Steve Gerber: 1947-2008
.....Death, as inevitable as it is, seems to be the one thing that invokes an honest, if somewhat surprised reaction. Your fine webmaster has expressed disappointment (for Gene Roddenberry), seething anger (for Kristi Miller, a high school crush of mine who died on her birthday), acceptance (for James Doohan, who was famously suffering from Alzheimer's when he passed away), and even annoyance (for my great grandmother, or more accurately, annoyance over receiving the news while on vacation from a less-than-beloved relative) upon receiving the news, but few deaths have affected me quite like that of Steve Gerber. The reason is simple: Steve Gerber was one of my most cherished of heroes in the field of animation.
.....The idea seems a bit insane, at first glance. Most of the tributes to Steve online will barely mention his career in animation, in large part because of his impressive resume in comics, but also because that selfsame animation career was something to keep Gerber working (and, more importantly, solvent) while he engaged in an epic (although ultimately unsuccessful) battle to gain control of his most famous creation, Howard the Duck. A glance over at the venerable Internet Movie Database reveals the shallow depth of Gerber's animation work:
Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-1981): Co-creator, story editor, writer
Goldie Gold and Action Jack (1981): Writer
Mister T (1983): Writer
Dungeons & Dragons (1983): Story editor, writer
G. I Joe: A Real American Hero (1985-1986): Supervising story editor, writer
The Transformers (1986): Story editor
Superman (1997): Writer (Emmy win)
Yu-Gi-Oh! (1998): Writer
The New Batman Adventures (1998): Writer
.....That's a miniscule 9 series. (It should be noted that Steve only wrote the pilot for Mister T, and mainly helped to develop the localization of Yu-Gi-Oh! He also wrote for The Puppy's Further Adventures and Plastic Man, neither of which is listed on IMDb, even though the latter was the source of his infamous conflict with ABC over an episode taking place in the then-divided Berlin, Germany.) However, the four shows Gerber did the most work for (Thundarr, D&D, Joe, and TF) helped to define an era of animation. Thundarr dared to push the limits of ABC's network censors, who were the most stultifyingly restrictive of the three major networks when it came to Saturday morning cartoons. D&D did much the same at CBS, though Steve burned out after the first season, avoiding the greater war over "The Dragon's Graveyard", but never sharing in the rewards. The third season of The Transformers (which he story edited with Marv Wolfman and Flint Dille) has long challenged viewers with episodes like "Webworld" and "The Face of Nijika", that made the death spree in the movie no easier to swallow. And G.I. Joe's first season is, quite simply, one of the finest years any television show, animation or otherwise, ever had.
.....But it doesn't end there. Steve brought into the fold a plethora of writers, or at least gave them a chance to shine. Besides his great friend Mary Skrenes (the inspiration for Howard the Duck's one, true friend, Beverly Switzler), Gerber invited Marv Wolfman to write for Joe, which directly led to Ruby-Spears' superb 1988 Superman series (which Wolfman story edited). He also brought writers like Buzz Dixon and Gordon Kent to Sunbow from Ruby-Spears (which, Thundarr and Superman aside, was as bad-or worse-than Hanna-Barbera in the '80s), as well as giving greater exposure to writers like Christy Marx, who scored the job developing Jem for TV partly because of the strength of her scripts for G.I. Joe. The Gerber touch extended to artists, as people like Larry Houston and Boyd Kirkland became prominent directors and even producers for shows like Batman: The Animated Series.
.....However, it is with viewers like myself with whom Steve Gerber's legacy holds its greatest sway. The first truly significant G.I. Joe website, Zartan's Domain, was created and maintained by Rod Hannah, an ardent fan of the Sunbow series (and the first season in particular). It was my love for that same cartoon that led me to seek out G.I. Joe on the web in 1998 and actually participate (instead of just lurking like I had been for some time with websites related to various video games and systems). Much of my activity online (including this website) has been colored by my love for the cartoons of my childhood, and a lot of that is because of Steve's hard work. A part of me has always hoped that G.I. Joe would return in a manner faithful to the beloved Sunbow series, but with the passing of such a key figure in the series' production, that pipe dream seems even more unlikely than ever. However, that sad realization is tempered with a great appreciation for what Steve helped bring to animation, and for its profound effect on me over the years. Thank you, Steve, for everything.