I feel bad about writing portions of this particular column. I feel guilty, and ashamed, because I shouldn’t be writing parts of it now. I should have written them years ago.
Death is a part of living, we all know this, still, when someone we know and admire is taken from us, it hurts–even if we knew death was coming, even if we only knew the person through his or her body of work. All across the Internet, on comics-related sites everywhere, there is an amazing outpouring of grief and respect being paid to writer Steve Gerber, who passed away on Sunday, February 10.
This genuine affection for the man is well-deserved. We’re a funky lot, we comic book fans, we bloggers and critics and commentators outside of the loop of Mr. Gerber’s personal life; we don’t agree on comic book matters a lot, and sometimes we can get downright nasty over the most meaningless things. But in this case, the death of Steve Gerber, you can read in our reactions that we are feeling as one emotionally stricken body. We have all of us been deeply saddened at his passing, and we are working our way through it by being truly appreciative.
I never met the man. I didn’t know the state of his health, or where he lived, or how he wrote. I hadn’t been reading his current work in Countdown to Mystery. But, boy, I can tell you about those early issues of Howard the Duck, the ones with The Turnip-Man, The Sleeper, The Incredible Cookie Creature, Howard running for President of the United States of America, and that outrageous guest appearance by Kiss. I can tell you about Mr. Gerber’s three outstanding issues of Mister Miracle, unfortunately cut off due to the DC Implosion of 1978. I can tell you about the brilliance of The Phantom Zone, one of the best Superman stories of all time. I can tell you about the quirky fun of Nevada, which was published by Vertigo in the mid-1990s.
I can tell you a lot about Mr. Gerber’s work. I can you tell how much I’ve admired his work over the past thirty years. I could go on for paragraphs, for columns.
But I can’t tell him.
And that’s where the guilt and shame come in. I should’ve told him.
There are handfuls of individuals who are now gone–from Jack Kirby to Archie Goodwin, from Julius Schwartz to Joe Orlando, from Curt Swan to Marshall Rogers–to whom I never got to simply say, “Your work means so much to me.”
There are just as many handfuls of people who are still living–from Steve Skeates to Steve Englehart, from Alan Moore to Grant Morrison, from Len Wein to Brian K. Vaughan–to whom I really, really need to say, “Thank you for your work, it means so much to me.”
Right now. Today. Before it’s too late to tell them personally.
I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I don’t have to feel this way. Honestly, it isn’t even about me. My thoughts go out to Mr. Gerber’s family and friends. They are the ones truly hurting. I’m just a distant fan. But I’m feeling a certain way, I’m reacting to his death a certain way, and I’m grappling with that even as I feel badly for those who were close to him.
Steve Gerber could have tapped into what I’m feeling, and he could have run with it.
I can imagine Mr. Gerber reading this column from the better place he’s in, and thinking on it, and pondering it, and finally telling me in the new way he now can, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know you appreciate my work.”
I can then imagine him writing some clever commentary on it, some biting, satirical and ridiculously meaningful funny book captions and dialogue that would allow me to know he gets how I’m feeling, and even better, he helps me to get it.
Mr. Gerber was an excellent writer. He knew the human condition, at all levels–the rational, the irrational, the common, the bizarre, the right, the wrong, and all the unsettling, beautiful grey areas in-between. He got it, he got life, and he was able to write about it in such a fantastic way that we got it, too–always, it seemed, for the very first time.
Mr. Gerber is the kind of writer you miss now more than ever, whose body of work you will fall back on and re-read and realize it’s just as potent and topical now as it was when it was first released or when you first read it. I’m proud to have followed a good portion of that body of work. And I’m happy for all of us who knew him and knew of him because we got to get it right there with him.
How about “no guilt or shame in that,” as the duck would say.