Steve Gerber Interview

Steve Gerber is probably best known as the creator of Howard the Duck, but he has also written Man-Thing, the Defenders, and Foolkiller for Marvel, Destroyer Duck for Eclipse, and the recent Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot for Image, among other titles. This month his new series Nevada debuts from DC/Vertigo. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Steve about Nevada

Westfield: What can you tell us about Nevada?

Steve Gerber: It's the story of a Las Vegas show girl named Nevada, her ostrich named Bolero - every showgirl has one, a mobster whose head is screwed on strangely; a drunken mystic; and a takeover of the Nile Hotel, where Nevada works. By "takeover," I do not mean corporate. It's coming from someplace else altogether. The book also has something to say about the nature of good and evil in the universe and the current state of human relations.

Westfield: Where did the idea of a showgirl and her ostrich come from?

Gerber: The inspiration came from an old issue of Howard the Duck, the Dreaded Deadline Doom story in #16. That issue was divided into eight or ten 2-page stories with single illustrations by different artists. One of those stories was the "Obligatory Comic Book Fight Scene," a battle among a Las Vegas chorus girl, an ostrich, and a killer lampshade. It ended with the chorus girl becoming one with her headdress and conquering the universe, or something like that. I really don't remember. [laughter]

For twenty-odd years now, people have been asking me, "When are you going to bring back the showgirl and the ostrich?" In a market dominated by Spawn, that's not a question you take terribly seriously. [laughter] But then, oddly enough, Neil Gaiman asked that question of me - in public - on CompuServe. And other people chimed in and said: "Yeah. When are you gonna do that?" At that point I decided, "Okay, maybe this is worth a closer look." Another reason I hadn't proposed it to any publisher before then was that I didn't have a decent title for it. It was Vera of Vegas for a while and then Viva of Vegas. [laughter] Try saying that four times fast. Imagine having to ask for it at the comic book store. "Do you have a copy of Vee-vih-ah-vee-voo-voogas?" [laughter] Anyway, I eventually hit on the name Nevada, and then Neil's message popped up on the computer, and I thought, "Well, now's as good a time as any." So, I proposed it to Vertigo and, somewhat to my astonishment, Karen Berger liked it and wanted to publish it.

I should point out that it's not the same showgirl, of course, and that this ostrich has a decidedly different personality from the one in the duck story. (And no, it doesn't talk.) There's no killer lampshade in Nevada, either, but there is an even more bizarre variation on the theme.

Westfield: Although Nevada and Bolero are the central characters in the book, as in much of your previous work, you've built up a strong supporting cast around them. How does having a strong supporting cast help you tell the story?

Gerber: I've always disliked comics in which the main characters were essentially the only ones that mattered. With the various team books, for example, I used to wonder how it happened that so many of the characters would find their ideal soul mate within the superhero group. Sure, people meet and fall in love at work, but that's not the only place it happens. Series constructed that way have always seemed very claustrophobic to me.

Also, drawing such tight boundaries around the characters puts rather severe limits on their repertoire of emotions. If they're always interacting with the same people, they're always going to behave in pretty much the same way. After a short while, it gets very predictable and very boring. In Nevada, fortunately, that kind of closed circle wasn't even an option.

Westfield: How would you compare Nevada to your previous work?

Gerber: It's better. Better than Howard the Duck. Better than Omega. Better than Defenders. Until recently, in my opinion, the best thing I'd ever written for comics was the Foolkiller limited series that I did for Marvel in the early 90s. It was a long, sustained piece of work - 10 issues - that delved very deeply into the character, his physical milieu and the moral issues surrounding him, and did it without delivering sermons. It was a novel in comic book form.

Nevada has all that going for it, too, but the writing is a lot tighter, the characters a lot livelier, and the style more mature. I suppose that sounds strange coming from a 50-year-old, but I'm still learning new things about writing comics and hope never to stop learning. Any writer who thinks he's mastered this craft has already succumbed to stagnation. The writing in Nevada reflects what I've learned in the time between Foolkiller and now. I think it's a much more exciting series.

Westfield: Do you have plans for Nevada past this mini-series?

Gerber: Oh yeah. This is the first in a series of mini-series. The first six issues comprise one complete story. When it's done, we'll take a few months off from publication and then come back with another complete story. It's the same thing Vertigo and Helix are doing with Terminal City and Bloody Mary. Instead of grinding out a monthly book, whether we've got a good story to tell that month or not, we're treating it more like a paperback series, a series of novels.

Westfield: One of the things people will really notice about this series is Phil Winslade's art, which is just gorgeous. How is it working with him?

Gerber: I can't praise Phil or his work highly enough. It's the best collaboration I've had with an artist since Gene Colan on Howard the Duck. Phil and I are working very, very closely on Nevada. We're in constant communication. Between the two of us, LCI and British Telecomm are making a fortune. Phil is a big fan of the stuff that I did during the 70s and seems to know how I think, which is a pretty terrifying concept. So far, our visualizations of Nevada and Bolero and the world surrounding them seem to be perfectly in sync. I'm thrilled with what he's doing on this book.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to mention?

Gerber: When we finish the first Nevada mini-series, I want to start writing the second right away. Phil may have something else - a one-shot for Marvel, I think - that he wants to do between the two mini-series. When he finishes that, I'd like to have all or most of another Nevada series waiting for him.

As for other stuff, there's nothing definite at this point, but I've been talking to Joey Cavalieri about doing a Superman special of some kind. And there's another original series I'd like to get off the ground - an extremely odd science fiction series.

Westfield: Any possibility of seeing Leonard the Duck and Rhonda from the Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot any time soon?

Gerber: It's possible, but probably not soon. I know Erik Larsen would like to see me do something with them, and I know he'd like to publish the book. I'm just waiting for the right time and the right story to tell. I'd like to bring back Destroyer Duck at some point, too. He found a whole new audience with the Savage Dragon book. On the other hand, having just dealt with ducks again - and now an ostrich - my instincts tell me that the next thing I do ought to be something featherless. [laughter] I'd rather not get typecast as the one-man Audubon Society of comics.

Westfield: Do you have any other comments you'd like to make about Nevada?

Gerber: I don't want to ignore Steve Leialoha's contribution to the book as inker, John Workman's as letterer, or Nathan Eyring's as colorist. All of these guys are turning out splendid work - and spoiling me rotten. It's been a long time since I've worked on a book where all the various elements came together exactly as they should, but that's what's happening on Nevada.

Also, in what may be a historic occasion, I'm getting along with the editors. [laughter] That's a joke - most of my relationships with editors have been good. But Karen Berger and Joan Hilty have been wonderful on this book. Karen is the kind of editor that writers dream about. She knows when something isn't working in a story, makes good suggestions, and then doesn't take offense if the writer comes back with something equally workable but totally different. Joan is great at finding the right nits to pick, especially when she goes into what she calls her "humorless feminist" mode. Fortunately, she's taught me the magic words to toggle that mode on and off, so I can now stop her when I sense the ideology getting in the way of her editorial instincts, which are generally quite good.

All in all, I'm happier with Nevada than I have been with any comic book work I've done in a long time. And the sheer exuberance that both Phil and I feel is very evident on the page. I hope the readers will find it contagious.