OFF THE RACK COMICS: Howard the Duck Magazine (1979-1981)

Howard the Duck. When did I first become aware of this odd character in the Marvel Universe? If memory serves me, it was in the late 1970s. At the time I was nine or 10, living on an island with no local stores to buy comic books in. On occasion my grandmother would bring me a stack of comics to have and once in awhile we would go to the mainland and visit drugstores, all of which had those spinner racks of every comic book you could imagine. I was fortunate to find an issue now and then of the original run of the four-color comic book of HOWARD THE DUCK but never with any consistency to be able to follow the story. In 1979, a weekly outing began with my mother where she would go grocery shopping and I would visit the drugstore that was next door and that is where I discovered the black and white magazine of HOWARD THE DUCK.

The issue that started it all!

To give you a brief history of the duck, he was created by Steve Gerber and Howard made his first appearance in ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #19, published in December of 1973. He then made a few appearances in the MAN-THING series before getting his own series in January of 1976. This ran for thirty-three issues, ending in September of 1986.

Howard’s adventures are generally social satires, while a few are parodies of genre fiction with a metafictional awareness of the medium. The book is existentialist, and its main joke, according to Gerber, is that there is no joke: “… that life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.”

The issue that started it all for me.

When I discovered the black and white magazine, it was with issue number two. Because this was a magazine it did not have to conform to the rules of the Comics Code Authority, which meant the stories could have more adult themes, and even featured some brief nudity of Howard’s girlfriend Beverly. Though the stories were fun, they were inconsistent and I think this series would’ve greatly benefited by Steve Gerber’s involvement.

The artwork was fantastic throughout. The first story in issue two, “Animal Indecency!” looks fantastic with art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson. In issue three, Colan is teamed up with Dave Simons, presenting a well drawn Christmas story written by Bill Mantlo. In these stories, the use of black and white really contributes a lot to the overall look of the series, adding lots of shadows and depth. Issue four featured two stories, the second of which started a new storyline. The second story also introduced John Buscema in the artist position.

One thing I did not care for though was the inclusion of a series called “Street Peeple” starting with issue six. To me this broke up the continuity of the Howard stories and seemed out of place, both in art and writing. It returned again in issue eight, again a distraction to me. Sadly, the series ended with issue nine in March of 1981.

After reading this series, I wanted to go back and read the original series. Unfortunately I was not willing to pay the collectors’ prices that the issues were going for. Thankfully, in 2008, Marvel released the HOWARD THE DUCK OMNIBUS, which featured all of Howard’s appearances from ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #19 right up until HOWARD THE DUCK #33.

Original panel as it appeared in issue two of the magazine series.

In 2015, Marvel started to release HOWARD THE DUCK: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, that reprinted Howard’s adventures throughout the years, including the black and white magazine. Though this is an affordable alternative to the Omnibus, one thing I noticed was the censoring of the nudity from the black and white magazine. Although volume three of this series clearly states on the cover “PARENTAL ADVISORY! NOT FOR KIDS!” these brief panels were altered. Now I certainly understand editing these panels so that kids do not see them but there are some problems with this. Though the nudity is not pertinent to the story, editing it compromises the integrity of the original artwork. Second, it clearly states on the book that it is not for kids. Third, the original magazines had no warnings on them that they were not for kids; anyone could buy them. Even the original series implied that Howard and Beverly were a couple and probably having sex. On the plus side, this editing does not alter the story telling at all.

How this panel appears in THE COMPLETE COLLECTION.

With or without the original artwork, this series is highly recommended. It is well-written, the artwork is fantastic and it adds so much to the mythos of Howard the Duck. Though his various appearances and series continue, it is also for limited runs. Perhaps this is a good thing as it keeps the character fresh and always in the back of your mind. I’m not sure how a full-blown, long-running series would actually do these days. Despite this, Howard is a very endearing character in the Marvel Universe.

If you would like to read the black and white series yourself, just click on the images below of the HOWARD THE DUCK: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION that feature these images. Make sure to check out my entire series of OFF THE RACK COMICS! Thanks for reading!

~David Albaugh

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