Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Two Of My Childhood Heroes Have Passed Away

As I've mentioned before, Steve Gerber was one of my favourite comic writers when I was young, responsible for the satirical comic Howard the Duck. Here is his blog, currently left in the capable hands of Mark Evanier. Gerber's gift for writing piercing social comment was unlike anything else I had ever experienced, and my childhood was all the better for it. I'd like to think that experiencing his satirical genius has made me a better and more questioning person than I would normally have been, that perhaps his words and thoughts have opened my eyes enough to get me through life in a healthier state than I would have without his work filed away inside my head.

He could have managed more if Marvel had treated him a bit more fairly. I often wonder why so many comic writers seem so cantankerous, but seeing how they are treated, with the copyright to their creations out of reach, it makes sense. Sadly, this can lead to misunderstandings. Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude owes a great debt to Gerber's Omega The Unknown, and at a book signing a few years ago Jonathan Lethem geeked out about his work when I mentioned I was a fan. His enthusiasm for Gerber's work was immense, with special affection for Omega (so much so I hunted down the original run of ten issues the next day), and when he told me Marvel had asked him to write a comic for them, he got so psyched, though he admitted he was perhaps a little unsure about whether it was a good idea. I'd like to think that my enthusiastic reply convinced him to go ahead with it, but I'm not that arrogant (this is a lie). He went ahead with the project, choosing to update Omega, but Gerber interpreted this as a bad faith move on Marvel's behalf, and damned the project. After meeting Lethem and realising the project had been borne of respect for the original he relaxed his stance, but it's still terrible that the issues of copyright and ownership take such a toll on comic writers and artists.

Gerber will be sorely missed, especially now that he was beginning to work on more projects. I gather Paul Levitz has suggested fans donate to the Hero Initiative, a charity that I know for a fact employs very very good people who look after those left behind by the comics industry. As soon as I get paid, I shall offer what I can.

Also sadly departed is Roy Scheider, whose performances in Jaws, All That Jazz, Sorceror, and The French Connection thrilled me when I was younger. In later years he didn't seem to crop up in films anywhere near enough, though he was great in John Frankenheimer's 52 Pick-Up and David Cronenberg's underrated Burroughs adaptation Naked Lunch as the vile Doctor Benway. I was going to post a clip of him singing the final song in All That Jazz (if you've seen the film, you know what the song is and what context it's sung in), but it made me so damn sad rewatching it that I just couldn't do it, despite his brilliant performance and the craziness of Ben Vereen. So, instead of that, here he is triumping over Malcolm McDowell's effete British helicopter pilot in the finale of one of my favourite movies, John Badham's technoporn thriller classic Blue Thunder.

"Catch ya later." You said it, Roy. You said it.

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