Gobbling up back issues of old comics is fun, but it’s also fun (and usually more challenging) to find old magazines and newspapers with articles about comics—particularly those periodicals designed with a wider, more mainstream audience in mind. Such is the case here, with this 1977 issue of Playboy.
I can’t even recall what road led me here, but I was looking up something Gerber related a couple months back when I stumbled across a reference to a quote from him printed in Playboy. Some further digging revealed that the cover date of the specific issue was June of ’77. At last, I found the issue in question—Gerber and his creation Howard the Duck received brief coverage in the “Grapevine” portion of the “On The Scene” section in the very back of the magazine. Here’s a scan:
For those unable to make out the text, it reads:
As anyone into contemporary comics can tell you, the smash new title of recent years is “Howard the Duck.” Howard bears a strong resemblance to Donald the Duck, if the latter smoked cigars and wore a blue fedora. Naturally, since he’s a duck, people give him a lot of shit. Except for Beverly Switzler, the beauteous female human who perhaps loves Howard and has somehow become his on-again, off-again girlfriend.
The creator of this weirdness is 29-year-old STEVE GERBER, a veteran Marvel Comics writer. About the success of the book, Gerber says, “The little kids like it because it’s this funny little duck. The older kids are hip to the satire. Also, I think part of Howard’s appeal has to do with his sexual presence. There’s a sensual quality to him that is not present in other comic book characters, who are generally so sleek and pristine that there seems to be no substance there. But Howard’s always ruffled, you can see the wrinkles on his clothes, you have the feeling you could reach out and touch him. If you stood Howard next to Superman, you could tell instantly which would be more interesting to jump into bed with. It’s no contest.”
This brought to mind a separate instance where Gerber got into Howard’s sexuality—I could never forget this one, it was in an issue of Amazing Heroes from circa 1986. With minimal effort, I was able to track it down; it appeared in the “Scuttlebutt” section of Amazing Heroes #96 (June 1, 1986), p. 11:
Once again, for those unable to make out the text:
GERBER ON DUCK SEX. Asked about the ‘‘sex” scene written by Bill Mantlo showing Howard the Duck and Beverly in bed, creator Steve Gerber replied, “He could not have misunderstood the character further. That’s why I was so upset about the sex scene. It wasn’t because it occurred; the matter of taste never entered into it. A basic quality of the strip was the mystery of that relationship between Howard and Beverly. That was ruined by them making it that obvious and actually illustrating whatever their sexual relationship is. From what it looks like it’s not very interesting. It’s one of the most standard positions the characters could be in. If I had been commanded to write a scene like that I would have grabbed somebody’s copy of the Kama Sutra and looked through it to find one of the most outrageous positions for a woman and a midget. They didn’t even try to do something like that. You got a scene that was not funny, not erotic, not visually interesting, and which blew the major aspects of the characters in the strip.”
On the one hand, I admire Gerber’s investment in his character and the passion he had for his craft. On the other, it may be just a tad disturbing that Gerbs appeared to have put so much thought into the sex life of an imaginary, cartoon duck.