#160 Howard the Duck and other wise quacks

12/29/08 Howard the Duck

The Essential Howard the Duck vol. 1 collects all of Steve Gerber’s 1970s writing for Marvel’s Code-approved Howard the Duck comic. Tim and Kumar talk about what Gerber got away with in spite of the code, and how HTD differs from most ’70s Marvel books.

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Resident of Japan since 1989, creator of "The Crazing Spider-Hag"

5 thoughts on “#160 Howard the Duck and other wise quacks”

  1. I shamefully insulted Sal Buscema’s work on Superman/Spider-Man in this episode, when I really meant to be insulting JOHN Buscema. Sorry, Sal!


  2. The Essential HTD is missing the letter pages, which is a pity as they’re interesting and useful, revealing things like the fact that Howard the Human was actually intended to resemble Robert Blake (Baretta), though a lot of people thought of Peter Falk.

    Another interesting item in the letters column was Gerber claiming that everyone in the book (other than Beverly Switzler and Arthur Winslow) was himself, including the villains.

    Exactly what SG was up to I would hesitate to say, but considering the books he specifically mentions as being relevant — “Adam Bede” and “The Idiot” — plus the reference to “The Ginger Man” in the newspaper strip…well, there’s a lot going on under the surface; in fact the satiric element is more of an afterthought. Someone in the letter column described the book as a cryptic diary; it’s not for nothing that in the MAX series — which turns the knobs up to 11 — the nominal parody of Spider Jerusalem has the initials S.G. and comes right out and says “I am a journalist.” And we’re reading the journal.

    The newspaper strips are terrific, and SG adapts to the three-panel layout with facility.

    Some random lines from the “Beverly Inherits A Massage Parlor” sequence:

    “Cleveland, Ohio, where men are men, and discriminating women, such as Beverly Switzler, prefer ducks. Conclude what you will.”

    “I’ve been making a shopping list for next year.”
    “Yeah? Well, on July 8th I want baloney sandwiches an’ clam chowder for lunch. Mark that down.”

    “I confess! Beneath this fatalistic facade lurks an incurable pessimist!”

    “The question you gotta ask yourself is: how would I like to earn my first million?”
    “I’ve always wanted to be — a trapeze artist!”

    [a knock at the door]
    “It’s after midnight! Who–?”
    “I don’t know. Death, probably. Shall we let him in?”

    “You’re like my husband! He’s different too! He’s ‘into’ dairy farming…and he’s stopped shaving! He ran away to Cleveland with a girl punk rock guitarist who wears a safety pin through her nose! He says he did it for love!”

    “Your aunt Lily talked about you so often, I feel I know you already! She despised you.”

    “We call this the Walden III Transcendental Environment. It’s actually an improvement on nature. OUR pond is equipped with a Jacuzzi.”

    “How are you?”
    “Oh, somewhere between spiffy and dead…as usual.”

    “Who’s in charge o’ this madhouse?!”
    “It’s not a madhouse! It’s a massage parlor — and an old folks’ home!”

  3. Thanks for the illuminating and hilarious comment, Forrest. I wish *you’d* been in on this podcast so I didn’t sound like I was talking out of my arse the whole time. I am definitely NO expert on the subject of HTD or SG, but reading your comment, I now feel like I really *do* have to read those newspaper strips and the MAX series. There were clearly a lot of layers to the HTD series which the ESSENTIALS collection does not do justice to, especially to fairly new-to-the-series readers like myself.


  4. I think the MAX series was just plain devious, which didn’t necessarily benefit the book.

    For instance, there’s a nominal parody of Witchblade in there, which got comments similar to this one from Johanna Draper Carlson: “Parodying Witchblade by pointing out her enormous boobs is unoriginal, unimaginative, and worst, unfunny.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say the story wasn’t in bad taste, but clearly the “explicit content” diverted attention from the implicit content. I have yet to find any reviewer commenting on that story’s very odd resolution of the Dr Bong storyline, which doesn’t even make sense if not read symbolically (“The greatest evil that one has to fight constantly, every minute of the day until one dies, is the worst part of oneself.” — Patrick McGoohan), or the Parsifal business, or the disguised references to SG’s time at Stan Lee Media, or a whole bunch of other stuff that I had to Google upon in order to understand due to Gerber being more well-read than I.

    “It’s sort of Borgesian, only with gratuitous boob shots.”

  5. I have the MAX series — I should read it again. From my recollection, I agree that the gratuitousness tended to overwhelm other aspects of it (except maybe in the last issue). –Tim

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