As the New York Comic Con takes over the Javits Center this weekend, we look back at the way the Voice covered some of the most compelling comic characters of the modern era.
Although Howard the Duck was, well, a walking, talking duck, he was also a down-to-earth everyman struggling with life’s vicissitudes. Some worries were basic — what are he and his red-headed girlfriend, the comely Beverly Switzer, going to eat when they’re down on their luck? — and some were cosmic — fighting “Pro-Rata, Chief Accountant of the Universe,” who dwells in a castle constructed of stolen credit cards. In their “Scenes” column from April 19, 1976, Howard Smith and Brian Van der Horst note that comic experts considered Howard “a new departure in the world of comic books” and describe the speculative collectors’ market that sprang up around the first issue.
Then, toward the end of that Bicentennial year, author Ernie Eban’s feature “The Last Angry Duck Stands Up for America” explains how Howard’s creator, Steve Gerber, working in a Brooklyn apartment, came up with his decidedly un-superhero: “I can’t tell you exactly why it was a duck. All I know was that I needed a gag to top the barbarian jumping out of the jar of peanut butter, and the whole creation of the character came in a second and a half.”
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Also in 1976, R. Crumb begins an exclusive series of Mr. Natural strips for the Voice. And in that same issue, James Wolcott attends a Star Trek convention and concludes, “Beneath the optimism of the Star Trek craze lies a vulgarized Nietzscheanism — the will to power banalized in the stud-adventurer, Captain Kirk.”
A decade earlier, we find reporter Sally Kempton coming down hard on comic fandom in her article “Super-Anti-Hero in Forest Hills.” She writes, “Reading old comic books is hard work; it is possible to enjoy Batman only if you continually remind yourself that you liked him when you were 12.” But she is impressed with Marvel’s then-new brand of comics, because they are “the first comic books in history in which a post-adolescent escapist can get personally involved. For Marvel Comics are the first comic books to evoke, even metaphorically, the real world.”