Keith Giffen 2006 Interview

Park Cooper: You’re clearly a very busy man, what with BOOM as well as the DC/Marvel work…

Keith Giffen: I try to fill the day, yes.

PC: The cover of Jeremiah Harm announces that it’s “From Keith Giffen, the mind behind Marvel’s ANNIHILATION and DC’s 52!” That really interested me for a number of reasons…

KG: A bit of overblown hyperbole there.  The big four are the minds behind 52.

PC: Still, it proudly proclaims “There’s a great MIND behind this comic!” I feel there’s been such emphasis on art in the last 10 years… and on intellectual properties… but this statement says “Isn’t it great to have the WRITER of intellectual properties?!?”

KG: Yeah… Like I did it alone.  I have nothing to do with ad copy and can only guess that Ross, one of the fairest guys I know, was shooting for the biggest recognition response.  Odd that you’d bring that up, because Phil Jimenez and I just had a talk about that.

PC: Yeah, but it really puts the stress on a part of the process that’s deserved… You’re one of the more famous writers in comics, but nonetheless there’s been a feel lately of “Ehnh, writers, I could throw a rock from here and hit three guys who would love to write my comic.”

KG: It’s pretty much a writer’s market out there, after having been an artist’s for so long, and Phil and I both agreed that both sides hold equal weight.

PC: Yes. I don’t mean to imply “Thank goodness the emphasis is back where it belongs!” but that pendulum has just had quite a long swing the other way. I understand that it implies that you did something that was really a group effort, but other than that I think it’s a canny move… it shows the mainstream audience what one point of indie comics can be — “More over here, and it’s entirely new stuff!”

KG: I dunno… I think that “toss a rock, hit passable talent” thing has been around for a while, writer or artist. It’s pretty demeaning…  

PC: Well that’s true. You point out quite well that my comments are very much through my own filter of being a writer myself. I know many artists would tell me the same thing for their side.

KG: …Actually, it’s an attitude that was widespread at both DC and Marvel until not so long ago.

PC: What’s changed that attitude?

KG: I think the fans changed the “warm body” attitude by growing more discerning. If you vote with your dollar, they pay attention.

PC: Anyway… So far I’ve seen Jeremiah Harm and Planetary Brigade… is there more of your work planned for BOOM? I’ve seen about WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! but I admit I don’t know much about it…

KG: Hero Squared is going bi-monthly and Tag is a horror book along the lines of 10… Oh, and we’re doing another What Were They Thinking.

PC: My wife Barbara is passing through the room and commenting on JLA and Matter-Eater Lad… We’re fans of yours, clearly (I hope clearly)…

KG: Tenzil’s a favorite.

PC: What led to your working with BOOM?

KG: Ross was a friend way before Boom!.  I trust him to do right by me and my projects.   Whaddaya know… I was right.

PC: I hate to pitch you such a generic question but I’m truly curious about Boom.

KG: How so?

PC: Do you think Hero Squared, for example, could have found a home in the mainstream, company-wise?

KG: No.  Maybe with Mark Panicia at Marvel… maybe.

PC: So does that quality of the fans having grown more discerning that you mentioned mean indie comics are a better bet?

KG: For edgier fare?  Damn straight!  Plus, depending on the company, you get to own your work.   How radical is that!? Boom! asks for no ownership percentage at all. Guess Ross is satisfied just being a publisher, doesn’t feel the need to be a predator as well.

PC: Ah but is Hero Squared edgy?

KG: Hero Squared is humor.  That’s Kryptonite, for the most part, to DC and Marvel.   Guess that’s edgy to them.

PC: Would you say that superhero-related stuff is on yet another upswing? After movies like Daredevil and Catwoman, I think some people felt that Hollywood wasn’t going to Save superhero Comics like they thought… but the demand seems to be increasing.

KG: Superhero movies are the new Police Academy.

PC: Let’s switch to Planetary Brigade for a moment… why the different artists on issue 1?

KG: I’m tempted to claim we’re so popular we had to share it around but I’m sure the real reason is pretty mundane…

PC: Let’s talk about the changes at DC. What’s the atmosphere over there like right now?

KG: Pretty charged up.  I, personally, agree with the changes Didio has brought about. If you want to effect sweeping change, you’ve got to exert a certain amount of control. That, plus, editors are, like, really fun to abuse. …Watch them take that comment seriously…

PC: Your career has just really shifted… Would you say it was FORMERLY KNOWN AS…? Or something else?

KG: Definitely Formerly Known As… Proved lightning does strike twice.  Not too shabby.

PC: Where were you careerwise… say… in the year 2000?

KG: Storyboards for Batman Beyond. I think… Time is really slippery to me.

PC: Let’s say it’s true. How was that experience for you?

KG: A lot of fun.  I’ve always been a slave to the story and this was the opportunity to indulge in pure visual storytelling, same’s I’m doing in 52.

PC: How far are you on 52 now?

KG: I just finished #14. But just to make it clear– I’m not writing it.  Waid, Morrison, Johns and Rucka are.   I’m storyboarding it so the books will have a consistent storytelling rhythm.

PC: Ahhhhhh… thanks for that clarification.

KG: It’s a living…

PC: My wife Barbara was sad that I didn’t ask you about two of our favorite phrases, the patented Giffen Big Eye Panel and the Giffen 9-Panel Grid. Any comment? 

KG: As for the nine panel grid, I was trying to give the readers more bang for their buck but wound up being castigated for it and called, and I love this, lazy.

As for the big eye panel, that just… happened.  I’m sure tight deadlines and inherent sloth had more than a little to do with it.

PC: How did you sell FORMERLY KNOWN to DC, anyway? Or rather, sell them on it?

KG: I didn’t.  Dan Raspler nagged me into doing it, then a pal of mine, Spencer Beck, convinced me that it would be a good move.

PC: Guess they were right.

KG: Guess so.

PC: Could you talk a little about Marvel and Annihilation?

KG: What you want to know?

PC: Well, one thing that interests me — and about DC, too… is… How do you keep it all straight? As far as who’s dead and who isn’t, and what might interfere with storylines in the books themselves…? You’re storyboarding 52 so that’s not exactly your problem… but I know the stuff with Beetle and Max and Sue and… oh, Guy, say… must be mind-blowing. At the time, anyway.

KG: It’s not all that hard.  The projects, aside from being, so called, event projects, have very little in common. Sue?   Beetle?  Guy?  Past history.  I think the fans took it all harder than I did. JMS and I were done with the JLA.   We were never going back so…

PC: The fans do take it hard, and extremely seriously. Do you find your interaction with fans is increasing, or is it just a steady flow that’s never really changed much?

KG: Online it’s definitely increasing… otherwise?  Pretty much the same.   I’ve always been kinda approachable… Unless you’re a dink…

PC: A colleague of mine is one of the world’s greatest Guy fans… got a comment about writing and using Guy?

KG: Guy said all of he things we all think. That made him fun.

PC: Are you going to San Diego Con, Chicago, any cons this year?

KG: Dunno.  Depends on who sends me where to pimp what.

PC: Part of me wonders if you’ll have the time…

KG: I still take weekends off.

PC: Let’s give another example of your schedule… what do you plan to work on tomorrow?

KG: Silver Surfer #3, Annihilation #1, a few more pages for Ben Roman and there’s that last level of Half-Life 2.

PC: Do you ever go into comic book shops these days? Or do the comics pretty much come to you? Or do you read comics much outside of what you need to read for the sake of work?

KG: I’ll wander into comicbook shops, sure.  Kinda cool because few people know what I look like. But read comics!?   Nuh-uh.  I spend all day with comics; once I’m off it’s bourbon and porn.

PC: I’m going to mention some stuff in your past, and you just give me little comments, if you would… Vext.

KG: Vext… anytime, anywhere and I know McKone feels the same.

PC: The _Lovecraft_ GN I read.

KG: That was Han’s baby.  I just tweaked it.

PC: Lobo.

KG: Never again.  It’s Morrison’s turn.

PC: Heckler.

KG: Heckler was a tribute to my personal hero, Bugs Bunny.  I’m over it.

PC: Freak Force.

KG: Erik’s a lot more fun to work with than people think.

PC: I can imagine the answer, but I’ll toss this one in for the fans, who will cheer like Sullivan announcing The Beatles… Ambush Bug.

KG: 52.  Really.

PC: Gotta say, didn’t expect that.

KG: Me neither but the big 4 insisted.

PC: And you just guaranteed that some people who wouldn’t otherwise will at least take a look at 52.

KG: 52 is the comicbook that, were I not involved, I’d buy. Okay… steal from an editor’s desk…

PC: PunX.

KG: Punx?  Fun while it lasted.

PC: And finally, A Park and Barb fave… The March Hare.

KG: Deader than dirt.  Sorry.

PC: Heh… Oh I know. I’m just like Bill McNeil on NewsRadio… “Good times… good times…”

KG: At least you didn’t bring up Hex.

PC: It occurred to me but I thought I’d leave it… Back to the present… Got a comment on the demise of Speakeasy?

KG: Speakeasy?  How about…”comics ain’t easy.”

PC: Intentional Big Daddy Kane reference?

KG: Yup.

PC: Thought so. Popular culture rewards me again.

KG: Frightening, isn’t it?

PC: Hey, it can bring people together, of all races, creeds, company loyalties…

KG: As long as we leave out the Mohammed jokes?

PC: Well yes, actually. That’s mind-blowing on one level… on the other… hey, I learned about Thomas Nast in school. Maybe it’s not so surprising.

KG: Collen Doran brought a Danish flag to NYCC and had the talent sign it as a show of solidarity.  All did.

PC: Do you watch TV? Jon Stuart, say?

KG: Daily Show?  Hell yes.  Colbert Report’s a must see.

PC: Yes, the W0rd, etc.

KG: I’m not a big TV guy but those shows are great.

PC: Barb was saying something about Matter-Eater-Lad and politics… you struck me as rather political somehow…

KG: Reactionary. I thought I might be Libertarian but found them too restrictive. My ex-therapist, before asking me not to come back, called me a “gleeful nihilist”.

PC: Okay… we’ve been doing this for a while. Let’s wrap this up… Last few questions. Do you feel that the GN will ever replace the magazine format?

KG: God, I hope so.  I think manga format’s more likely.

PC: I saw that you, too, are working on something with TokyoPop.

KG: I Luv Halloween.  Second just came out.  Oh, and I helped adapt Battle Royale.

PC: I thought I read about something else with TP, though… But first tell me about working on those two.

KG: Battle Royale’s about as near as I’m ever going to come to violence porn… interesting up to a point.  I respect its wanton savagery. I Luv Haloween is a tasteless romp freed of censorship. Kind of… Peanuts on absinthe.  Not my line, but it fits.

PC: I can get BR from my local public library system. And I was just… I respect BR for what it is… but have no grown-ups noticed that this is just sitting here on a shelf? My god, what if one of them picked it up and flipped through it? But then I’m in Texas. I need to get over my thinking on things like that. What would probably happen is either nothing, or else the library would remove it and sell it to Half-Price Books. It’s not like a library is as fun for a censorious-minded citizen to get into trouble as those dirty filthy comic book shops (I am speaking sardonically. I’m clearly working through some Texas/CBLDF issues.)

KG: It’s labeled 18+ for good reason.  This is the 15 volume manga we’re talking here. Murder and rape are the least of it. I called and asked to speak with TP lawyers twice. I had to be sure that the content wasn’t breaking any laws.   Really.

PC: What’s the first comic you can clearly remember reading?

KG: An issue of World’s Finest.  The one where Batwoman gets Superman’s powers and fights a green monster wearing Mickey Mouse gloves. A fan actually gave me the issue last year.

PC: Is the comics industry “in trouble”? If so, what does that mean? If not, why not?

KG: Define “in trouble”. If you’re talking sales.. they’re creeping up. Content?  We’re in trouble.

PC: Why?

KG: It’s all the same!  Superheroes or poorly crafted autobiographical craperoo or self-indulgent wank fests.

PC: I know, just wanted you to say it for me.

KG: I use the subway test. Would you read it on the subway? Would your friend who’s not a fan care? We’ve got to become mass market and if that means alienating the hardcore fan base… Actually… there’d always be a place for them.   It just wouldn’t be the ONLY place.

PC: There was a time when comics was what one could call a “collectors’ market,” meaning that sales increased or at least didn’t drop so much because people felt these things were like baseball cards, that they could be worth something someday. Is comics still a collector’s market? If not, what would you call it?

KG: A restricted private club.

PC: And THAT’s the note I want to end on. G’night everybody.