365 Reasons to Love Comics #218
Compile a list of your favorite comics and you’ll probably find a work or two by today’s featured creator on there. You may not even realize it, but the man is a genius. (Nothing I can say– total archive of the heart.)
218. Keith Giffen
I can’t even begin to explain the sheer amount of comics joy that Keith Giffen has brought to my life. The man has worked on a literal mountain of comics, and many of them have been great.
Mr. Giffen (not to be confused with the mythological beast known as the griffin) got his start in comics in the ’70s, working with Bill Mantlo on a few things, including the mind-bending Woodgod (he’d later co-create Rocket Raccoon with Mantlo). His art was very Kirby-esque, and he’d hone his talents over time. There was a period in there where he wasn’t doing any comics work, having figured he’d burned all his bridges in the industry by being a total jerk. But lo, he would return, wiser and better.
His big break was really the well-received Legion of Super-Heroes run with Paul Levitz, which I’ve never read. In fact, I don’t own a single Legion of Super-Heroes comic. It’s the one giant hole missing in my comics reading history. Oops. Anyway, I’m told it was very good and Giffen’s art was a bit Perez-y with some Kirby influences still peeking through. He’d return to the characters Post-Crisis with the “Five Years Later” era as plotter and artist, with a more mature and inky style that would veer further and further into the abstract. Somewhere in here, he also created Lobo, a satire that people would unfortunately take seriously.
A particularly fantastic Giffen creation is Ambush Bug, the post-modern madcap fourth-wall-ignoring ridiculously over-the-top satire character who managed to star in a few mini-series and one-shots. The comic did its best to not make any sense and assaulted one’s brain with gloriously bizarre bits like “Cheeks, the Toy Wonder – Combat Medic,” “Argh!Yle, Evilest of Socks,” “Johnni DC, Continuity Cop,” “Julie Schwartz’s Floating Head,” and more. It was amazing, and deserving of its own Reason sometime. Robert Loren Fleming scripted it; Giffen plotted and drew it.
He’d do a lot of plotting in his time; hell, I’d say Giffen is one of the finest plotters in the industry. His seminal plotted work is Justice League International and all of its variations, with J.M. DeMatteis and Gerard Jones scripting and folks like Kevin Maguire and Adam Hughes and Bart Sears drawing. Yes, this is the Justice League’s finest run, finer than Grant Morrison‘s (I know, I am indeed blaspheming), filled with “Bwahahas” and “One punches” and the like. The stories could switch from blatant comedy to thrilling drama on a dime, however. It was a tremendously good comic, one of my all-time favorites, and will also probably be a Reason sometime.
I’m noticing a pattern. Another Reason-deserving Giffen work that he plotted and drew is the Heckler, an overlooked, underappreciated, brilliant-but-cancelled series that is probably the smartest “funny” book I’ve ever seen. Tom and Mary Bierbaum scripted this one (much like Giffen’s Post-Crisis Legion), and it was terrific. A humongous cast of characters is introduced as the story swerves throughout Delta City and the activities of its strange denizens. It’s also a dense work, with nine-panel grids everywhere. I can’t recommend it highly enough; seek it out in the cheap bins.
Heckler continued the trend of Giffen’s art becoming more and more abstract and impressionistic; Trencher sealed the deal. That one was Giffen’s art at its wildest.
Mr. Giffen’s also produced a ton of other comics, some of which I’ve read, some of which I haven’t, quite a few of which are worth mentioning: Vext, for instance, or Suicide Squad, or Hero Squared, or Formerly Known as the Justice League, or Defenders, or 52, or I Luv Halloween, or… hell, I’ll just link you to this Giffen bibliography.
He’s current vying with Warren Ellis for the title of “busiest man in comics;” from layouts on weekly comics to writing an armful of comics like Marvel’s Annihilation stuff and some work for Boom! Studios, to countless other projects. Keith Giffen is a machine. He’s also an excellent artist with an ever-evolving style, and a darn good writer to boot. Thanks for all the good comics, man.