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Year of the Artist, Day 112: Keith Giffen, Part 4 – Trencher #2

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Keith Giffen, and the issue is Trencher #2, which were published by Image and is cover dated June 1993. These scans are from the trade paperback, which was published by Boom! Studios in 2005. Enjoy!

Giffen went over to Image in 1993 and began doing some wacky comics for them, including Trencher, which is a pretty lousy book. The protagonist, Gideon, hunts down souls that have been “wrongfully reincarnated.” Things get bloody. It’s a satire, as Giffen loves satire, but as it’s set firmly within the “Image Universe” (as we’ll see below), it’s also weirdly not satirical, unless we view all that early Image stuff as satire itself (which the Image founders might want these days, but not back then). It’s kind of dumb, and the art … wow. Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

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This is the first page of issue #2, as Gideon – his job title is “trencher,” in case you’re wondering – has been attacked by an old woman whose soul he was trying to “repossess” (by, you know, killing her). It turns out she’s not quite what she seems. We can see on this page both that this is typical Giffen art and how he’s changed it a bit. Obviously, he’s going a bit nuts with the details and lines, as Gideon’s trench coat (it was the Nineties, so of course he was wearing a trench coat!) is overly wrinkled, and the pipes behind him forming the frame on the bottom and right of the page are extremely detailed. Giffen goes somewhat kooky with Cher Noble’s muscles (they’re not wrinkles, unless everyone in the book is wrinkled like this), inking them very precisely and in an exaggerated manner. Her face is noticeably Giffen-esque – he’s not going overboard on the spot blacks as he did in the previous few years, but the angularity of her face is a Giffen hallmark. Part of the problem with the art on this book is that Giffen goes so bonkers with the details that the storytelling becomes a bit wonky. Gideon is only a torso on this page, as Cher has blown him in half – Gideon sustains horrific injuries quite often in the book, in keeping with its satirical bent – and we don’t see his head (we can see a bit of his spine, though). We do see his ponytail (it was the Nineties, so of course he has a ponytail!) on the left side, and he’s tilted sideways. The thick arm covered in what look like leather belts extending from the coat in the middle of the page is the only appendage we see, and it’s kind of difficult to tell that it’s actually his arm. This is what we can expect from the comic.

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The details again get in the way of storytelling a bit here, unfortunately. I imagine that Giffen was doing this to parody the extreme hatching of someone like Jim Lee, but when the parody overwhelms the story, it becomes too difficult to appreciate either. Giffen helpfully provides a sound effect and an arrow in Panel 1, but it’s tough to see that it’s a car flying onto its side, and it’s not clear why it’s doing so. Gideon is on top of a car steering it – as we see in Panel 2 – but did he turn the car he’s steering into that car in Panel 1, or did Cher do something to it to upend it? The smoke obscures it so much that we can’t see. Cher is chasing Gideon, so we can assume that she somehow knocked the car out of the way, but it’s very unclear. In Panels 2 and 4, we see Gideon’s spine sticking out of his torso, but again, because Giffen makes him so ridiculously huge and gives him that giant trench coat, it’s stranger-looking than it needs to be. Why is there so much smoke, anyway?

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In Panel 1, Giffen gives us a close-up of Cher’s mouth, and it’s a good look at how much detail he goes into on this comic. There’s no reason for it, which is why I think it’s to mock the abundance of lines in most Image artists’ work. Panel 2 is a perfectly fine drawing – it should be chaotic when a truck explodes – but because of Giffen’s strange storytelling, the previous page gives us no indication that the truck is about to crash and explode. In Panel 4, we see Giffen’s sense of humor, both in the “previous panel” arrow and the Big Store Fulla Stuff, which hearkens back to the insane shopping venues in The Heckler.

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Giffen continues to have a twisted sense of humor, as Cher lives on after the truck explodes, but her brain is falling out of her head, so Gideon needs to rip it out of her body. Panel 2 shows us once again almost a parody of Giffen’s faces, as Gideon exhibits some of the tics Giffen uses on his faces, like the larger lower lip, but to such an extreme that it becomes bizarre. In Panel 4, Giffen goes the route that a lot of artists like to go, by using silhouettes to show horrible violence. Even here, his sloppy, scratchy lines keep with the tone of the artwork throughout, and he draws a bone exploding out of Cher’s head just for fun.

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Here’s a chance for Giffen to slow down a bit, as Gideon’s “chassis” needs repairs, and this is when he’s fully fixed up. We can still see that Giffen knows what he’s doing when he doesn’t go crazy, as he leads us across the panels well. He draws Gideon ridiculously, but we expect that, and Panel 4 is nicely done, with the giant brow, the beady eyes, the long, downturned mouth, and the giant chin – Gideon looks like the most EXTREEEEEEEEEME! characters of this time period, and Giffen is obviously having fun with him. The short cross-hatching on his muscles makes him look fuzzy, which is a neat trick.

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Part of what makes Trencher annoying is that Giffen still knows what he’s doing, so we get pages like this, where the choreography works very well, but the overkill on the art, even if it’s part of the plan, makes it difficult to appreciate it. The Hurler – whose vomit is his weapon, yes – tries to kill Gideon, who dives to the left. Giffen leads us from the Hurler in the background toward the foreground, passing by Gideon along the way. Then, in Panel 2, Giffen switches the point of view, puts Gideon in the background as he responds in kind by shooting a giant hole in the Hurler. The juxtaposition between Gideon dodging the vomit and the Hurler not dodging the bullets is almost elegant, and the storytelling is about as clear as it gets in this entire four-issue comic. Giffen goes nuts with the violence in Panel 2, but that’s the point. This is a nice piece of art in the chaos of the rest of the issue.

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I just wanted to show how Giffen depicts Supreme, as I noted that the book takes place in the “Image Universe,” so of course Supreme shows up. Giffen again uses far too many lines to show his ridiculous muscles, and the fact that they’re solid and strong lines makes it sillier. I mean, when his kneecaps stand out like that, you know Giffen is doing this for maximum goofy effect. In many ways, this is a typical superhero drawing. Giffen manages to make it a parody, though, which is neat.

The art on Trencher isn’t terrible, but it does seem like Giffen was trying to mock too much instead of actually making the art comprehensible. Perhaps he was pointing out that the other Image artists didn’t care about comprehensible art too much, so why should he? That seems a bit too petty, however, but maybe it was the point. The art was better than the story, though, so there’s that.

Giffen started to ease back from artwork over the next 15 years or so, as he focused on writing/plotting. He did a lot of independent books, but returned to the Big Two every so often. I don’t own much of his artwork from this time period, so I’m going to jump ahead tomorrow to a very recent comic, when Giffen comes full circle a bit. It’s the final day for his art, and we’ll see what’s what! Or you could remain safe in the archives, where everything is already known!

24 Comments

Pete Woodhouse

April 22, 2014 at 3:49 pm

This is sort of Yellow Submarine meets Brendan McCarthy. Sort of.

But then I thought Giffen during his “Munoz” period had a few McCarthy touches too.

I vividly remember owning this issue in 3rd grade. I have no idea where it came from, but I read the hell out of it. It was so wacky and unlike anything else I had read up to that point.

But I think half the reason I read it over and over again was because I had no idea what the hell was going on. The storytelling was pretty poor, due in no small part to the weird abstraction in the art, the amount of detail, and lack of spot blacks. The shot of Cher with her head blown open and all messed up, for example, confused me – Was she a person? A robot? A cyborg? Even with the coloring the linework just didn’t read well.

I read Trencher for awhile when it came, but I didn’t notice until now the Giffen-by-way-of-Sergio-Aragones feel to the book.

Holy crap, there was a trade of Trencher?!?!?!

Pete: That’s a pretty good description, actually,

Ian: It’s a hard read, I must admit!

RobM: That’s another pretty good description!

Travis: You bet! It came out back when Giffen was doing almost all his work for Boom! – Dominion and the like. He had the rights, so I guess they thought it would be a good idea to publish a trade!

Well, I’m glad it wasn’t just me. Even at the height of my Giffen fandom, I found Trencher tremendously off-putting. Just looking at those pages makes my eyes hurt.

LouReedRichards

April 22, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Yeah same here.

After avoiding it for years I finally succumbed to the dollar bin temptation, bought it and tried reading it. I only got a couple of pages in before I just gave up. Life’s too short. Maybe if there had been even a trace of spotting blacks it might have worked, but probably not.

I had a friend back in the day who claimed to “get it”, like there was a whole lot to “get”.
He was a pretentious kinda guy though…

Jenos Idanian #13

April 22, 2014 at 8:44 pm

I’ve never seen this before, but I had a similar thought to RobM’s — but I took it further. It’s like a blend of Sergio Aragones and Frank Miller’s Ronin style. I’m seeing a LOT of Ronin in that figurework.

Oh you geeks and your elitist attitudes preventing you from enjoying something that doesn’t take itself seriously…

Trencher was just so crazy that it was fucking awesome. It amplified everything Giffen did in Lobo: Infanticide to the nth degree into complete absurdity.
Altho I agree it could be a huge mess to figure out exactly what was going on at times.
The main problem I had with it was the digital lettering’s speech bubbles were often very awkwardly placed and made it difficult to follow the dialogue at times.

Too bad it got canned after only four issues, as it seemed to be building some kind of subplot with a mysterious villain.
The ‘Images Of Shadowhawk’ three-parter that followed was also a lot of ridiculous fun.

That’s a really, really stupid thing to say. I don’t know why people having different taste than you have means you feel like you have to put them down. Must be your elitist attitude.

I wasn’t familiar with this era of Giffen’s work and looking at that first panel made my eyes hurt like something out of DKR as so wine mentioned. But as I was looking at the later panels I saw work that reminds of some of the work in the French magazine, Heavy Metal. There’s even a Möbius look in the later panels.

I didn’t buy this but my friend did. Anything with over-the-top violence and boobs.

I did buy the first six issues of Spawn though… not to mention some Liefeld issues as well back then. So I’m not exactly guiltless when it comes to buying shit from the 90’s.

Geez I even bought four issues of Shi.

It’s no Great Darkness Saga, that’s for sure!

LouReedRichards

April 23, 2014 at 6:01 am

@Iam Fear:

Yeah we hated it because it wasn’t all moody and brooding. That’s why so many of us love his Ambush Bug stuff, because it takes itself SO serious.

It couldn’t be that we didn’t like it because it was a creator we admired working in a style we thought was off putting at best.

@00Gonzo: I get where you’re coming from with the comparisons to Moebius and Heavy Metal. I do think it differs somewhat because Moebius, for all his insane detail work in things like Arzach always had a clarity to his work that is totally absent in the Trencher stuff.

Ricardo Amaral

April 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm

If people didn’t know it was a Giffen book, they would put him as a Brandan McCarthy-genius like. It’s all about perception. Fact is: he clearly knows what he is doing, he is clearly playing with all our notions of what detail is in comics and by being jarring is messing up with us. Yes, it should be seen as a play on the comic book form.

Pete Woodhouse

April 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm

And yes, kudos to those who said it’s a bit Sergio Aragones and Miller’s Ronin; looking it at again I agree.

So it’s Giffen-by-way-of-Sergio-Aragones-Yellow-Submarine-Brendan-McCarthy-and-Miller’s-Ronin ! :)

I realise I’m in the minority but Trencher is one of my favourite Giffen comics ever. And the Blackball Comics special where he fights Simon Bisley’s Blitz The Manic Mandrill is just THE BEST THING.

But yes, fully insane.

Ricardo Amaral

April 23, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Oh, man, thanks for remembering Trencher’s best story with Blitz! We should have more things like that! It’s the punk rock of comic bookdom!

Once again the internet fails to properly convey sarcasm.

My bad.
I suppose I should have put some kind of emoticon at the end of my first sentence so you’d all know it was meant as a joke…

Wow, this is some majorly weird-@$$ stuff by Giffen!!!

It’s obvious that this was a conscious, deliberate decision by Giffen to parody the so-called “Image house style” of the early 1990s, because he did quite a bit of other work on various other titles throughout the 1990s that looked quite different from this. I actually have a page of original artwork that Giffen penciled three years after this, for a New Gods story, and for that he was working much more in the style of his “Five Years Later” Legion stories. Which clearly looks quite different from his work on Trencher. So Giffen clearly can go back & forth to some degree with the look of his work.

That said, the inker on that New Gods story also undoubtedly had a role in how it the finished art looked. I remember when I met Giffen at a comic convention about a dozen years ago, I brought the page along to get autographed. He glanced over it and flat-out stated “I didn’t like the inking on this.” At which point I blurted out, only half-jokingly, “Hey, I paid forty buck for that!” Ah, well, at least Giffen did sign it for me. And knowing his bizarre sense of humor, maybe he was just yanking my chain.

But, anyway, I do agree with Greg Burgas, some of this Trencher stuff doesn’t quite work. But at least you can say that Giffen was very much able to work in a variety of styles, and could tweak his art to reflect the tone of whatever project he happened to be illustrating at a particular time.

@Iam Fear
It isn’t elitist to find the art style to be detrimental to the story. The art makes it extremely difficult to tell what is going on in a panel.

As for amplifying Lobo: Infanticide, I bought Trencher when it came out. It didn’t feel like an amped Lobo. It felt like a poor man’s knock-off of Lobo. Someone filing the off the serial numbers to sell it for quick cash, but doing a worse job of it (again largely due to the art.)

Like “R”, I loved Trencher and I loved the artwork. I’d like an original piece of the OA. If you’ve got one, let me know.

Since R and I are among Trencher’s few fans, I won’t argue with those who don’t like it or can’t stand it. There was nothing like it before or since (including Lobo) and, for me, it rocked.

Woah! I’ve never seen this side of Giffen before. Wild stuff. I can see some kind of Mobius influence here but he has his own thing going strong here. That being said I’m not sure if I like it. Then again it had an impact on me just now so I probably will remember it and grow to like it perhaps.

I agree mostly with Iam Fear. I didn’t like most the Image titles when Image first started, mostly the cheesy art,
but Giffen brought something new with his advent/underground style. It was very inspiring at the time. I mostly liked the way he drew his backgrounds and his gritty buildings.
It would be nice to see what Giffen would do in a similar style today. The use of more solid black ink is a must and of course, do away with that awful digital lettering. Hand lettered speech bubbles would blend much nicer with this style!
Also, at the time Giffen was getting shit for copying José Muñoz style, but later Giffen admitted to being influenced by José Muñoz, but never copying.

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