Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about the loss of Steve Gerber and good storytelling.


We lost Steve Gerber last week; the much deserved tributes and accolades have been piling up online and I don't delude myself that I can add anything original to what's already been written.  I met him once but can't claim to have known him, but his work had an enormous impact on me.  If no one else will cop to it, I was one of those fat kids who read 'The Kid's Night Out' in Giant-Sized Man-Thing and thought it had been written specifically for me.


In my last column I tried to come up with a working definition of what constituted a 'good' comic book, and Steve Gerber's writing definitely qualified.  Always more than just technically proficient in his craft, his stories always had a specific point of view and were about something, but more than that he was a storyteller, meaning he knew how to tell a story, singular.  He created his mythology (the Nexus of Realities, Howard the Duck, Foolkiller, etc.) the old fashioned way--by writing one great story after another.


His stories were rarely heroic (at least in the super-heroic sense) let alone fun; Howard the Duck was a comedy the way Jules Feiffer's Little Murders was.  And anyone wanting to read something genuinely creepy and existential should go find the original Omega the Unknown, which in hindsight has become a historical novel set in a New York City on the verge of societal collapse.  The only thing that dates it are the school bullies who, as drawn by the always great Jim Mooney, look about as tough as toast.


It's sad he's gone, sad there won't be any more great stories by him, but what's pathetic is you can't tell stories like his anymore--not at Marvel or DC anyway.  Steve Gerber certainly did his share of arcs and epics, but I think he'll be best remembered for those meticulously crafted little stories that are now known as 'done-in-ones.'  How many of those does Marvel/DC produce in a given year, a handful maybe?  About the only DC title I can think of which does them on a regular basis is the soon to be cancelled JSA Classified, and that's undoubtedly due in part to the fact it was considered a 'try-out' book for new creators.


But, the thinking goes, you can't make money on good single stories.  No, what you need are arcs--sequentially published chunks of a larger story that later can be collected in hard and soft covers and kept in print in perpetuity.


Which again, brings us around to this 'about' business I keep harping on.  What were his stories about?  They may have featured talking ducks, swamp monsters or superheroes, but what they were about was the human condition and human feeling, something in incredibly short supply these days in mainstream American comic books.  JSA Classified may have predominately featured single issue stories but invariably they were about them (the capes) not us.  If the story was about a drug ring you could be assured that it was some meta drug that turned people into Great Danes or something because it's assumed that's what everyone wants to read about.


Apparently the thinking goes that fans don't want to read about any of that human feeling junk -- it only gets in the way of important stuff like the never ending battle to decide who'll be chosen America's Biggest Bastard.  I'm so old I remember when the phrase 'the never ending battle' was a promise and not a threat, but as Civil War invariably leads us to Secret Invasion which invariably leads to something else, it becomes apparent this new business model has given us a funny book worm ouroboros, a seamless meta saga with no way on and no way off.


Maybe they're right; one of my favorite stories last year was in Justice Society of America #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross) where the 'Kingdom Come' version of Superman barrels through the entire mistrusting team so he can save a teenage girl from jumping to her death.  I Googled that issue and read three online reviews and was surprised to find none of them even mentioned that part of the story; apparently the important bit was how it all ties in to 'Kingdom Come' and what in it will come to pass in the DC Universe proper.


But they sell--these collections of recent superhero comics-- right?  I mean, it's these sales that are supposed to be the salvation of Marvel and DC, making up for the ever dwindling circulation numbers of their comics.  A couple weeks ago I made a trip to Southeast Ohio on business and stopped by Super-Fly Comics and saw they'd changed the layout of the store so there were significantly more 'face out' (positioned so you could see the covers) graphic novels which helped to increase their sales.


This was a relief to Tad and Tony because up until then they hadn't been doing so hot. I'll amend that statement.  Super-Fly had been selling a lot of copies of Y The Last Man, Kabuki, Persepolis, etc., but the rank and file Marvel and DC superhero collections were essentially gathering dust.  Of course that's just our store; as always your mileage may vary. But when I checked the ICv2 list of Top 100 Graphic Novels, I found that while there were a couple of X-titles in the Top 10 along with a stray Batman, mostly what was selling was Conan, Buffy, Pride of Baghdad, and Star Wars.  With all my new free time I've been able to make regular trips to Barnes & Noble and Books a Million, and while they have vast graphic novels sections, the bulk of Marvel and DC's massive backlists were nowhere to be seen.


Which raises the question; if they're not selling there and not selling all that well to us, where are they selling?  And if they're not selling, well, it actually opens the possibility that, just maybe, the publishers are doing something wrong.


Naw, that can't be it.


The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of