collection stand up a quarter-century later?
SG: I reread most of the original material before starting work on the new series, and frankly, I was astonished at how well the stuff holds up. The dialogue still reads fast and funny and sharp, the characters seemed as engaging as ever, and the artwork – particularly the stuff by Gene Colan, inked by Steve Leialoha and later, Klaus Jansen – was just gorgeous.
PO:Without giving too much away, how many elements and characters from the old series will the new one contain, and what kinds of differences can we expect? (Will we see Howard’s old supporting cast, or classic villains like the Kidney Lady or Doctor Bong?)
SG : Some of the original supporting cast will be back, certainly, as will one or two of the villains. It's not that I've decided to eliminate any of the original cast, but there are new characters and ideas I want to deal with, and this new series is limited (at least for now) to six issues. That imposes certain limitations.
PO: Will (former HTD artists) Gene Colan (Daredevil) or Val Mayerik (Magic: The Gathering) contribute any art for the mini-series? If not, what about future series, assuming there are any?
SG: Phil Winslade will be drawing the new series, but we hope to have Gene draw at least one sequence during the run, and I believe he'll be doing a new cover for the HTD Essentials edition. I'd love to have Val back, as well, but that would probably have to wait for a second mini-series – or the ongoing title that I hope readers will demand after they've seen these six issues.
PO :HTD was largely a ‘70s phenomenon, but was, and still is, regarded as being ahead of its time. How much updating did Howard require for the new series, and is he still relevant to contemporary audiences?
SG: The truth? No updating at all. Back in the '70s, Howard was a nasty little guy with a generally miserable attitude toward life, a caustic view of humanity and the world, and a beak full of opinions that he expressed whether anybody wanted to hear them or not. If that kind of character isn't relevant to a contemporary audience, I don't know what is.
PO:Do you see HTD’s influence in any of today’s comics?
SG : Well, it's tempting to say that I see a little bit of the duck in this character or that, and I know my '70s work had an influence on a number of the current British writers – much more so than on American comics writers, in fact – but I'd be hesitant to point to specific examples.
PO: How different of an experience has it been, writing HTD as an unrestricted MAX Comics title as opposed to writing it for the Marvel of the 1970s?
SG: That's an interesting question. It turns out that the differences are mostly in the kinds of concepts and topic areas I can address. There are half-a-dozen elements in the first issue alone that I could never even have approached in a Code-approved book. The characters, though, seem to have leaped the chasm of decades without much effort, and landed perfectly intact. Howard and Bev are still very much the characters that older readers remember.
PO :Now that you’re free to write the duck the way you want to, how "pure" is the Howard that we see in the Essentials collection?
SG: Oh, it was compromised somewhat by the strictures of the Code, but not drastically so. One of the unintended consequences of the Comics Code was that it continually forced the more adventurous writers and artists to find creative ways around its restrictions. Some of the original material is actually subtler and more outlandish than it might have been, had the Code not existed.
PO:One of your stipulations for doing this series was that Winslade wouldn’t be bound to the agreement that Marvel has with Disney regarding Howard’s physical appearance, which stemmed from legal action on the part of Disney due to Howard's alleged resemblance to Donald Duck. Your solution for making it possible – turning Howard into a mouse (at least for the first issue) – appears to have worked by sidestepping the problem completely. What was Marvel’s initial reaction to your proposal, and did you have a hard time getting them to accept it?
SG: Well, a bit of clarification first. Disney never actually sued Marvel over Howard. There were threatening letters, but to my knowledge no suit was ever filed, and the matter never got anywhere near a courtroom. Also, while I did make it clear from the outset that I didn't want to write Howard if he had to look like the Disney design, it wasn't a point of contention, because no one at Marvel wanted to publish that version of the character, either. Why would they? It's hideous.
When we began talking about the new series, we were all under the impression that Marvel's old management had simply agreed on a "handshake" basis with Disney that Howard wouldn't look like Donald. We had Glenn Fabry – who'll be doing the covers of the new series – designing a new duck that would bear no resemblance to Disney's character. Just to be safe, though, Stuart Moore checked with Marvel's legal department and discovered that a written agreement between the two companies pertaining to Howard's appearance did exist. The way that agreement is worded, Marvel isn't permitted to redesign Howard the Duck; the character has to look like the designs Disney provided.
Stuart faxed me a copy of the agreement, and when I read it, I was just heartsick. We really were on the verge of abandoning the whole project, when a bizarre idea occurred to me. What if we changed Howard into another species entirely? If the character wasn't a duck, how could Disney complain? I suggested the idea to Stuart. He was intrigued, but wasn't sure Joe Quesada or Bill Jemas would accept such a radical change. To help make the argument, I asked Glenn Fabry if he'd be willing to do a couple of sketches of Howard as a mouse, to see if we could successfully transplant his personality into a rodent. When I saw Glenn's sketches, I was overjoyed. He'd come up with a mouse that was unmistakably Howard. I sent them on to Stuart, who showed them to Joe and Bill and explained the whole idea to them.
Again, I expected this to be the end of the project, but to my total astonishment Bill and Joe not only went along with the plan, Bill upped the ante by suggesting we do Howard as several different animals over the course of the six issues, which is exactly what we're planning to do.
PO:Has Disney had any reaction to the redesign yet?
SG : Not that I know of, and I doubt there'll be any reaction. After all, they can't prevent us from creating an entirely new character, which in effect is what we've done.
PO: As you stated, Winslade, who is a huge HTD fan, was actually the one who talked Stuart Moore into approaching you about the new series. What was his reaction when he found out that the Gerber-written Howard that he’d get to draw wouldn’t look anything like a duck?
SG: To be honest, I don't think Phil was thrilled about it. He really wanted to draw Howard, the Duck. But I know he loved the first plot, and I think he's warming to the possibilities this new concept opens up.
PO :Who will the inker be on the new series?
SG: I’m not sure. We had, at one point, discussed the possibility of reproducing the book directly from Phil’s pencils. The Nevada story in Vertigo’s Winter’s Edge #2 was done that way, and it worked out beautifully.
PO:How did Glenn Fabry come to be involved with the series at such an early stage, as to be the one who did the initial concept drawings for the new Howard, both as a duck and, after finding out how ironclad the Disney agreement was, as a mouse?
SG : Stuart had Glenn in mind for the covers from the very beginning. I thought that was a fantastic idea, for essentially the same reason that I had asked for Gene Colan on the original series. Howard works best as a character when everyone and everything around him looks absolutely realistic. Gene was by far Marvel's most realistic artist back in the '70s, and Glenn, of course, is known for his dark, intense, and highly realistic Vertigo cover paintings. He was a perfect choice to do the HTD covers.
Glenn got involved in the design of the character for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Stuart wanted to have cover art to show at Marvel's San Diego convention panel, when the project was announced. For another, Phil was knee-deep in a Daredevil project for Marvel Knights and couldn't be pulled away from that work.
What I didn't realize – I'm not sure whether Stuart did – is that Glenn is a fabulously talented "funny animal" artist. While we were working on the designs, Glenn told me that most of the comics drawing he'd done prior to his first published work was "funny animal" cartooning. He loved the form and really enjoyed working on these designs. It must be one of the best-kept secrets in comics.
PO: Back to the topic of Howard as various animals, you said that he would appear as a different one in each of the mini-series’ six issues. Can you give us any hints as to what other animals he’ll appear as?
SG: Well, it won't necessarily be a different animal every issue. That would be too predictable. Howard may remain the same animal for a couple of issues running, or even change multiple times within a single issue. One reader on Newsarama asked if Howard could appear as a basselope. The answer is "maybe" – but it won't be the basselope from Bloom County.
PO :You’ve also said that you were considering an Internet poll to let readers decide Howard’s "permanent" form. Is that going to happen?
SG: We haven't decided yet. It's an amusing idea, but – no offense – I'm not sure I want to leave that decision up to the readers.
PO:If you decide to go through with it, what happens if the people vote "duck?"
SG : That would present us with a problem. I can imagine two solutions.
Part of me wonders whether Disney would or could object if we adopted Glenn's duck design and, say, exposed Howard to gamma rays and turned his feathers green, so it was absolutely impossible to confuse him with Donald. That would still be a technical violation of the agreement with Disney, but I'm not sure they'd have any real basis for objection.
Another possibility is to change the character's name. The agreement only pertains to Howard the Duck. If I were to license Leonard the Duck(Note: A character Gerber created as the result of an extremely clever, unofficial crossover between a Spider-Man/Howard the Duck issue of Marvel Team-Up vol. 2 and the Image Comics-published Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot, both of which were written by Gerber – PO)to Marvel for five bucks a year, that character could look however we wanted it to, as long as it didn't infringe on any extant trademarks. We could just move Howard's entire supporting cast over to the Leonard book and continue on as before. The only question is whether readers would accept the change of nomenclature.
PO:What direction are you leaning towards in regards to Howard’s appearance?
SG : I won’t have an answer to that until I’ve seen (and written) all the various animals. My own preference, of course, would be "duck" – but not if it has to look like the Disney design.
PO: In addition to Howard’s new physical appearance, you’ve also decided to "ret-con" his homeworld, changing it from a planet where ducks had evolved into the dominant species to an alternate Earth populated by funny cartoon animals. Why did you make this change, and how important will it be to the new series?
SG: It won't be important at all, actually. In the original series, I never showed or even named the world Howard came from. I always felt it was more interesting to let readers imagine it for themselves. "Duckworld," as later writers called it, just struck me as a very pedestrian, very "comic-booky" – in the worst sense of the term – idea.
I've decided that the Howard "canon" comprises only the first 27 issues of the original HTD series, the HTD Annual #1, the two short stories from Giant-Size Man-Thing ("Garko the Man-Frog" and "Hellcow"), the HTD Treasury Edition, and the stories from Adventure Into Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1, where Howard made his first appearance. Everything else is apocryphal, including the handful of other Howard stories that I wrote. Readers can accept or ignore those other stories as they choose, but I don't feel bound by them.
PO :It’s been said that you put a great deal of yourself into Howard’s personality and mindset during his original incarnation. Will you be doing the same the second time around? If so, will Howard reflect you as you are today, or you as you were when the two of you parted ways?
SG: I can't try to imitate the person I was 25 years ago, so the answer is probably "today." As I mentioned earlier, though, I found Howard's "voice" almost immediately, so it may be that his basic nature is rooted in a part of my basic nature that has never really changed – the frustrated idealist whose cynicism and sarcasm are a defense against utter despair.
PO:Assuming that the sales on this mini-series are strong enough to warrant it, would you and Marvel both be interested in pursuing a new ongoing HTD series, or further minis?
SG : I certainly would, and as nearly as I can tell, Joe, Bill, and Stuart all feel the same way.
PO: What other characters besides Howard would you be interested in returning to?
SG: I would really have enjoyed writing The Defenders again, but there doesn't seem to be much likelihood of that now.
PO :Will there be further Nevada, Foolkiller (an early ‘90s maxi-series), or Void Indigo (a graphic novel and short-lived series from Marvel’s Epic imprint in the ‘80s) series in the future? (If so, when? If not, why not?)
SG: Foolkiller was conceived and written as a novel in comics form. I'd love to see it collected in TPB format, but I've never given any thought to a sequel. (Since you mentioned it, though, I'll take this opportunity to SCREAM AT BILL JEMAS again that he really should look at the Foolkiller series. That book is every bit as relevant today as when it was written, and it deserves to be back in print – damn it!)
I would like to do more with Nevada eventually, either with an independent publisher or on the Web – or with Vertigo, if they wanted to give it another shot. In the meantime, I just hope they keep the TPB in print, because readers may get curious about what Phil and I have done together prior to Howard the Duck. We're both very proud of our work on Nevada. Along with Foolkiller and the original duck series, I think it's one of the best things I've ever written.
Void Indigo is a story I've been wanting to finish for almost twenty years now. I've been talking to a couple of publishers about bringing it back. With all the publicity surrounding the new Howard series, this would be an ideal time.
PO:Outside of Nevada, none of your past work has been collected into trade paperback format – until now, thanks to Marvel’s release of the Essential Howard the Duck TP. Which of your other story arcs would you most want to see collected into trade paperback format, and why?
SG : The stuff that comes to mind immediately is my run on Defenders, some of the Man-Thing stories, the Phantom Zone mini-series, and A. Bizarro. Defenders may qualify as the most bizarre superhero series Marvel has ever published. The Man-Thing stories were some of my best early work, particularly the issues Mike Ploog and I did together. Phantom Zone and A. Bizarro are just good stories, each of which expanded the Superman mythos a little, in what I thought were interesting ways. Phantom Zone is also one of the few times Gene Colan had a chance to draw Superman, and his version of the character is truly magnificent.
PO: As previously mentioned, you once waged a protracted legal battle against Marvel concerning ownership rights to Howard the Duck. Do you feel that your legal battle helped raise awareness for creator’s rights, and to what extent do you believe your fight helped bring about the current "creator’s market" found at many levels in the comics industry?
SG: The Howard lawsuit came just a few years after the very public campaign to get Siegel and Shuster credit, and remuneration, for having created Superman. Together, those two events probably did have a consciousness-raising effect, but I don't think the lesson really sank in until a number of years later.
You'd be amazed how many writers and artists took the company's side against me at the time that suit was filed. Some were actually convinced that if I won ownership of Howard the Duck, it would destroy the industry. Others feared for their jobs if they took a stand for creators' rights. And still others actually felt that any character created at a given company ought to be theirs to "play with," regardless of who created it – and that attitude hasn't gone away. There were a couple of people who testified against Marv Wolfman in the Blade trial for exactly that reason: They didn't want their "toys" to be taken away. (If you get the feeling I'm still angry about this, you're right.)
Anyway, I hope the battle over the duck played some part in writers' and artists' recognition of their own rights and in raising the fans' awareness of creators. I think it did, but it probably took the Image guys striking out on their own and the success of various creator-owned properties like Sin City and Preacher to finally hammer the lesson home.
PO :You created Destroyer Duck in 1982 to help finance your HTD legal battle. Is there any chance of its title character making a cameo in the pages of the new HTD series?
SG: Not in this six issue series, no. Duke and Howard made their one and only appearance together on a page Phil Winslade drew for a charity comic in Britain earlier this year. I think it can be viewed online somewhere.
PO:A large number of respected industry creators came out in support of you during the HTD lawsuit, with many of them [including Marvel Universe co-creator Jack Kirby, Sergio Aragonés ( Groo the Wanderer), and others] donating their talents to the Destroyer Duck series. What has their reaction been in regards to your return to the duck?
SG : I haven't heard from Jack. If I do, you and the Weekly World News will be the first to know. In general, the people who worked on Destroyer Duck were very supportive back when I settled the lawsuit out of court, and I think they'd approve of my returning to the character now.
PO: As the embodiment of your inner rage over the HTD lawsuit, the Destroyer Duck character was extremely destructive and angry, albeit in a comical way. Still, as far as violence went, he couldn’t touch Void Indigo ( VI), the infamous graphic novel and two-issue series about a reincarnated warrior who had come back to destroy everyone who had betrayed him in his past life. Was VI something you started developing prior to HTD, or was it also a direct result of your lawsuit experience?
SG: Believe it or not, Void Indigo was originally developed as a revamp of Hawkman, a way of combining the Golden and Silver Age origins of the character into one. VI evolved into something very different, of course, after I began developing it as an original series. I suppose there may have been some residual anger and aggression from the lawsuit that spilled over into the story, but it wasn't a conscious thing.
PO :At the time of its release in 1984, VI was widely regarded as being the most brutal, sexually explicit comics story ever written. Do you feel that VI opened the floodgates, so to speak, for the "grim-and-gritty" style that permeated comics by the end of the ‘80s?
SG: Well, let's qualify that a bit. Void Indigo may have been very strong stuff for mainstream comics, but there were certainly more sexually explicit and violent stories in the undergrounds. For sexual explicitness, Void Indigo pales beside some of Robert Crumb's work, and Richard Corben and others had approached or exceeded it in terms of graphic violence, too. Crumb's work, though, always had that mad, cartoony quality that put a bit of psychological distance between the reader and what was happening on the page. Corben's stories tended to be set in fantasy worlds and peopled with characters that were larger than life, heroically and anatomically.
By contrast, Void Indigo was set in the present, illustrated in a more or less realistic style, and, except for the alien protagonist, the characters were people you might meet on the street, in a bar, or at the supermarket. That made it scary, and made the sexuality real and disturbing, in a way that the undergrounds hadn't been.
I honestly don't know if Void Indigo had any influence on the stuff that came later. It was an early step in that direction – too early, as we all know – but it was only around for a short time. It's my impression that Frank Miller and others found their inspiration elsewhere, primarily in film noir and the hard-boiled crime fiction of the '40s and '50s, which influenced me, too. The use in Void Indigo of California as a setting where strange and terrible things lurk beneath the sunny, laidback surface owes a lot to Raymond Chandler, albeit filtered through my own experience in L.A. The low-life characters – some quirky and amusing, some irredeemably sleazy, some trying their damnedest to be normal, and failing – were strongly influenced by James M. Cain.
PO:Given VI’s content and underlying revenge message, did you have much trouble getting the Marvel of the time to accept it? If so, do you feel that you’d have as much trouble getting it published at Marvel today?
SG : Archie Goodwin was the editor at Epic when I was doing Void Indigo, so no, there was no problem getting him to accept it. Archie was as brilliant an editor – and writer, for that matter – as has ever worked in comics. He knew exactly what I was trying to say, and I think he liked the book.
I really don't know whether Marvel would publish it today.
By the way, the "message" of Void Indigo wasn't really revenge. What the book said – and people found this disturbing, too – is that the evils, both profound and petty, that we all commit must eventually extract a price. We may think we've gotten away with it, but sooner or later, even if it's 11,000 years and countless incarnations later, the cosmos will bite back.
PO: VI was released through Epic, Marvel’s first Mature Readers line. What differences have you seen, editorially speaking, between Epic and MAX?
SG: I get a sense that the MAX line will be more cohesive and probably more polished than the Epic books. Archie was working in uncharted territory when Marvel published the Epic line. Stuart has the advantage of having spent a number of years at Vertigo, which is probably the only truly successful "mature readers" imprint to issue from a major publisher.
On the other hand, MAX, at this point, isn't doing any creator-owned books, whereas almost all of the Epic titles were creator-owned. Stuart tells me that MAX may publish creator-owned material in the future, but for now, since all of the stuff is based in one way or another on Marvel properties, there are still vestigial superhero elements present in many of the titles. Marvel, and some readers, may not consider that a liability, and indeed it may not be for the direct market. If Marvel intends to make any serious penetration into bookstores, though, it will have to outgrow that fixation at some point and broaden its range to encompass other kinds of material.
PO :A growing number of creators point to the Internet as the future of comics. You yourself are a computer proponent (and even have your own website, www.stevegerber.com). How much of a future do you think comics have on the web?
SG: I think there's a very serious future for comics on the web, not as a replacement for the printed material but as separate yet complementary form, in much the way newspaper strips have always coexisted with comic books.
There are two big questions yet to be answered about web comics. One, of course, is how to make them profitable, so creators don't have to starve to death for their art. But there are already some successes in this area. I'm told that Steve Conley's Astounding Space Thrills is turning at least a small profit from advertising. Maybe it's even a large profit by now; I hope so.
The second question is what, precisely, comics on the web should be, what modifications, if any, to the form itself should (and shouldn't) be made to accommodate the web. The answer to that will only come through experimentation, and, in fact, there probably never will be a single definitive answer. We just don't know yet what's possible or palatable, even with the current technology. And by the time we figure it out, there'll be new technologies to evaluate. Some people in comics find this threatening, but I think it's the gateway to a whole new universe of possibilities for comics. Yes, some of those possibilities will undoubtedly prove unwieldy, unworkable, too expensive – or just plain stupid – but others may open up the art form in ways none of us has imagined yet.
Apart from the artistic possibilities, there's something else to consider: The web may prove to be the most potent means available for attracting new readers, first to material that appears on the Internet itself, then to magazines and books they can order conveniently online, and ultimately to the material that's available in the comics shops and bookstores. This isn't going to happen overnight, but that doesn't mean it's a computer geek's fantasy.
PO:What’s next, creatively speaking, once you finish the current HTD series?
SG : Steff Osborne (one of the founders of Sequential Tart) and I are writing an original graphic novel for Larry Young's company, AiT/PlanetLar. I don't want to say too much about this one yet, but it's a very peculiar science-fantasy story that could ultimately become a series of graphic novels. I'm hoping you'll see it in print by the mid-2002.
The third installment of Last Son of Earth, a Superman Elseworlds book I wrote for DC, should be also be hitting the shops in 2002. This one takes the earthborn Kal-El – the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent – back to Krypton and dumps him in the middle of a civil war between the Council of Elders, who want to maintain the cold, sterile culture that Krypton built after the Clone Wars, and Jor-El's band of "Restorationists," who seek to revive the glories of Krypton's ancient past – what you and I would call the "Silver Age" version of that society.
And, as I mentioned, I'm hoping to get Void Indigo underway again. What I'd like to do with this series – given that the original was published almost 18 years ago, and most of the current readership knows of it only by reputation – is to start from the very beginning, with a rewrite of the script and all-new art. The essentials of the story probably wouldn't be altered drastically, but the original Void Indigo was written during a period when my writing style was undergoing a major transition. There are a few elements I'd like to change and a lot of things I'd like to fix and tighten up.
PO: A recurring theme in your work is the overwhelming absurdity of life, the human condition, and the universe in general. Besides the new series or this interview, what’s the most absurd thing that’s happened to you lately?
SG: It has to do with life, death, medical insurance, and the dot-com crash. I'd rather not talk about it.
PO :‘Nuff said.
For more on the Essential Howard the Duck TP (OCT011909D4), please see the solicitation in the Marvel Comics section of the October Previews. Complete information on the first issue of MAX Comics’ six-issue Howard the Duck mini-series will be available in the November catalog.