Monday, November 24, 2008

1970's Flashback: Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck was created by writer Steve Gerber and first appeared in Marvel Comics Man-Thing feature in the series Adventure into Fear #19 (Dec. 1973). Howard is an anthropomorphic duck who becomes trapped on a human-dominated Earth. His adventures skew between social satire, parodies of genre fiction & film with a tongue-in-cheek awareness of the medium. He eventually graduated from a backup feature in Giant-Size Man-Thing, and acquired his own series with Howard the Duck #1 in 1976.

Gerber wrote 27 issues of the series, illustrated by Frank Brunner (who left over creative differences with Gerber), with Gene Colan replacing him as the regular artist. The series gradually developed a substantial cult following, and Howard's entry into the 1976 U.S. presidential campaign under the auspices of the All-Night Party, was later immortalized in a reference in author Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. Marvel attempted a short-lived Howard the Duck newspaper strip from 1977 to 1978, initially written by Gerber and drawn by Colan.

Gerber gained a degree of creative autonomy when he also became Howard the Duck's editor, in addition to his writing duties, which was unusual for mass-market comics of the time; however the stories became increasingly experimental. For example, Gerber once found himself unable to meet the deadline for his regular script, so he substituted an entire issue of text pieces & illustrations satirizing his own difficulties as a writer.

In 1978 Gerber and Marvel clashed over issues of creative control, and Gerber was abruptly removed from the series. This was the first highly publicized creator's rights case in American comics, and attracted support from major industry figures, some of whom created homage/parody stories such as Destroyer Duck by Jack Kirby, with Gerber in order to dramatize the case. Disney had also threatened to sue Marvel for infringing Donald Duck's copyright and this forced a different design, including the use of pants (seen in the lameduck 1986 Spielberg/Lucas film and later comics).

Howard the Duck still pops up from time-to-time, including his recent cameo in the crossover mini-series Secret Invasion. Steve Gerber passed away in February 2008.

1 comment:

joe ackerman said...

I do love me some Howard. definately one of the high points of a particularly cool age for Marvel.