Occasionally, a comic book will contain a reference to a singer or musical group, or a character might sing a line from a popular song, but when it comes to Steve Gerber, "occasionally" doesn't apply. The comics he's written throughout his career contain numerous references to music. As Gerber tells it, his most famous creation, Howard the Duck, came to him during a trance-like state brought on by a neighbour's salsa music, pounding incessantly while he was at his typewriter plotting FEAR #19, which was to feature the duck's first appearance.
|Things were obviously looking up for DD when he sang this pleasant tune from the Beatles' Revolver album. From DAREDEVIL #56 (September 1969).|
Musically, Gerber was stuck in the 1960s, a decade when he was in his teens and early 20s, and a lot of the lyrics of that generation's music never lost their relevance for him. "People have asked me what the major influences on my work have been," said Gerber, "and it's the tone of the late '60s rock music...that's what I'm interested in conveying in comic books."
He often cited the Beatles in particular as a big influence. "I think my sense of rhythm and words derives as much from the Beatles as it does from any of the writers I've ever read." But it was more than just the Beatles' music itself that inspired his work: "The way they approached their art -- as a living, growing, ever-evolving, ever-changing endeavor -- has been the way I’ve chosen to approach my work as a writer."
There were others, of course: "...early Stones, early Dylan, Frank Zappa, the Fugs, Simon & Garfunkel, a lot of early rock and roll, early Motown and Stax/Volt soul, some jazz."
While attending St. Louis University in the 1960s, Gerber worked as a disc jockey on KBIL (later KSLU), a student-run radio station which served as a training ground for a career in broadcasting, something he'd been considering. Instead, he found himself writing advertising copy, the spurious claims eating away at his soul.
In 1972 Roy Thomas was able to put Gerber out of his misery by getting him a job at Marvel Comics. Gerber, a comic book fan since childhood (he'd launched his own fanzine, HEADLINE, at the age of 14), had known Roy long before he'd started working for Marvel in 1965.
|An extreme case of road rage, from FEAR #14 (June 1973).|
|Gerber's obsession with Superman resulted in a parody, Wundarr, who made his first appearance in FEAR #17 (October 1973). As you can see by the credits, Credence Clearwater Revival also inspired the near-litigious character.|
|Howard the Duck, spawn of evil salsa music, makes a dramatic entrance in FEAR #19 (December 1973).|
In MAN-THING #7 (July 1974) Rory gets a job at a radio station in Citrusville, Florida. The station's call letters, WNRV, was a reference to Gerber's self-published high school humour magazine, Nerve. The job didn't last long: Rory was fired in issue #18 (June 1975).
"Put muh wallet in muh pocket -- yeah, yeah.
Put muh keys in muh pocket -- yeah, yeah.
Put muh change in muh pocket -- yeah, yeah.
Take muh eyes from da sockets -- umh, yeah!"
|from MAN-THING #12 (December 1974)|
In "A Candle For Sainte-Cloud", the young lady pertaining to the title recalls 1967, when she was just a 17-year-old hippie girl. She'd met military scientist Ted Sallis, years before one of his own experiments turned him into the Man-Thing. Though political opposites, the two are attracted to each other, and, despite their considerable age difference, it isn't long before Ted hints at marriage, with disastrous results. Cloud leaves him.
|The wick of this Man-Thing candle was laced with a hallucinogenic drug. The above panel, and the two which follow, are from MAN-THING #15 (March 1975).|
|1975: Cloud spurring her neighbour's advances.|
|1967: It seems the Lovin' Spoonful was responsible for Ted Sallis' rash decision to tie the knot.|
The lyrics to one of Spangler's songs, "Star Bed", are given on the first page:
"Well, c'mon, let's you 'n' me die, babe.
Don'tcha know it's the only way ta fly, babe?
Under the earth, I find what you're worth,
Makin' love in a cradle in the sky, babe."
|This glam rock star is soon to meet his worst critic: a viking! From MAN-THING #16 (April 1975).|
The crowd thrives on their idol's decadence, and are saddened when he announces that he'd be going into seclusion for a year to compose his magnum opus.
Said Gerber, "The whole thing with Bowie in that particular story was just this kind of 'Gee, look at me, I'm decadent.' That's why I did the story, essentially, to kind of do somebody who carried that act over into real life."
|Star Spangler comes up with some lyrics while rolling around in the mud. From MAN-THING #16.|
|Being that he's blind, Daredevil doesn't realise that this guy looks nothing like Jann Wenner. From DAREDEVIL #100 (June 1973).|
|These elite gentleman were discussing music and wondered what Matt Murdoch's favourite opera might be. Harumph! From DAREDEVIL #104 (October 1973).|
Another early assignment for Gerber was TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, part of Marvel's black and white line of horror magazines. The zombie of the title was Simon Garth, who, in his former life as someone who was living, was a wealthy coffee baron. His secretary, Layla, was still in love with the tall, decaying corpse. And Gerber was now writing the adventures of two characters who couldn't speak, and one who couldn't see!
|You know you've made it when your records can be cut out of the backs of cereal boxes. From SPOOF #3 (January 1973).|
|Being that he's blind, Daredevil doesn't realise that this guy looks nothing like Steve Gerber. From SPOOF #4 (March 1973).|
|It's hard to play a harmonica when your lips are made of rock. From MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #7 (January 1975).|
In CRAZY #3 (March 1974), Gerber parodied ROLLING STONE magazine, with articles on fictitious artists and reviews of fictitious records, such as Paulette Goddard, a rock band whose song, "Hungry Means Never Having To Vomit", was at the top of the charts; and Flea & Tick, with a sampling of lyrics from their single, "I Don't Love You Since You Ate My Dog":
"There is a bridge across the junk heap
I built it with my brother
Three guys came and spit on it
And I spit on my brother
We built another bridge that day
Across a farm."
Gerber even scoffed at his own comics when it's mentioned that one of the songs on Voodoo Kisser, an album by a macabre group called Plague, begins with a shrill scream "exactly halfway between the pitch of Johnny Weismeuller's [sic] famed Tarzan yell and the Women's Liberation rhetoric of Shanna the She-Devil".
|Record reviews, from Gerber's Rolling Stone parody in CRAZY #3 (March 1974), his first appearance in that mag.|
|Ad parody. From CRAZY #8 (December 1974).|
"I stand on the mountain,
Lookin' down on you,
Lookin' down on you,
Lookin' down on you"
(CRAZY #9, February 1975); and Theodora Yoxymosh playing "Nearer My Crawlspace To Thee" on her pipe organ (CRAZY #10, April 1975).
Gerber mentions Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones in his rather morose, lengthy tale of a suicide pact, "And The Birds Hummed Dirges" in CRAZY #14 (November 1975); quotes Johnny Rivers ("Beware of pretty faces that you find / A pretty face may hide an evil mind") from "Secret Agent Man" in the same issue; and paraphrases Paul Simon ("And so you see I have come to doubt all that I once held as true") in CRAZY #9.
|Trailer park troubadour Tom Pritchett is about to get shot by an elf with a gun, who possibly mistook him for John Denver. The homicidal homunculus first appeared here, in DEFENDERS #25 (July 1975).|
|It's hard to believe that Bill Haley will still be remembered a thousand years from now. From MARVEL PRESENTS #9 (February 1977).|
|Arthur Winslow has only one request of the space turnip controlling him: that his life be accompanied by a soundtrack! From HOWARD THE DUCK #2 (March 1976).|
|Beverly Switzler singing the 1960 Barrett Strong hit, "Money (That's What I Want)". Howard blew that quarter she found on a Quackie Duck comic book.|
Howard finally loses his mind and ends up at the Sauerbraten County Mental Facility, an insane asylum, along with Winda, who insists that she's possessed by the devil, and her mind conjures up demons that look just like the rock band KISS. Daimon Hellstrom, an exorcist, assures everyone that the visions were a psychic phenomenon, unlikely to occur again.
|If it looks like a superhero and quacks like a superhero, put them in a comic book. From HOWARD THE DUCK #12 (May 1977).|
Prior to his involvement with KISS, Gerber hadn't "heard so much as a note of their music, or even seen their costumes and painted faces." He felt some reservations, felt that, at the age of 29, he was too old to get involved: "Strictly Beatles generation. Aversion to over-loud music in general and heavy-metal in particular. ('It all sounds alike!' A sure sign of encroaching senility.) Haven't been to a rock concert in years. Album purchases on the decline." The magazine was an enormous success. It sold out immediately and had to go into a second printing.
|Gerber only had to put his sweat and tears into producing this mag; KISS put their blood into it.|
|That's not KISS performing on this cruise ship -- it's just a lounge band. From HOWARD THE DUCK #15 (August 1977).|
|There's a reason Paul Same is mentioning Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" (1966): boulders just inexplicably fell from the sky. Also from HOWARD THE DUCK #15.|
|Lester Verde: before he became Doctor Bong he tried his hand at rock journalism. Here he joins Mildred Horowitz and His Band on stage. From HOWARD THE DUCK #17 (October 1977).|
|Howard the Human gazing at his former self in the mirror, recalling the old Gene Pitney tune. From HOWARD THE DUCK #19 (December 1977).|
|In this and the next two panels Beverly and Winda ad-lib the lyrics to "Lullaby of Broadway" after a carpet flies them all the way to Bagmom. Original Howard the Duck artist Val Mayerik returned for the duck's one and only annual (1977).|
|This is just the beginning of HOWARD THE DUCK #22 (March 1978). It was about to become a harder day's night.|
|A drunk slurring a Band tune and slobbering all over Winda Wester. From HOWARD THE DUCK #26 (July 1978).|
|Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin teamed up for this Man-Thing story in RAMPAGING HULK #7 (February 1978), just for old times sake. They'd done one other Man-Thing story together, but that was way back in FEAR #12 (February 1973).|
|Some weirdo called the Manipulator is living up to his namesake. From THE AVENGERS #178 (December 1978).|
|And here the Beast is singing his own version of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby", from REVOLVER (1966).|
Trouble arose when Gerber was fired from the HOWARD THE DUCK newspaper strip. According to Denny Allen, president of the Register and Tribune Syndicate, Gerber's tardiness was resulting in numerous cancellations. "I normally get a strip in 10 weeks before publication. Gerber's came in on Thursday before the Monday it was supposed to hit the stands." When Gerber threatened to sue Marvel over ownership of Howard, he was fired completely. Years of litigation followed.
Numerous familiar songs were represented, sometimes in parody, and only in bits: "Stayin' Alive", "You Should Be Dancing" and "Jive Talkin'" by the Bee Gees; "Boogie Fever" by the Sylvers; "Shake Your Booty" and "That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band.
To help raise money and support for his case, Gerber enlisted the help of Jack Kirby for the excellent DESTROYER DUCK comic book, also published by Eclipse.
|The Shirley Temple-ish Vanilla Cupcake sings her signature tune for Ronnie in DESTROYER DUCK #4 (October 1983).|
|Believe it or not, this alien changed his name from Jhagur to Mick Jagger ("Michael Jagger" on his fake ID). From VOID INDIGO #1 (November 1984).|
|Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". From VOID INDIGO #1.|
"I Think We're Alone Now" (1967) by Tommy James and the Shondells. From VOID INDIGO #2 (March 1985).
|Colonel Sanders runs amok. From SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #11 (January 1990).|
|She-Hulk, Howard the Duck and friends fly through Don't-Worry-Be-Happyverse, where the 1988 Bobby McFerrin hit plays constantly, despite the fact that it seems to be Ragnarok. From SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK #17 (July 1990).|
|Nevada sings "She Said, She Said" from the Beatles' REVOLVER (1966), while jogging with her pet ostrich, Bolero. From NEVADA #1 (May 1998).|
|Much later in the same issue Nevada is still singing "She Said".|
|Nevada performs the amusing "Ballad of Osiris". From NEVADA #1.|
|Obviously a Beatles fan, Nevada sings "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" from the White Album. From NEVADA #2 (June 1998).|
|Gerber eviscerates the "Backdoor Boys". From HOWARD THE DUCK Vol. 2, #1 (March 2002).|
|Howard is losing his mind, as usual. Here he starts singing a Ramen noodles song. From HOWARD THE DUCK Vol. 2, #3 (April 2002, though it should probably read "May").|