Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Geek Graf

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Art of Subliminal Autobiography

Subliminal autobiography is not a novel concept. I remember my first exposure to the idea while reading Ernest Hemingway, when I realized that his "fiction" was actually disguised or subliminal pieces of his life. Philip K Dick is another whose fiction fits this description: creating work that by no means creates a literal translation of life, but contains within it code that signifies the unique experience of the artist. In the case of Dick, the result was unintentional. I believe the same can be said of author Steve Gerber.

Creating a work, or body of work, of this kind is not limited to writers -painters, actors, and film directors also put this kind of coding into their work. Yet, since Gerber is a wordsmith, I can limit my scope to artists of this kind.

In Gerber's body of work, biographical details may or may not be there, and if so are not likely to be found in any literal form; thus the label of "subliminal." An exorcist that contains within himself the soul of the son of Satan, or a scientist who transforms himself into a muck monster: obviously Gerber is not revealing intimate information about himself with these characters!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Countdown to Gerber

Here at the onset of the Year of Steve Gerber, the world's greatest writer of funnybooks, already I find myself spending inordinate amounts of headspace in contemplation of his work. With a great deal of his catalog from the last thirty years recently added to my brain, it is fresh and easily accessed for study, as I query different highlights for signs and symbols of deeper themes. With such a thoughtful and insightful author as this, I know there is a larger picture to see. Recently during one of my ruminations I had a certain thought about that larger picture -only to find an echo of the same thought in Gerber himself.

If you go to a rack displaying new comics, you will find the latest issue of Countdown to Mystery, featuring the mystical superbeing, Dr Fate. Steve Gerber is authoring the adventures of Dr Fate. In this issue, the eponymous hero is mourning the apparent death of a woman who tried to help him. Her name was Inza Nelson. She was the writer of a comic called "Killhead", and in the pages of that comic Dr Fate searches for clues about her motivations as an artist. For several pages we are reading a comic-within-a-comic, and some provocative information comes to light.

"The comic book," thinks Dr Fate, "it's coded autobiography, isn't it?" He is thinking about Inza Nelson, but could just as well be a reader such as myself asking the same question about Gerber's writing. In fact, I have been entertaining that very thought. I was startled, to say the least, at finding such an accurate echo of my thought in the comic.

Dr Fate wonders which character the author identifies most with, concluding that "Maybe she thinks this stuff was funny...!" Could this be a code-within-a-code, telling us Gerber's true motivation?
It was a wonderful moment of insight, and one that helps further define my mission during the Year of Steve Gerber. In addition to touching upon highlights of his career, I want to explore the idea that his entire catalog can be viewed as a work of autobiography. Even the author himself suggests as much! We'll see where it leads....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Year of Steve Gerber

Last year I discovered Steve Gerber. It happened quite by accident. I was at Seattle's finest purveyor of funnybooks, Comics Dungeon, and purchanced upon an issue of Howard the Duck. Dim memories of seeing the duck when I was a kid stirred slightly, and I picked it up, expecting a chuckle or two. What I didn't know was that I had taken the first step in a long journey.
Howard the Duck was not just funny, it was hilarious, a ribald mix of satire and situation comedy, all involving a cigar-chomping, perpetually indignant drake fowl named Howard stuck "in a world he never made". What I thought might be a couple chuckles turned into deep satisfaction -and I had to have more.

After devouring Steve Gerber's fantastic run on Howard, assisted on art by the peerless Gene Colan, I found that this was only a small part of his contribution to literature. I went on to read his other books created in the seventies, The Defenders, Man-Thing ("The Most Startling Swamp Creature of All!" -who knew competition was so fierce?), Son of Satan (Marvel Comics had a satan fetish during that decade), and Omega the Unknown. Best of all these, representing the very creme de la creme of Gerber's ouvre (which, contrary to popular belief, cannot be fixed with surgery), is the Elf With A Gun.

The Elf With A Gun appears completely at random in three issues of The Defenders. He appears out of thin air and for no reason, none at all; his appearances are totally disconnected from the plot. First time we see him, he shows up at the door while a couple is singing John Denver tunes, calls the man by name and shoots him: end of appearance. For subsequent appearances, he disguises himself as a cabbie and an indian chief before calling his next victim by their full name and blowing them away.

No explanation has ever been offered for the Elf With A Gun. His creator, Steve Gerber, has never gone on the record. And I love him for it.

The Elf With A Gun has no precedent, is seemingly meant to be absurd, a non-signifier, and any time he appears the reader is given a breath of fresh air, as if the elf is reminding us, hey, don't take life so damn serious, huh? I would argue that this is Steve Gerber's underlying proposal in everything he writes. Nowhere in his decades of service is this philosophy made more obvious than the Elf With A Gun.

There is so much more Gerber has contributed, and I want to cover those in following entries, including the Woman Who Doesn't Exist, GodCorp, and The New Superhero. I am considering this the year of Steve Gerber and will be taking copious notes.

For current news and thoughts from the man himself, he regularly updates his blog.

Who Loves Reagan?

Have to admit I am enjoying the Clinton/Obama debate. It reminds me of being back at school and watching two of the smartest kids stand up on opposite sides of a question. Honestly, I am rooting for both of them, not to mention feeling grateful that we have some great candidates running for office this year.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All Thanks This Day to Our Sisters and Brothers in New Hampshire

The role of upstart this election cycle is being handled very capably by Barack Obama, and I'm excited to see him nominated to the Democratic ticket -in 2012. What he proposes to do if elected sounds like a bad idea: purging all the old cronies from Baghdad didn't work out too well, did it? Why should we think it is a good idea for Washington? You're left with a bunch of neophytes who don't know what they're doing and everything just stops for four years. Bill Clinton was certainly guilty of that mistake. I want a more seasoned Obama, when he's spent more time reading the currents at DC and knows better who should stay and who should go.

Mike Huckabee is not so much an upstart but a non-starter. Folks, the man is to the right of George W Bush when it comes to tax cuts. His national sales tax proposal would increase the share of taxes paid by the middle class. Aren't we trying to get away from that?

I'm encouraged by John McCain's edge up in New Hampshire, as well as Hillary Clinton's; these are the two best candidates running. He is a figure of staunch political will and has proven time and again that he can bring together disparate views for positive results -corporate reform during the current administration was a well-nigh heroic achievement, given the prevailing love affair with the private sector.

A contest between he and Clinton is the kind of presidential race our country deserves, and certainly will be the most compelling we've had since 1992. Hillary Clinton is the woman to win the Democratic nomination, a politician of reform values; it is criminal the way Obama demonizes her for her politics, calling them the "old Washington", when in fact she is as progressive as he is. It's like he's calling the kettle... well, nevermind.

I despaired for our country in 2004, when we had such a pair of shlubbs vying for the executive, an incumbent who was slowly and steadily dismantling the gains of thirty years, and a challenger whose only distinction was his service. Let's have some real candidates this year, please!