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interviews archive
Keith Giffen: Vaudeville Ain't Dead Yet!
Interview conducted by Dimitris Sakaridis and Spiros Evangelos Armenis

Edited by Dimitris Sakaridis

Keith Giffen's career in the comics industry has passed through all possible stages: from young punk who gave headaches to his editors, to hot superstar able to sell thousands of books with the power of his name only, to seasoned veteran who knows the world of comics like the back of his hand. One thing remains unchanged, though. Keith Giffen loves comics! He loves making them reading them, talking about them. And this interview proves it.


COMICDOM: What made you decide to work in the comics industry and how easy was it to break in?

KEITH GIFFEN: I pretty much decided I wanted to do comics when I turned 8 years old. How sad is that? As for breaking in... too easy as it turned out. I wasn't ready for the discipline nor the pressure nor... It was a disaster.

COMICDOM: You started out at Marvel, but after a couple of years you moved to DC. What led you to this career change?

KEITH GIFFEN: Marvel threw me out. Disaster, remember?

COMICDOM: You made your name as an artist on LEGION OF SUPER HEROES with Paul Levitz. How did you get the gig?

KEITH GIFFEN: Mike Barr made the offer after I'd proved I wasn't the same jackass who mucked everything up a few years before. Paul was okay with it (with no real reason to be since I'd done him dirt as well) and the rest is history.

COMICDOM: I know you were a LEGION fan since you were a kid. What were your feelings when you first landed the assignment? In the years that followed, did you remain a fan while working on the title, or did you start seeing it as "just a job"?

KEITH GIFFEN: I loved my tenure(s) on the LEGION. I never stopped being a fan during my run(s) and am still a fan today.

COMICDOM: The run you had with Paul on the LEGION is still considered by many people as one of the highlights of the title's history and "The Great Darkness Saga" is arguably one of the most popular superhero storylines of all time. At the time, were you fully aware of the title's popularity and influence?

KEITH GIFFEN: Not really. I didn't care about the book's popularity nor influence back then. All I saw was potential. Lucky for me, Paul did too.

COMICDOM: What was your collaboration with Paul like?

KEITH GIFFEN: Smooth as silk. Paul and I, kind of, fed off of one another; it was a true collaboration in every sense of the word. If I had an odd idea, I knew I could draw it into the book and could count on Paul to run with it. LEGION was a fun book.

COMICDOM: During the early 80's you created one of the most popular cult humor books of all time. I'm talking about AMBUSH BUG, of course. How did you propose the series to DC? Weren't you a little surprised when they agreed to go through with it?

KEITH GIFFEN: I was astonished when they agreed to it. I always ask for something I know I won't get so I can bargain down to what I really want. So, when DC asked what I wanted to follow up LEGION with... I wanted THRILLER. I asked for AMBUSH BUG, fully intending to "settle" for THRILLER. Go figure.

COMICDOM: You also created the OMEGA MEN, a book that is now only a footnote in comics History, but in this book Lobo first appeared. What was your inspiration for the character and why do you think he had so much appeal to the fans?

KEITH GIFFEN: Marv Wolfman created OMEGA MEN. I was just tagged to draw the book. As for Lobo, he was a character I'd had rattling around in my head since 10th grade. My name for him was Lunatic, but that name belonged to Marvel, so Slifer (editor's note: Roger Slifer was the editor of the book) slapped Lobo on him and off we went. Lobo's appeal? I have no idea. Dark wish fulfillment? Bad boy syndrome? Then again, who can resist a good fart joke..?

COMICDOM: Then came the JUSTICE LEAGUE revamp. We've all heard some pretty hilarious stories about how you landed the assignment, with all the Helfer-stalking and what-have-you (Andy Helfer was the editor assigned by DC to revamp JUSTICE LEAGUE). Once again, weren't you at all surprised when they proceeded to publish the book, with its overly humorous, even satirical style, especially during a time when grim 'n' gritty books were all the rage?

KEITH GIFFEN: We thought our careers were over. We never told DC it was going to be humorous. We thought the humor was going to scuttle us big time. Shows how much we know.

COMICDOM: Were you pressured at any time during your JUSTICE LEAGUE run by the powers-that-be to change the mood of the book?

KEITH GIFFEN: On again, off again. Mostly from editorial.

COMICDOM: How did the collaboration with J.M. DeMatteis come about? It seemed as an odd choice at the time, since most of his writing, up to that point, wasn't in the humor vein. At least not in the sense that JUSTICE LEAGUE was - his humor was a bit more... subtle.

KEITH GIFFEN: The initial team up was Andy Helfer's doing. How he got from DeMatteis to Giffen is one of the great mysteries of out time.

COMICDOM: Were there any story ideas you had during your JUSTICE LEAGUE run that were rejected by the editors for being too "far out"?

KEITH GIFFEN: Yes. The JLA wind up in Hell and Beetle and Booster have to play Twister with the Devil for the souls of the JLA. Andy shot it down as "too out there". Two months later, BILL AND TED'S BOGUS ADVENTURE opened...

COMICDOM: Were any characters "off limits" for you to use in the book?

KEITH GIFFEN: Only the popular ones.

COMICDOM: Whose decision was it to kill the funny JUSTICE LEAGUE the first time?

KEITH GIFFEN: J.M. and I had had enough. We left. When we left it was still, somewhat, funny. What happened after... not our business.

COMICDOM: In 1989 you became the man that old LEGION fans loved to hate. I assume the "5 Years Later" idea was yours. What were the initial reactions from editorial when you proposed it?

KEITH GIFFEN: DC was all for it. My reasoning was, I wanted sweeping change in the United Planets status quo but didn't want to screw with Paul's run on the book. I bumped it forward to keep Paul's run untouched. Little did I know...

COMICDOM: What were you shooting for with the new LEGION book? It certainly turned more "mature" (though this word is often misunderstood in comics) and much more dark in tone and theme. After seeing that the early feedback from fans wasn't as positive as you -obviously- hoped for, what went through your mind concerning the future of the title?

KEITH GIFFEN: I don't know that I was shooting for anything specific. I just had stories I wanted to tell and a pretty solid grip on how I wanted to tell them. The fan reaction was, pretty much, split. Hard core traditionalists hated us. The rest of the readership tolerated us. I can live with that.

COMICDOM: A few issues into the run you pretty much changed a large chunk of LEGION continuity, with the whole "Laurel Gand" thing and the way she was written into the History of the book replacing Supergirl. How did you come up with this idea (if it was yours in the first place)?

KEITH GIFFEN: The changes came about due to a mandate forbidding us from including any Superman mythos in LEGION... retroactively. Then it became a scramble to salvage as much LEGION history as we could. We didn't always succeed.

COMICDOM: When someone reads your work, it is pretty obvious that there are two very different sides to the "Keith Giffen as a writer" style. The humorous side that one sees when reading JUSTICE LEAGUE, AMBUSH BUG or the LOBO books and the dark side of LEGION, or the THANOS title you did a couple of years ago for Marvel. How do you manage to balance the two styles?

KEITH GIFFEN: Each project dictates it's own approach. My two favorite genres are horror and humor so, nine times out of ten, one or the other is going to dictate tone.

COMICDOM: There are also two sides to you as a creator. Giffen the artist and Giffen the writer. Which one do you like most?

KEITH GIFFEN: The writer. It's a lot easier typing "CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE" than drawing it.

COMICDOM: Are there any writers or artists you want to collaborate with (as in "really want")?

KEITH GIFFEN: Hell yeah! Ringo (Mike Wieringo), (Amanda) Conner, (Geoff) Johns, (Brian) Bendis... the list goes on and on...

COMICDOM: After FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE and its follow-up in JLA CLASSIFIED, I guess we won't be seeing any more of your "bwa-ha-ha" stories in the near future. Were you at all bitter at the way DC handled the whole thing, with the second limited series being demoted to a storyline in a second tier book, some of "your" characters being killed, maimed, raped, mutilated, whatever and the whole change of pace for the remaining ones (assuming any remain before CRISIS is over)? In short, is DC "out to get you"?

KEITH GIFFEN: No bitterness, no anger. J.M. and I had already decided that "I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League" was our last dance with these particular characters. Oh, and "bwah-ha-ha" is alive and well in the pages of HERO SQUARED and DEFENDERS so vaudeville ain't dead yet. As for DC being out to get me: Only Didio... only my arch foe Dan Didio... (Keith is obviously joking, as it's been announced since this interview took place that he will be working on "52", one of the high profile CRISIS-related stories for next year. And yes, we took our sweet time before publishing this interview - Sorry, Keith...)

COMICDOM: You seem to have found a new bunch of characters to play with, in the new DEFENDERS mini for Marvel. How did you land this book?

KEITH GIFFEN: We pitched and Marvel believed us when we said we'd behave. Actually, Andy Schmidt shepherded this project along. Hey, Andy! GOTCHA!

COMICDOM: Why did you choose this particular set of characters for DEFENDERS and not, let's say, the ones that J.M. worked on during his run, way back then?

KEITH GIFFEN: C'mon... We deserve a crack at some of the big boys too. Okay... Dan Slott had already laid claim to Squirrel Girl and Bendis had Night Nurse wrapped up so we had to make due with what we could scrounge up.

COMICDOM: This is probably a stupid question, but I'll ask anyway (how often does someone have a chance to chat with Keith Giffen?). In the first issue of DEFENDERS, there are "funny comments" below the names of all the people mentioned in the credits, except for Joe Quesada's. Is there any particular reason for this?

KEITH GIFFEN: Joe's connected... If you know what I mean...

COMICDOM: Do you have any other Marvel plans for the foreseeable future?

KEITH GIFFEN: Sure do. DRAX and HOWLING COMMANDOS and a few things I'm not at liberty to divulge just about now. (we're sure that these "not at liberty" things have already been mentioned since this interview took place, but we feel embarrassed enough as it is so we won't check to see what they are)

COMICDOM: Tell us a bit about HERO SQUARED. How did the idea for the book come about and what are your plans for the future?

KEITH GIFFEN: This one came about the usual way. I get the nugget of an idea then call J.M. so he can tell me what it's really about. Our plans for the future include a few more mini-series, a possible ongoing, world dominion and nailing Jenna Jameson. (yeah right... like you people reading this interview don't know who Jenna Jameson is...)

COMICDOM: Give us the background on the deal with Tokyopop for I LUV HALLOWEEN. Did you go to them with the proposal or did they approach you?

KEITH GIFFEN: They approached me with Ben Roman's idea then cut me loose to do the usual amount of damage.

COMICDOM: What comics are you reading these days?

KEITH GIFFEN: Um... Only the ones I've got to for work, sorry to say. Past favorites include DOMU, the first SIN CITY, RONIN, DISTANT SOIL, SAVAGE DRAGON (when I can find it), THRILLER, MARS and a few others that've slipped what's left of my mind.

COMICDOM: Any other hot plans we should know about?

KEITH GIFFEN: Did I mention the Jenna Jameson thing?


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