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CSBG Archive

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.)

8/6/07

218. Keith Giffen

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Check out these two Giffen fan sites: The Keith Giffen Resource Page and Bite Me Fanboy: The Keith Giffen Fan Site. The resource page includes this gigantic interview archive. Sweet!

32 Comments

hifidigitalboy

August 6, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Oh my! That scan from the Heckler is absolutely amazing. I must track this down.

Vext was fucking great. Of course, it came out in the late ’90s, so it was practically dead on arrival.

My local comic store does not have Ambush Bug.
This is not right.

I never read Ambush Bug or caught Giffen’s work on LSH, but I loved his tenure on Justice League!

Jeff Wetherington
The Comic Guide at Athena Guides
http://comics.athenaguides.com/

I am not a fan of giffen’s art–although he did some on the old JSA revival in the 70′s that looked normal.

But as a writer–his JLA/E/I (and possibly O & U–maybe sometimes Y) was the best period of the League.
I own the whole run–and not a lot else–mostly many of the JLA/JSA teamups, a few others pre Giffen (including DeMstteis’s four issue story of the end of the JL of A.
I own some after his run as well–but nothing comes close–for those issues Comics were fun.

For those who know not the greatness of Ambush Bug, I give you this.

VEXT was the best short-lived series of the ’90s (of which there were many, and good ones, too; easily the best decade in mainstream comics from a creative standpoint, if not a market one).

Yes, it was even better than CHASE.

I loved Vext. And Heckler. And Ambush Bug. And the 5 years later Legion was the best Legion ever.

“Argh!Yle, Evilest of Socks,”

I had never even heard of Keith Giffen prior to reading this…and afterwards (plus that Ambush Bug page Greg linked to) I [heart] him totally.

Andrew Collins

August 6, 2007 at 9:01 pm

It’s funny, I almost never think of Giffen when I think of my favorite comic creators, yet his work on Legion and Justice League are two of my all time favorite comics and two of the biggest reasons I’m a comic fan to this day. Time to re-evaluate my assessment of Mr. Giffen…

And I will say it’s a big black eye for DC that they haven’t printed any more collected editions of Giffen & DeMatteis’ Justice League or Levitz & Giffen’s LOSH. Both deserve the full color complete collection treatment.

The Ambush Bug Archive, comprehensive Ambush Bug: http://fourhman.com/ambushbug

I knew we’d be seeing Giffen in this list sometime. I consider him to be one of the best all-around creators in comics today. He can draw, he can write, and he has one of the most brilliant and twisted imaginations out there. Who else could have come up with a comic where Ambush Bug battles the floating head of Julius Schwartz throughout time? Who else would?

And of course one can’t forget the JLI, quite possibly the finest run on a super team book ever. Sure, they may have spent more time fighting each other than beating up bad guys, but the characterization was unparalleled and the humor was brilliant.

I haven’t read much of Giffen’s Legion stuff, but it’s been on my list for awhile now, and I’m really looking forward to it. Even the Five Years Later stuff, which is widely acknowledged as being an acquired taste.

Yeah, I think Giffen and DeMatteis’ run on Justice League is better than Morrison’s.

But wow, how lucky of a book is the Justice League to have three amazing runs like Giffen/Dematteis, Morrison and Dan Vado?

In any event, yeah, Giffen is amazing.

One of the greatest comic book plotters ever.

Yeah, Keith Giffen fully deserves to be on this list- I title not mentioned so far is the Defenders with Dave Kraft, particularly Who Remembers Scorpio, one of THE best stories of all time.
But he will always have a special place in my affections for Legion Volume 4 which did the Legion RIGHT, and made it a science fiction strip rather than a superhero comic with a science fictional backdrop.

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 7, 2007 at 3:36 am

Wasn’t there a new series that he was going to bring out called “Splatter-something”?

I think BOOM! was going to publish this series but then Giffen got busy with 52 weekly and Annilihation cross-overs.

Whatever became of that series?

Heckler #4, one of the finest single-issue comics stories ever written anywhere by anyone.

“You got those burns from your toaster?”
“It’s a four-slotter.”

“I’ve been a death merchant for over a tenth of a decade, and I think I know which way legs are supposed to bend.”

“Dawn’s coming up…either that, or the Rancho Kablammo nuclear power plant just had another meltdown.”

And as a bonus tip, check out the sirens on the ambulance trips in the issue. (Yes, trips.)

Heckler #4 could frankly be a Reason To Love Comics all by itself.

Good call!

Seriously, when I saw that this was a Giffen day I PRAYED for the Heckler. It is the All-Time Greatest and Most Underappreciated. My best friend and I collected every issue when it came out and its cancellation was misery for us. And the line, “I have been unexpectedly shot in the head and fatally wounded.” is one of the greatest in history. Also, the Four Moped Riders of the Apocalypse, with Skippy the Death Boy… Giffen is a GOD!

I’m pretty sure Keith didn’t invent the 9-panel grid, but it’s his, he’s the first person I think of whenever it’s used. I was trying to think of some of his work that hadn’t been mentioned, and remembered Video Jack, and wasn’t there some Zodiac thing from DC? Was that any good?

I came to know Giffen through TRENCHER, came to love him through HECKLER, and then pretty much fogot about him for a decade or so.

Then came WHERE MONSTERS DWELL, and now I love him again.

SanctumSanctorumComix

August 7, 2007 at 6:25 am

Giffen does indeed rock!

He’s always been one of my “secret” faves.
“Secret” only because, even though he’s been everywhere in comics and touched just about everything, he still seems to hide out on the sidelines.

I’m not a DC fan, but a good chunk of the DC books I HAVE bought in my life were mostly Giffen works.

And I must admit, his run on the original DEFENDERS is probably my favorite stretch on the title.

I’ve got the trade paperback of the LEGION’s “GREAT DARKNESS SAGA” (bought it back in the 80′s, if it’s not in print today in one shape or another, it’s a crime) and it still wows me to this day.

Keith Giffen is a GREAT reason to love comics!

And to think… we almost lost him forever when he had a shotgun to his face while he was a repo man.

~P~
P-TOR

Yeah, Giffen’s amazing. Ambush Bug is one of the greatest things ever, a perfect joke that which the creators had the decency to end before it got stale. People here are shouting from the rooftops about the greatness of JLI/JLE/Super Buddies, and they’re totally right. Even when those books started to run out of steam towards the end, JLI and JLE under Giffen were still 50 times more fun than almost anything else being published in the dark days of 1992.

Sacrilege! You don’t own a single Legion issue? I knew there was something amiss with this whole ‘Loving Comics’ list!

Thanks though in all seriousness for your entry on Mr. Giffen. It’s already been said a couple times, but he’s not one of the creators I think of when I think of my favorites, but his work on books like Legion and JLI are some of the ones I enjoy the most.

Time to go buy me some Heckler!

Kieth Giffen has been one of those creators that will make me at least think about picking up a book simply because of his involvement.

I love his art. I do wish he would go back to his early Legion style from time to time but there’s no other artist I can think of that has reinvented his style so many times.

It might be worthwhile to note the controversy over the swipes of Jose Munoz’s work http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Giffen#Controversy
It is funny how that incident had the potential to ruin his career and today there are so many artists out there that regularly swipe from other people without any real consequences.

I would also note that Giffen’s layouts on 52 greatly helped that series. Despite the numerous artists involved, the changes between artists were seldom jarring throughout the run of 52. This is in stark contrast to Countdown, where I really notice the different artists.

His more out there work, like The Trencher and his Lobo series, have been a huge inspiration to my own art

Any man who can create and continue to make funny characters such as Ambush Bug deserves to be on this list. In addition to his earlier defenders work he and De Matteis did a JLI style defernders min recently that was also very funny and made good use of Dormammu etc.

Giffen’s one of the few people, besides Starlin, who’ve written Thanos and gotten it right.

That alone makes him worthy of a Reason.

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.

Um, no.

Bit Perez-y with Kirby influences is somewhat subjective, but it’s true he had a more slick style. But he actually switched to his more Alex-Toth influenced ‘mature’ style while doing that same run of Legion of Super Heroes with Paul Levitz, *not* when he came back to it. In fact, it was one of the most fascinating 90-degree turns an artist has made while on a book.

(And it was real unpopular at the time in 1984 let me tell you!)

Somewhere in here, he also created Lobo, a satire that people would unfortunately take seriously.

ACtually a bit earlier. He created Lobo in Omega Men with Roger Slifer. He started life as a much more generic assassin villain back then.

But he actually switched to his more Alex-Toth influenced ‘mature’ style…

It always looked to me like his major influence was José Muñoz.

I think Keith Giffen is a terrible artist. All his characters look like they are trying to kiss someone and he made all the hot girls in the LSH look like toads. Don.t get me started on the ruffles and overcoats he had the male members wearing. Whoever said that his style was unpopular in the 80s was making an understatement. He may be a great writer and editor, but he sucks as an artist.

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