The winners of the Bill Finger Award for 2013 have been announced and they are Steve Gerber and Don Rosa. The award was created in 2005 to recognize writers—one living, one deceased—who have yet to receive adequate notice for their work.
Gerber and Rosa are certainly exemplary choices. Gerber’s work on Howard the Duck, The Defenders, Man-Thing and many other ’70s Marvel titles broadened the expressiveness and subject matter of mainstream comics in a way that went on to influence indie creators and inspired much of the alt.comix boom of the 80s. That was a system that Gerber himself took part in with Stewart the Rat, a roman-a-clef about his battle to regain ownership of Howard The Duck. Gerber died in 2008 from pulmonary thrombosis.
Rosa, the first Finger winner to be a cartoonist in his own right, took the work of Carl Barks and expanded it to become adventure comics of an even higher degree in his masterwork, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Although not perhaps adequately recognized in the US, Rosa is a household name in Denmark, where his Disney Duck comics are beloved classics. Rosa has had to retire from cartooning due to eyesight problems.
Rosa and Gerber were the unanimous selection of an award committee consisting of Charles Kochman (executive editor at Harry N. Abrams, book publisher), comic book writer Kurt Busiek, artist/historian Jim Amash, and writer/editor Marv Wolfman.
“The premise of this award is to recognize writers for a body of work that has not received its rightful reward and/or recognition,” Evanier explained in a statement. “That was what Jerry Robinson intended as his way of remembering his friend, Bill Finger. Bill is still kind of the industry poster boy for writers not receiving proper reward or recognition. Steve Gerber was one of the most influential writers of his day, and his work has stood the rest of time. Don Rosa is now retired from producing his acclaimed work with Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. He also drew the comics, but we honor him for the excellence of his stories, which will forever be reprinted around the world. Also, we liked the idea of having an ‘all-duck’ Finger ceremony.”
Steve Gerber got his start in fanzines, worked in advertising, and then found his way to comics in 1972 when he was hired by Roy Thomas for a staff job at Marvel. Gerber wasn’t suited for staff work, but by the time Marvel realized that, they’d discovered the value of his quirky imagination as a writer. Before long, he was distinguishing himself with scripts for, among others, Daredevil, The Defenders, Sub-Mariner. and Man-Thing. It was in the Man-Thing feature that he developed his most popular, lasting character, Howard the Duck. Somewhat autobiographical and wildly popular when written by Gerber, Howard was a unique presence in the Marvel Universe that is fondly remembered by many fans of the era. They also hailed Omega the Unknown, which Gerber wrote and co-created with Mary Skrenes. He parted ways with Marvel over a contract dispute in 1978, though he would return later. Thereafter, he worked for DC and Eclipse and in TV animation, story-editing and writing shows including Thundarr the Barbarian, G.I. Joe, and The Transformers. Gerber died in 2008 from pulmonary fibrosis.
Don Rosa also got his start in fanzines, with “The Pertwillaby Papers,” a comic strip for his college newspaper in Kentucky. An avid collector of comics, he chose for a time to write and draw as a hobby and to make his livelihood in his family’s tile business. In 1986, though, he had the opportunity to write and draw stories of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, his favorite characters when in the hands of the legendary Carl Barks. His meticulous, carefully researched work caught on big, at first in America and then overseas, where he was hailed for expanding on the foundation laid by Barks. Particularly popular was a 12-part series he began in 1991, “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck,” which filled in many details of the character’s past. That series, along with Rosa’s other tales, has been reprinted around the world as much as any comic book of the last quarter-century. Rosa has now retired from creating new stories, due to failing eyesight and disputes with his publisher over compensation.
The Bill Finger Award honors the memory of William Finger (1914-1974), who was the first and, some say, most important writer of Batman. Many have called him the “unsung hero” of the character and have hailed his work not only on that iconic figure but on dozens of others, primarily for DC Comics.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.