Monday, August 11, 2008

Steve Gerber and his Influences

I just finished an article on Omega the Unknown for an upcoming installment of Back Issue magazine, and in my research I came across some interesting comments about Steve Gerber's influences. Ultimately, a discussion of his influences didn't fit into the type of article I ended up writing, but I'm always fascinated by what influenced other writers. I know it's a cliche question: "what are your influences?" and writers probably blanch when they hear it, but it's such an essential part of the artistic process--taking your influences and combining them to create something new.

Anyway, here are some things Gerber (and others) said about his influences:

From an interview with Darren Schroeder:
DS: What story (comic/book/film or TV) had the biggest effect on your later life and why?

SG: A single story? I suppose that would be Albert Camus's The Stranger, which I encountered my first or second year of college. This will sound appallingly narcissistic, but that book explained me to myself, in a way that nothing I'd ever read had done before. It was my introduction to existentialism, and, in a sense, it was directly responsible for the creation of Howard the Duck. (As I type this, I can hear the distant whirr of Camus spinning in his grave.)

DS: In what way did it lead to Howard the Duck.

SG: It relates directly to that sense of alienation I mentioned. Howard is Mersault with a sense of humor, an existentialist who screams and quacks as a hedge against sinking into utter despair. The very first line that ever came out of his beak, back in Fear #19, had to do with the absurdity of existence. (The line was: Aw, Clam up, Bud! You don't even know the meaning of the word! Finding yourself in a world of talking hairless apes -- Now that's absurdity!) I wasn't thinking about any of this consciously at the time I created him, but it's all there.

DS: Can you describe what The Stranger, or The Outsider as my translation named it, explained about yourself? In it Meursault, the protagonist, seemed the direct antithesis of your approach to writing "…Thinking of all the characters, major or minor, as real people, and writing them that way, as if they mattered in their own lives."

He, on the other hand, doesn't seem to think that other people matter in their own life at all, and seemed to find no pleasure in their or even his own life.

SG: L'Etranger can be translated either way. Mersault is an outsider, but he's also a stranger to everyone around him, and to himself.

In any case, I didn't say I was Mersault. For most of my life, though, I've shared some of his sense of alienation, of distance from other people. I seriously doubt that Camus was Mersault, either, or he'd never have been able to write about him. Mersault would only have been capable of writing about himself.
There's also John Dalton's question and Gerber's response:
JD: What have been your influences over time?

SG: The short list: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Albert Camus, Steve Allen, and John Lennon. The long list would take a year or so to compile. This may sound sily, but I'm influenced in one way or another by almost anything good that I'm exposed to. A book or a film or a piece of music may not have a direct effect on my writing, but if it alters or enhances my perception of the world in some way, it subtly changes me and therefore the work.
And then there's Steven Grant--who e-mailed me some answers that I ended up using in the Omega article, but also provided a window into what he saw as Gerber's main influence:
To some extent [Omega the Unknown] was just another expression of his Superman fixation, like Wun-Darr over in Man-Thing. He loved Superman, the TV version. That may actually have been his single biggest influence.
None of these influences are exactly surprising, are they? Steve Gerber, the Camus of the superhero set.

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