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