Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tales from the Green Scrapbook: Howard the Duck

Let's begin our tour of The Green Scrapbook with its very first entry:

Please, please, PLEASE forget the monstrosity that was the 1986 "film"; the original Howard the Duck comics were little gems of science fiction, social satire, and sincerely twisted humor. In other words, they made perfect sense in the cultural mindscape of the latter 1970s.

I didn't record the date of this article from The Milwaukee Journal; but it must have appeared sometime after June 6, 1977. That's the start date for Howard's short-lived newspaper comic strip (based on the comic book), which, as the story noted then, "is syndicated in close to 70 daily newspapers." The article covers ground now familiar to Howardians, from rumors surrounding the spotty availability of the book's first issue to Howard's 1976 presidential campaign (see a "TV news report" here).

It takes but a click to embiggen the image...

I vividly recall buying one issue in particular: Number 16 (September 1977), "Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing." It's quite possible that the newspaper article might have piqued my interest. But more than that: How could an already-enthralled eleven-year-old comics collector resist the cover-blurb "Special Once in a Lifetime Album Issue!"?

I hadn't read any Howard comics until that time, and this one definitely wasn't the best introduction one might hope for. The book's story content wasn't available at press time, so writer Steve Gerber substituted a lengthy, head-trippy meta-essay in which he and Howard discuss storytelling in general, comic books in particular, and pretty much everything else during a cross-country trip. (Readers are reassured on page 1, though, that the previous issue's story -- featuring a last-page appearance by the villainous Dr. Bong -- would resume in the next issue.)

The book is laid out in two-page spreads, each with a "chapter" of text and an illustration by one of a number of artists. Example the first -- a meditation on the Grand Canyon:


And example the second -- The "obligatory comic book fight scene":


I had no idea what to make of all this.

But I held onto the book -- somehow I knew that there was more there than I was able to grok at the time.

Sadly, Steve Gerber passed away only a couple of months ago. (For a sense of how valued Gerber's work has become, see Tom Spurgeon's overwhelming list of tributes.) News of his death prompted me to re-read his run on the Duck as collected in The Essential Howard the Duck. Holy cow, this stuff was fantastic! Fun, bizarre, messed-up, ridiculous, and, yeah, thoughtful, at least in funny animal genre-busting, assembly-line, mainstream comic book kind of way. Are there embarrassments along the way? Of course. But overall the satire bites more often than it merely gums. And issue 16? By far, the best "full-in" issue of any comic book, ever. Hardly filler, it's chock-full of intellectual vitamins, emotional minerals, and all-natural visual flavorings.

There's so much more to say -- I haven't even begun to explore the bravura artwork by stalwarts like Gene Colan, Val Mayerik, Frank Brunner, and even Carmine Infantino. Or the non-Gerber revivals. Or the lawsuits. Or Gerber's return to Howard. Perhaps another time...

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I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Tales from the Green Scrapbook. Next time: A prose portrait of The Man, with an illustration that angered me so much I threw the newspaper across the room before I ran to grab the scissors...

Cover images from the Grand Comics Database.

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2 Comments:

Blogger K. A. Laity said...

This is wonderful! I'm learning so much. I guess I need to read the series -- count me as one more person scarred (scared?) by George Lucas. After Doctor Strange, it should be the next thing.

4/20/2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Info about the newspaper strip:
http://nemsworld.com/howard/

5/02/2008 11:29 AM  

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