Gerber Gets the Finger!

SAN DIEGO – Steve Gerber and Don Rosa have been selected to receive the 2013 Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. The selection, made by a blue-ribbon committee chaired by writer-historian Mark Evanier, was unanimous.

The Bill Finger Award was instituted in 2005 at the instigation of comic book legend Jerry Robinson. Each year, the awards committee selects two recipients, one living and one deceased.

“The premise of this award is to recognize writers for a body of work that has not received its rightful reward and/or recognition,” Evanier explains. “That was what Jerry Robinson intended as his way of remembering his friend, Bill Finger. Bill is still kind of the industry poster boy for writers not receiving proper reward or recognition.” Evanier also notes the appropriateness of this year’s selections: “Steve Gerber was one of the most influential writers of his day, and his work has stood the rest of time. Don Rosa is now retired from producing his acclaimed work with Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. He also drew the comics, but we honor him for the excellence of his stories, which will forever be reprinted around the world. Also, we liked the idea of having an ‘all-duck’ Finger ceremony.”

Steve Gerber got his start in fanzines, worked in advertising, and then found his way to comics in 1972 when he was hired by Roy Thomas for a staff job at Marvel. Gerber wasn’t suited for staff work, but by the time Marvel realized that, they’d discovered the value of his quirky imagination as a writer. Before long, he was distinguishing himself with scripts for, among others, Daredevil, The Defenders, Sub-Mariner, and Man-Thing. It was in the Man-Thing feature that he developed his most popular, lasting character, Howard the Duck. Somewhat autobiographical and wildly popular when written by Gerber, Howard was a unique presence in the Marvel Universe that is fondly remembered by many fans of the era. They also hailed Omega the Unknown, which Gerber co-wrote and co-created with Mary Skrenes. He parted ways with Marvel over a contract dispute in 1978, though he would return later. Thereafter, he worked for DC and Eclipse and in TV animation, story-editing and writing shows including Thundarr the Barbarian, G.I. Joe, and The Transformers. Gerber died in 2008 from pulmonary fibrosis.

Don Rosa also got his start in fanzines, with “The Pertwillaby Papers,” a comic strip for his college newspaper in Kentucky. An avid collector of comics, he chose for a time to write and draw as a hobby and to make his livelihood in his family’s tile business. In 1986, though, he had the opportunity to write and draw stories of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, his favorite characters when in the hands of the legendary Carl Barks. His meticulous, carefully researched work caught on big, at first in America and then overseas, where he was hailed for expanding on the foundation laid by Barks. Particularly popular was a 12-part series he began in 1991, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, which filled in many details of the character’s past. That series, along with Rosa’s other tales, has been reprinted around the world as much as any comic book of the last quarter-century. Rosa has now retired from creating new stories, due to failing eyesight and disputes with his publisher over compensation.

The Bill Finger Award honors the memory of William Finger (1914-1974), who was the first and, some say, most important writer of Batman. Many have called him the “unsung hero” of the character and have hailed his work not only on that iconic figure but on dozens of others, primarily for DC Comics.

In addition to Evanier, the selection committee consists of Charles Kochman (executive editor at Harry N. Abrams, book publisher), comic book writer Kurt Busiek, artist/historian Jim Amash, and writer/editor Marv Wolfman.

The 2013 awards are being underwritten by DC Comics (the major sponsor), along with supporting sponsors Heritage Auctions and Maggie Thompson.

The Finger Award falls under the auspices of Comic-Con International: San Diego and is administered by Jackie Estrada. The awards will be presented during the Eisner Awards ceremony at this summer’s Comic-Con on July 19.

Additional information on the Finger Award can be found on this page.

7 Responses to “Gerber Gets the Finger!”

  1. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Back in the late 1980’s, as modems became a more common component on computers and direct Internet access cost 5 figures a year, computer hobbyists created systems called “BBS’s”, essentially message boards and file collections, where one could dial in with a terminal interface, and participate. Most of these had only one or two phone lines, so you had to keep trying to log in until a line was free. At one point, a piece of software called the “offline reader” was developed, so that you could go onto a BBS, download all the new messages, upload all your replies, and log off in a matter of a couple of minutes; this was especially useful in the days of slow modem speeds when all phone calls were charged by the minute.

    The ability to go through large numbers of messages quickly and easily made possible the BBS networks, where BBS’s could share message bases; soon, there were large discussion groups, called “conferences”. One of the larger networks, RIME, supported a sort of email, where you could optionally direct messages to individuals instead of groups. And, as moderator of the RIME Comics Conference, I became acquainted with both Steve Gerber and Don Rosa (one of Steve’s lesser known books was “BBS’s For Dummies”, unfortunately published just as cheap Internet access and faster modems started rendering BBS networks obsolete). This is how I started a friendly relationship with Steve; I didn’t even have a clue as to who Don Rosa was, except as a knowledgeable and regular contributor to the discussions.

    Aside from their writing contributions, they are/were both great people in general, and I am glad to see them both win.

  2. Roger Green Says:

    These guys gave me lots of reading pleasure. I miss Steve, though I never knew him personally.

  3. Greg Jurls Says:

    Steve’s work altered my world. I wish I could have told him what he meant to me. So glad to hear of this award.

  4. Kathleen Brennan-Nash Says:

    Great timing! Many of you know that Steve was a St. Louis MO native. In Steve’s honor last month I donated my small collection of his comics to the Washington University in St. Louis Modern Graphic History Library (MGHL). The MGHL seeks to “preserve unique contributions to art and society by some of the most significant figures in graphic media, past and present.”

    In addition to 20 issues of Howard the Duck (#4-5 and #10-27), I also contributed a Crescent City Memories (Spider-Man Team-Up featuring Gambit and Howard the Duck, vol. 1, no. 5); and the first printing of The Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1.

    If any of you have materials you would like to add to their collection, please contact Skye Lacerte, the MGHL Curator, at [email protected] or by telephone at 314-935-7741. They would be thrilled to have items related to Steve’s life and and body of work. Examples are sketches, drafts, correspondence, awards, certificates, event programs, background and biographical info, photographs, collaborative materials and other ephemera. Family, friends and fans are encouraged to donate anything that sheds light on Steve’s contributions to the world of comics.

    According to Skye, each contribution strenthens the research value of their collection of 20th and 21st c. comics, and are used by a variety of researchers, scholars and historians from around the world. After preservation and cataloging they may also be used in non-profit exhibitions both on and off campus. Contact Skye Lacerte with a description and/or listing of the materials.

    Please consider donating your Gerber treasures to the Modern Graphic History Library at WU in St. Louis. Over the last five years I’ve been reading how much his work contributed to your lives. This is a great way to help preserve Steve’s legacy!

  5. Micah Says:

    It’s wonderful that Mr. Gerber’s memory is being kept alive through this award.

    I can only assume that Steve was given the award because he did not receive his rightful reward, specifically his rightful monetary reward.

    I would seriously question whether Steve’s work hasn’t received its rightful recognition artistically. I can’t think of very many comic book characters that are so closely associated with their creators (among comic book fans) as Steve was with Howard. There are very few.

    And I can’t think of any character in any comic that literally only one person could properly write — and many have tried. Literally no one else can write Howard the Duck.

    And I think this is widely acknowledged in the comics field. Anyone who tries to write Howard must stand in Steve’s shadow. Every writer who has written Howard knows it and they have, to my knowledge, invariably been forced to comment on it.

    In one letter column during his run on the book, Bill Mantlo was driven to exclaim “I am not Steve Gerber!” in answer to a letter from a Howard fan. I found Ty Templeton online in a posting from 2007 trying to defend his work on Howard from fan criticism that no one else can properly write the Duck. Consider that that was almost 30 years after Steve’s original run on Howard ended!

    I mean, I’ve never heard of a writer of Spider-man or the Fantastic Four having to fend of criticism that only Stan Lee can write those characters.

    Steve even put a distinctive stamp on characters that he did not create. Steve is known to have had classic runs on Man-Thing and the Defenders, which Marvel has reprinted. They have reprinted his work on Howard, and excluded the Mantlo stories.

    So again, I can only assume that this award is because Steve never received his rightful monetary reward for his distinctive work and wonderful contribution to comic books. And that is no doubt a great shame.

  6. Jim Bosomworth Says:

    I don’t believe that the award has anything to do with Steve’s problems with financial rewards during his lifetime. Yes, he had some issues with some publishers, especially Marvel, but he continued writing and even went back to write Man-thing and Howard stories for Marvel (with different editorial teams in place).

    As last year’s previously unpublished Infernal Man-thing showed, Gerber wrote like no one else, and he always had a unique, personal touch to his stories. Reading it made me realize how much I missed reading his stories and made me realize why I still read the types of books I still read, like Hellboy – they have a distinct Gerber influence. I remember reading something that Steve wrote in an issue of Monsters Unleashed (I think), that he did not really like writing monster stories. And, I think, he never did write a monster story, at least in the traditional sense.

    If you go back and read his Man-thing tales (the original run, especially), his focus was on the people in the story more often than on the creature. On Daredevil and other superhero stories, the stories were more about relationships than on the fights, and who but Gerber would have a villain argue that there is if you cannot take over the world without killing people, its not really worth it (as he did in his run on the Defenders)?

    Writers like Steve, like Tony Isabella, like Len Wein, these were the writers of my golden age of comics – the writers whose stories I found I preferred even before I thought about who was writing them (kind of like those who read early Donald Duck and Scrooge comics could isolate the “Good Artist” before they knew his name was Carl Barks). Steve inspired many of his peers and many more of us who have yet to get anything published.

    I agree that it is sad that he did not get the recognition while he was still with us. This puts him in the same category as Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer, whose induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came just after they had died. Like them, Steve was a pioneer who worked in an established medium but did not see or did not accept the same limits many of his peers saw and accepted.

    I appreciate Kathleen’s suggestion about donating to libraries, and as I live nearby I hope to go to Wash U to check out what they have. I also recommend donating to Hero Initiative, as that organization was working with Steve towards the end to try to help with expenses.

  7. Lou Mougin Says:

    I was privileged to know both of these guys…Don more than Steve, to be sure, but I met Steve, yakked with him, traded letters with him, and tried to be supportive. Don I loved ever since I saw THE PERTWILLABY PAPERS, the finest of all fan-strips…I knew him when! And I interviewed him for Comics Interview before he sold his first Duck strip! I’m glad he’s still with us.