18th Oct2023

A Memoriam In Four Colours: Keith Giffen

by Ian Wells

Last week sadly and rather suddenly we lost the great Keith Giffen. There will only ever be one Keith Giffen. He was a creator who as writer and artist has left behind a legacy of amazing comics. He had runs on comics, that are legendary. Runs that inspired the next generation. Runs that reinvented the wheel. Runs that defined characters and still define them today across all media. Runs that included the creation of some of comics greatest and most loved characters. So as Keith pulls his chair up to the great drawing board in the sky we look back on the man behind this outstanding career.

I have to confess I haven’t really read much of Giffen’s work. It is a shame that his passing sees me wanting to rectify the situation. However it does speak volumes about the legacy of work he leaves behind, that I know all the cornerstones of it even if I haven’t sampled it first hand. There are only a handful of creators that this could apply to and he is among some great names in that regard. To be recognised and respected as a creator who entertains and inspires for both writing and pencilling rightfully sees him take his place in the pantheon of greatness.

It all began for Keith Giffen in the heartland of comics, as he was born in Queens, New York. Giffen is greatly associated with his work at DC, but it all began for him in 1976 at Marvel with a story in Marvel Preview #4 with Bill Mantlo. Three issues later, again with Mantlo he co-created Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is now a household name after being the lynchpin to an amazing movie trilogy. As ever in death the bitter taste of royalties always comes up, but I would at least like to think he could take some joy seeing Rocket reach his popularity on the big screen regardless. In fact, Giffen looms large over the fate of The Guardians of The Galaxy and cosmic Marvel on the comics page. In 2006 he began work on Annihilation and its sequel Annihilation: Conquest. These two stories as well as works on Thanos, Drax The Destroyer, Star-Lord and Silver Surfer breathed new life into a corner of the Marvel Universe long left dormant. This theme of reinvention is something that has occurred throughout his career with great regularity. Among his earliest DC work were short runs on both All-Star Comics #60-#63 and Claw The Unconquered #8-#12 both in 1976. Legion of Superheroes represents Giffen’s biggest body of work at DC. Whether sitting at the typewriter or picking up the art tools he worked on over 200 issues, making them the epicentre of DC Comics. There was a time when fans were defined by being a Legionnaire or an X-Men fan. In 1987 he created Justice League International with J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire. It was here that he first injected his brand of humour into a mainstream comic. This led to the spin-off Justice League Europe. These run for 60 and 35 issues respectively, as I said Giffen was no stranger to long stays on titles. Later for DC he provided layouts for the weekly series 52 and his DC tenure would continue into the modern era with work on the New 52 continuity on titles such as OMAC and Green Arrow. Despite working on all of DC’s heavy hitters in one form or another perhaps he is remembered more fondly by fans and those he inspired for his more offbeat creations: Ambush Bug, Omega Men and the baddest of the bad Lobo lead the way in these unique stories (or my personal fave, the short-lived The Heckler – Editor Phil)

So that covers his big two work but it is crazy to think there is a generation of fans and future creators whose first exposure to Keith Giffen’s work is via Image Comics. The Image Seven more than likely count Giffen as an influence, either as a writer or artist. To have him join their ranks was a landmark moment and vice versa. Image was the talk of the town in 1993 so it was ripe for him to come along and capture a whole new audience. And again it showcased a reinvention. As an artist he went through phases influenced by Kirby, Perez and long-time collaborator Maguire. But no Image book at the time, or no Image book since looks like Trencher. It also represents the first time he wrote a whole comic on his own. It is the one work of his I want to seek out the most. Giffen had a career that spanned the changes of the tides, he rode those waves reinventing himself and his characters time and again to critical and fan adulation. What stands out is that even though it was a career dominated by work at the Big Two it was often on secondary or tertiary-tier characters. Taking an opportunity to push them to push them to new levels of popularity within fandom. In passing his work lives on, no doubt being enjoyed and inspiring the next generation. My thoughts at this time are with his family and friends.

Keith Giffen RIP
30th November 1952 – October 9th 2023


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