February 13, 2008
I came out of February Brooklyn cold night to learn Steve Gerber was dead.
And the night was suddenly bleak, and filled with memories I hadn't thought about much in recent time.
Steve Gerber could tear your demons, my demons, and his out with his words.
With his stories.
With his unique, individual identity as a man, and as a story-teller.
And he often did this incredible thing in a medium we both loved: Comics.
When I first worked on staff at Marvel Comics, I proof-read many of the issues that went through the Hallowed Halls. When you proof a book, you read from the original art. You do not read for pleasure. You do not read for illumination. You do not read for emotional truth.
You read to catch pointers going to the wrong characters. You read to hopefully spot whatever error might be there, in words, in art.
There were few time I felt compelled to stop proof-reading a book.
The few times I put the pages down, and told myself I have to read this book as a book, I have to go somewhere else and away from the craziness within the office, the few times that ever happened was when I was reading a Steve Gerber book.
I had to experience it just as a reader. As an individual. I had to respond to the power of his story-telling.
There were times I was so profoundly moved by what Steve had accomplished in a story that I had to tell him what it meant to me.
And the great thing was that he had managed to accomplish this miracle in comics, this strong, individual voice in a medium we both cared passionately about.
In the time-span of Howard the Duck and Man-Thing, Steve and I were often thrown together.
Dean Mullaney called me yesterday to talk about Steve, and that time period, and said how it seemed Steve and I were written about in comic magazines, at that time, often in a single sentence.
I told Dean that both Steve and I were somewhat bemused by that. We were dissimilar in many ways as individuals and as writers.
And yet, in comics discussions, our names were linked, many times.
I told Dean I thought I'd finally figured out why.
We had one thing in common, the thing that linked us in comics analyses.
We told our own stories.
You never mistook a Steve Gerber story, wherever Steve might go as a writer, as anything but a Steve Gerber story. You could love it. You could hate it. But to deny it was Steve's, and his alone, would be a lie.
One article comes to mind that wrote that Steve was the "Jewish Intellectual," and I was the "Anglo Saxon Bard" of comics. I think we both just looked at each other in the Mad Genius offices, and shrugged.
All the letters we received at times alienated us with some other writers, as if we knew what the hell other people would write about what we did.
The following are a few anecdotes with Steve, ones that come immediately to mind, and the ones that I feel I can tell.
HUMOR IN ONE WORD: POOJ
I can forget why I walked in a room, and yet walking up 57th Street in midtown Manhattan with Steve on a sunny afternoon, decades ago, stays with me.
Steve told me he had this really "funny" word, and asked me if I was ready for it.
The word was "Pooj." And every time Steve said, "Pooj," he cracked himself up, he'd laugh out loud, and he'd ask me if I thought "Pooj" was funny.
I told him I didn't know if the word "Pooj" was funny, but it made me laugh each time he said it, because he got such delight from just letting the word pass his lips.
Steve wouldn't let the word go. He kept insisting, for blocks, for the afternoon, that "Pooj" was funny, and laughed every time.
WEEPING WITH STEVE
Both Steve and I went through divorces. Both of us had daughters approximately the same age.
Steve had gone through his separation maybe a year or a little more before mine happened. Whatever Steve felt about it, when he talked, it was considered, it was mostly calm. He may have been in a turmoil inside, but he seldom showed it when I was with him.
I was entering a comic writer and artist's reception at a Phil Sueling convention. I was recently separated from my ex-wife, and I was in visitation rights courts to get to see my daughter, Lauren.
When I entered, the ballroom was filled with comics people. I didn't expect to see my ex-wife there. She knew how to dress for comic conventions, and I spotted her immediately. I'm not sure how I looked. Stricken, I guess. I just stopped motionless.
Archie Goodwin came up to me, took me by the shoulders and guided me toward Steve.
"Steve, get Don out of there. He doesn't need to be here."
Steve took me down to the hotel bar. I sat at a table across from him. I couldn't stop weeping. The tears were streaming down my face.
I kept thinking, I can't cry this in front of Steve. He isn't going to understand it.
I couldn't stop. The more I tried, the more it just caught in my throat, and swelled in my temples.
We sat there for a long damn time.
And whatever he felt, he sat there until I could stop sobbing.
JANEY ARUNS HAD THE GUTS OF A WILD CAT
Steve and Mary Skreenes introduced me to Janey Aruns when I needed a place to live.
Steve and Janey had known each other in Missouri, and had come to the Big Apple. Janey had the guts of wildcat. She would chase people shot full with drugs out of abandoned buildings at 1 in the a.m. She could build a damn bathtub in a sweat shop building. She took this city on with a fierce intensity.
Steve would not mind my writing about Janey. The last conversation we ever had was about Jane. I should write about her. In detail. Janey and I became fast friends, forever.
The last call we had was Steve was phoning me about Janey's death.
Jane's death shook us both.
Steve asked me what I thought about it all.
I told him I could not imagine a world that did not have Jane Aruns in it; I could not and would not imagine I would never see her again.
Once again, Steve and I were connected. To someone special I would never have met if Steve hadn't gone out his way, along with Mary Skreenes, to find me someone to stay with in this city.
PERCY GENTLE AND STAN LEE MEDIA
Few people know that in later years, Steve and I worked together, when he was story supervisor/editor/whatever the title was at Stan Lee Media.
I had a great time working with him.
And probably we b
oth laughed more during that time, before he exited the company, much to my dismay, than at any other time we had been together.
JUMPING OUT OF THE COMPACTOR ROOM
One night, I'm not exactly sure when this was, Dean Mullaney called to tell me he was coming over.
It was nearing midnight. I thought Dean was coming alone.
When Dean rang the apartment doorbell downstairs, I rang him in. And then I rushed out of the apartment and hid inside the compactor chute room.
I often played around with Dean. I thought I was pretty slick. I was really going to get him this time.
I heard the elevator door open. I gave Dean a few seconds to get out of the elevator to head toward the apartment.
I leaped out the compactor room, yelling at the top of my lungs, doing my best Bruce Lee impressing, and leaping up onto Dean's back and taking him down onto the carpeted hallway.
As we fell, I saw there was someone else with him, someone startled, someone who slammed up against the hallway wall, hands spread.
It was Steve. I hadn't seen him in a couple of years, and Dean figured he would surprise me by bringing him over.
It was kind of like the crying episode. I would never have done such a thing with Steve.
I gently helped Dean up, brushed him off, let Steve close his mouth, and then, unable to look him in the eye said, "Hi, Steve. How you doing?"
And later whispered to Dean I would really get him for this.
So, I went up onto the Internet two nights ago, and saw a title on Tony Isabella's post, Steve Gerber, RIP.
I didn't know it could be true.
I didn't want it to be true.
I've told just a few stories about being with Steve.
Here's the thing for all of you out there: We lost a helluva human being, one of a kind.
And we lost a helluva writer.
Don McGregor is the writer of Killraven, Black Panther, Nathaniel Dusk and a slew of other classic comic books. Order a copy of The Variable Syndrome and other comics from his website or his outstanding Detectives, Inc. at Amazon.