Keith Giffen Interview
Interviewed by Jon B. Cooke,
Kirby Collector #29
Transcribed by Eric Nolen-Weathington
Keith Giffen entered the field of comics at Marvel in the '70s with
a very Kirbyesque style. He became a fan-favorite for his work on Marvel's
Defenders (inked by Mike Royer) and DC's Legion of Super-Heroes and Justice
League, and went on to create such characters as Ambush Bug, Lobo, The Heckler,
and Trencher. This interview was conducted by phone in February 2000.
Great Darkseid! Giffen's take on the evil one from Legion of Super-Heroes #294.
Darkseid ™ & © DC Comics.
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: Just to get some background, you're from
KEITH GIFFEN: Yeah, born and bred. I was born back in '52 in Queens,
New York, and my first year my parents moved to New Jersey. Although there was
one distinction from Queens, NY, and that is the first person who ever held
me besides my parents and various doctors was our downstairs neighbor, Whitey
Ford. He wasn't making money hand over fist way back then. [laughs]
TJKC: [laughs] When do you remember your first exposure to comics?
KEITH: I remember exactly. My mother used to do tailoring work, sewing
work for neighbors and friends. She was really handy and capable of cobbling
things together out of patterns. So a lot of the women in the neighborhood would
go over there and pay her to do what they couldn't do. And there was this
one woman who worked at one of these—I don't know what they're
called, but they were these big paper plants where all of the comics came with
the titles torn off to be destroyed. And she would just scoop handfuls up and
bring them to my mother, and she would pass them on to me. The first comic book
I remember, and a fan was kind enough to send me a copy so I've actually
got it—I don't remember the number, but it was a World's Finest
issue. It was when Batwoman got Superman's powers. All I could remember
about it for years was that it had this big green monster with Mickey Mouse
gloves on the cover and Batwoman zooming down. That was my first exposure to
comics. That really stood out among the Archies and the various others. From
there it was an easy slide to the Fin Fang Foom and the Goom, Son of Goomba
books, which are probably my first exposure to Jack Kirby before I knew who
TJKC: Were you attracted to Jack's work? Was there something in
KEITH: There was something in it that fascinated me. I don't know
if I'd say 'attracted' back then.
TJKC: Repelled? [laughs]
KEITH: No, no, no. I suppose a perverse fascination. It didn't look
like anything else that was out there. During my early comic book collector
days I was a much bigger fan of Gene Colan than of Jack. Jack was something
that grew on me, like a taste for martinis. It was only after I began I realized
all the work he had done and all the memories I had that were locked into him
that I began to understand how important he was. But it was a gradual process.
I was a stupid kid.
TJKC: Were you into Gene Colan when he was over at Marvel or when he
was doing his DC war work?
KEITH: No, when he was over at Marvel, when he took over Iron Man. Actually
my first real solid exposure to him was when Giant-Man, who was my all-time
favorite Marvel character, was thrown out of Tales to Astonish and Sub-Mariner
TJKC: And this Adam Austin artist shows up?
KEITH: Yeah, the Adam Austin stuff. And then Iron Man finally led to
Daredevil. But there were always Jack Kirby books. There was always the FF,
there was always Thor or Tales of Suspense or some older comics I was always
digging out that had the titles torn off. I probably had most of the early FF.
It's just that none of them had the top half of the cover. [laughs] Very
TJKC: [laughs] You knew the title of the book though, right?
KEITH: Absolutely, absolutely. They were wonderful, wonderful books back
TJKC: You were an avid Marvel collector?
KEITH: No. I was an avid comic book collector. I tend to go after what
I like. For a while there it was almost purely Marvel, because only Marvel was
doing anything that was sparking my imagination and getting my attention. There
were things—you know, the Neal Adams Deadman stuff, Nick Cardy's Bat
Lash. So there was some DC stuff, but for the most part it was Marvel. I loved
the Tower books, as well. Whatever sparked my interest. The first four or five
issues of Creepy.
TJKC: When did you start drawing?
KEITH: When I was eight years old, I decided I wanted to draw these strange
TJKC: And did you draw your own comic books?
KEITH: Oh, yeah, yeah. All sorts of odd little characters that I would
farm around to friends and they'd read them and think what an odd friend
we have. [laughter] Miserable, wretched little things. I've heard Erik
Larsen, before he had the fire, held onto everything he did dating back to maybe
the first time he held pencil to paper. But I still don't do that to this
TJKC: You don't save anything?
KEITH: No. Because I put it down and I loathe it. [laughter] And it takes
me a long time to make peace with something I've drawn. A long time.
TJKC: Do you recall any of the names of the characters? Anything you
want mentioned for posterity?
KEITH: Oh, boy. No, the only one I can remember was when I was in tenth
grade goofing around with a character called Lobo who I finally did something
with later down the line. Although, I didn't call him Lobo. I called him
Lunatik with a "k." And then Marvel got the name and at Marvel I went
back and revisited the character. But other than that, no, I can't remember.
Probably, these bizarre little things like a rip-off on the Sub-Mariner called
Finman. I really have no memory, but then if you asked me what I was working
on last week I'd probably have to refer to notes. [laughs]
TJKC: Did you specifically want to be a comic book artist?
KEITH: Yes. Specifically comic book artist. I had no interest in advertising
or any of that. It was always geared toward doing comic book work.
TJKC: Were you known in school as being the artist?
KEITH: No, no, no. I was just this odd kid. I cut so close to nerd that
it really didn't matter.
TJKC: [laughs] And when did you start developing a portfolio?
KEITH: I didn't. I broke into comics by doing everything wrong.
I was working as a hazardous material handler and I took a week off and said,
"Hey I think I'll break into comics." So I just drew up a bunch
of pictures and slapped them together. I figured, let me call up the companies
and find out how you do this. I didn't want to start at the top. I wanted
to start at the bottom. I didn't want Marvel, I didn't want Charlton.
Atlas was publishing then. So I called up Atlas and the woman was so positive
on the phone. "Oh, yes. Bring you portfolio. Absolutely. We'll take
a look at it. Blah, blah, blah. However, we're going out of business next
week." [laughs] I said, "That's interesting," and after
I hung up the phone with her I thought maybe I should just take the bit in my
teeth and start at the top and get turned down all the way down. Just wind up
someplace. Back then the top was Marvel. So I call up Marvel. I don't know
who the secretary was then, but it was not the most positive—"yeah,
um, bring your portfolio in and they'll look at it and you can pick it
up tomorrow." I was stupid enough. I go into New York and drop off the
portfolio and I go home. Next day I figure I'll go get it and I thought,
"No that's not a good idea." So I let a day go by and rather
than just go get it, I called. And the woman said, "Get in here now."
So I go in and she's yelling at me, she's really pissed off at me.
It took a while for it to sink in that apparently Ed Hannigan—prior commitments
had forced him off this back-up strip in a b-&-w magazine called The Sword
and the Star. And Bill Mantlo, who was the writer, happened to see my samples
laying around and said, "I like him; why don't we get this guy?"
And they couldn't contact me, because like the genius I am, I had dropped
off my portfolio with my name on it and that's it. No phone number, no
address, no way to contact me. So they needed me yesterday and that's pretty
much how I got my start in comics.
TJKC: Was it a play off of King Arthur?
KEITH: No, it was a play off The Odyssey. The one I did appeared in whatever
the Marvel b-&-w premiere-type magazine was. Marvel Preview or something.
It featured Satanna on the cover.
TJKC: Did you start getting steady work from then on?
KEITH: Hell no. I was horrible. I didn't get steady work at all.
I bounced around and eventually went over to DC where they wanted to give me
steady work, but I was so stupid I blew myself out of the business. They had
me working with Wally Wood and I didn't see the benefit of that. Talk about
idiot. [laughs] And so I left and bounced around with odd jobs. I sold Kirby
vacuum cleaners door-to-door, repossessed things. Then one day I just thought,
"I'm doodling these things on my own; I think I've gotten a little
bit better." So I called Joe Orlando, because I had screwed him over pretty
bad and I thought at least I owe Joe hanging up on me—I owe him that much.
He said, "Come on in. You've been an asshole, we're going to
put you on probation, but you're going to learn this time. We'll put
you on the Ghost books." And I gradually worked my way up until I landed
Kirby's pencils for the cover of Avengers #153.
Characters ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
TJKC: The first time I recall seeing your work was on something called
KEITH: That was my second or third thing that got published. Horrible,
wasn't it? The costume—Klaus Janson saved that job. Trust me. God
bless you, Klaus.
TJKC: Were you involved in the creation of that strip?
KEITH: That was Bill Mantlo's. It came to me full blown. My early
_creative stuff was "Rocket Raccoon." It appeared in Sword and the
Star. Just a throwaway character we dropped in there. And I helped a little
bit on "Jack of Hearts," even though that was three-quarters pulled
together by the time I did my few bouts with the b-&-w "White Tiger"/Deadly
Hands of Kung-Fu thing.
TJKC: So you obviously worked closely with Mantlo for quite a while.
TJKC: When you started recognizing the qualities of Jack's work,
did your portfolio reflect that?
KEITH: No, my artwork did. Very early, I was very Kirby. I was more Kirby
than early Barry Smith. But I was Kirby overlay. In other words, I understood
that he used weird linework and squiggles and lots of black, but I didn't
understand any of the underpinning structure. It was an absolute mess. To me
it was just proof that after years and years, Jack could make it look real easy.
And anybody who thinks he doesn't know anatomy, he doesn't know this
or that—you give it a shot. He knew just where those lines belonged.
TJKC: Did you have an opportunity to meet him?
KEITH: Once. DC brought me on board to do the turn-arounds for the design
of the New Gods toys for the Kenner Super Powers line. It was Darkseid, Parademon,
Mantis, Kalibak, and all. Jack was up at the office that time. They said, "Here,
you'll meet Jack." I had done a couple of samples of them, and it
was really interesting because he's sitting there looking at it and he
said, "These are going to do just fine"—thanking me, which kind
of startled me. And, of course, he drags out this huge, huge sheet with this
panorama of the New Gods characters in the tightest, tightest pencils. It must
have been a very, very early design sheet, because Darkseid's headgear
was the same headgear I used in the Legion of Super-Heroes when I did "The
Quiet Darkness." Everyone thinks, "Oh no, he put a hairnet on him."
Nope. I remembered that from that early picture. I figure I dredged that up
out of memory. So, yeah, I met Jack and we had a couple of words once. He ranks
right up there with Curt Swan, Ernie Colon, and Gil Kane as one of the true
gentlemen in the business.
TJKC: How do you look back on it now? You obviously had an enormous
Kirby influence in your work. Did you feel you might have been losing something
of yourself in that?
KEITH: Maybe, but I didn't care. If I could become a fraction of
what Jack was then I'd still be better than ninety percent of the people
around. I don't think I ever attained that, by the way. But in terms of
Jack's influence, I don't regret it at all. As a matter of fact, I
think I'd be much poorer without it, and given the chance to do it again,
I'd do it the exactly the same.
TJKC: Did you study his work pretty closely?
KEITH: Oh, no. I had a bad incident with studying somebody's work
very closely at one point and I resolved never, ever to do it again. I can get
so immersed in somebody's work that I start turning into a Xerox machine
and it's not good. Although, I will tell you, I could sit down and draw
Kirby-style without even thinking about it. It didn't take much of a mental
switchover. To me he's the dominant comic book figure. As far as I'm
concerned, all roads lead back to Jack. That's why I love this Kirby Collector
thing, 'cause now I'm seeing it pure without someone else's interpretation
on top. And I'm sorry, it doesn't matter how religious Mike Royer
or any of the inkers ink him, something's missing. It's like it's
been muffled a little bit.
TJKC: It's the pencils, right?
KEITH: God, yeah.
TJKC: Especially when you were working on the Defenders, for instance,
were you looking to harken back to a certain period of Jack's work?
KEITH: No, I was ripping-off Jack.
TJKC: There seems to be this fascination with the early Avengers kind
of style when he was particularly rushed. Some of your material seems to harken
back to that, particularly your depiction of the Hulk.
KEITH: Probably, yeah. I would say that, but I wouldn't say that
it was a harkening back to a particular phase of Jack's career. It was
just the kind of inking that was laid on top of it; it was the easiest stuff
to reference. It was the lazy artist approach of, "Well, this issue of
the Paul Reinman-inked FF is a heck of a lot easier to get into and look for
little things than the Galactus Trilogy." That was intimidating.
TJKC: [laughs] That's funny, a lot of artists seem to harken back
to that time. Walt Simonson did a Rampaging Hulk magazine for a while.
KEITH: Bruce Timm did Avengers and it was glorious. Brought me right
back. My God, I could practically smell the inside of the sweet shop I used
to buy my comic books at. Hear that stupid rack squeaking around.
TJKC: And that was the most rushed time, the most prolific time of Jack's
career. He would do these really rushed breakdowns, and Reinman would go over
them, and Roussos would go over them and really bat them out quickly. And yet
it seems to be a romanticized time for a lot of people.
KEITH: I think it just shows Jack's power. The power of Jack's
work in that even though they were just rushed breakdowns by probably not the
best inkers to be over his work, he still came through and it was still unmistakably
TJKC: Did working on team books bother you?
KEITH: No, no. The books I worked on were books that at that point I
was really interested in. As a matter of fact, I still have a soft spot in my
heart for Legion of Super-Heroes and you can't get a much bigger team book
TJKC: Right. [laughs] A huge one. As far as your first regular series,
The Defenders was it?
KEITH: Um-hmm. First regular series. I think I made a "balls-up"
with it. Everyone talks about "Marvel didn't treat me good when I
broke in." Well, I didn't treat Marvel good.
TJKC: How so?
KEITH: Never on time, full of excuses. Just an asshole kid off the street
who thought he knew it all and didn't know anything.
TJKC: And after Defenders?
KEITH: I had to leave the industry for a while. I had to get slapped
down. I had to lick the bottom of the cistern before I could pull myself back
up and say, "Maybe guys like Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert, and Joe
Orlando, and Paul Levitz, and Ernie Colon, and maybe these people, have a point."
A two-page spread from Defenders #50 by Giffen. Inks by Mike Royer.
Characters ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
TJKC: You had to go out and get a sense of discipline?
KEITH: I had to get beat-up first. I had to get beat-up to realize how
lucky I'd been to get in first crack, right out of the box. I made myself
pay the dues that everyone talks about.
TJKC: And then you went over to the Legion? You got back in, like you
said, with Joe Orlando's help?
KEITH: I got back with Joe Orlando's help and did some "Dr.
Fate" back-ups. It seemed to impress people enough that I was offered the
job of doing back-ups on the Legion. Which I never thought I'd do, because
I had really done Paul bad. When I was offered it with Mike Barr, I sat down
with Paul and we cleared the air. It's really to Paul's benefit. He
really put it behind him and said, "Let's see what we can do on this.
I'm bringing Darkseid into the mix, are you interested?" And that
just sold me.
TJKC: On the Dr. Fate material, did you choose Larry [Mahlsted] to work
with or was he assigned to you?
KEITH: Everyone was assigned to me. It wasn't until the books really
started selling that I could make a little noise about preferred inkers, but
even then I could be overridden.
TJKC: But you and Larry worked together for a period of time, right?
KEITH: Yeah, yeah. I still like the way Larry's stuff looks. I'd
still work with him again.
TJKC: Were most of your inkers pretty faithful to your pencils?
KEITH: Ninety percent, yes. I pencil anal-retentively. For a while there
I was even drawing in outer space and erasing out the stars.
TJKC: When you and Paul were doing Legion, didn't it regain a resurgence
KEITH: Yeah, it did. To this day I don't know what button we pressed,
but the book was doing real well. Even after we were done with "The Great
Darkness Saga," which probably helped jack the book up and draw attention
to it, I think Paul and I both agree that every issue after that we were playing
"Can you top that?" But I don't think we ever did.
TJKC: You didn't stay that long after that—or did you?
KEITH: I did for a while after that. What happened was I did this Legion
poster, characters all over the place. And in drawing that Legion poster I totally
burned myself out on the book. After the poster I just had to walk away.
TJKC: Really? And from there you went to Ambush Bug?
KEITH: Then it was just Ambush Bug and picking up assignments. They'd
come to me and say, "Does this interest you, does this interest you?"
Ambush Bug was one I specifically asked for and any book that I sort of cobbled
together I would specifically ask for. Even Justice League was offered to me.
Although, for three years before Justice League was finally cancelled, before
the Crisis came and they started it again, for three years I would go into Andy
Helfer's office at regular intervals and say, "Give me the book."
It became a running gag, and I never expected they would until one day he called
TJKC: How long did you have JLA?
KEITH: Sixty issues, plus the equivalent amounts of Justice League Europes
on the other side. I think it might have started a year or two after that. That
was fun. I enjoyed doing it, but it reached a point where—not that there
were no more Justice League stories to tell, but there were no more Justice
League stories I wanted to tell.
TJKC: Were you primarily a writer at that point?
KEITH: Plotter. What I would do is I would draw it out like Harvey Kurtzman
used to draw out his little war stories. And then Marc DeMatteis would come
in and turn my little notes into English, basically.
TJKC: So you did breakdowns and MacGuire finished those?
KEITH: Yeah, I would sketch a little comic book on typewriter paper and
that would be the plot that he'd be given. This way if he saw a better
way of working it in terms of storytelling he could do that, but if he was rushed
the storytelling was all layed-out for him.
TJKC: Did you choose him?
KEITH: Andy Helfer discovered him. As I said, these people were assigned
to me. Bart Sears was designing the C.O.P.s toys and Andy found him and he was
brought on board real fast to save Invasion. People say he's a deadline
problem, but back then he was the deadline savior. He wound up on Justice League
Europe, and everyone had fun with these books until we all decided to bow out.
TJKC: There was this specific instance I recall—I think it was
also in the Art of Jack Kirby, about Scott Free being buried. There was a priest
or somebody presiding over a funeral.
KEITH: Oh, yeah. It was Jack.
TJKC: Was that your specific instruction?
KEITH: No, that was Adam Hughes. As a matter of fact, in the crowd was
one of his Marvel characters, as well. Unfortunately, Marvel being Marvel and
DC being DC, it couldn't be done. Most of the time I was plotting the books
with very few exceptions. I left the visual interpretation and any little inside
gags up to the individual artist. Adam Hughes tended to like to do that; putting
Jack there or putting his friends in. Mike McKone did it one time. He drew myself,
Andy Helfer, and Kevin Dooley as bank robbers. It wouldn't have bothered
me so much, but they were such dead-bang drawings. I never met the guy, but
they were dead on. It was funny, I never realized how lucky I was in that so
many people who fell onto books with me were good, solid professionals. They
really made me look good.
TJKC: Did you feel you were getting trapped doing the Kirby point of
view? Did you want to start stretching yourself after a period of time?
KEITH: Yeah. It was a deliberate attempt to try to keep myself interested;
try to do different things, try to find a way of reinventing yourself to stay
fresh. As it turned out, I found that much easier to do in the writing phase
than in the drawing phase. The latter part of my comic book work, it was mostly
writing and breaking it down.
TJKC: Why was it difficult with the art?
KEITH: I don't know. Maybe it was the time spent on each page. I
tend to want to move on. When I was plotting, the average issue of Justice League
took me a day to do. When I was writing things I could usually take two or three
days and write a full script. The actual artwork itself—I was just spending
too much time. My mind would wander off. This is not early on like with Legion,
this is later on. I would start losing interest halfway through the story—or
worse, get halfway through the series I promised I'd do. Plus, in terms
of the last five years or so, the comic book industry has evolved into something...
let me put it this way. I love the artform. Comic books themselves, I love.
But I hate the industry that's grown up around it. I hate what the industry
has evolved into. I think the primary purpose of the comic book industry right
now is screwing kids out of their allowance.
TJKC: Doing different variants?
KEITH: Yeah, wasn't that a horrible time? That was where we took
our core market and pretty much told him to go to hell. I was always screaming,
"The bubble's going to burst," and I got people pissed off at
me because I started telling kids the truth about polybags. That was the beginning
of the end for me.
TJKC: Around that same time you returned to some degree to your Kirby
roots with Victory, right?
KEITH: Yes. To be honest with you, it was more the chance to work with
Kurt Busiek, than to play around with the Victory characters. Although there
was a certain fascination there to play around in a universe that Jack hadn't
even played around in. I think it's interesting; flawed, but interesting.
Unfortunately, it didn't go past one issue and that's my fault, too.
When the sales figures came in I said I'm not doing number two, because
I don't think you should publish it. Had that book continued I would have
been getting paid by a company that was in the red on that book. It was like
The Heckler over at DC. I took a look at the sales figures and I walked in to
Mike Carlin and said. "Let's make number six the last issue, because
this book isn't selling well enough to continue." Back then I had
an attitude—and a whole lot of other people did, too—that's pretty
much gone now. The idea that the freelancer and the company were in this odd,
mutually beneficial symbiotic dance, and as long as it stayed mutually beneficial,
everything was going to be fine. If I'm under contract with DC, it's
in my best interest to see that DC is healthy and providing me with work. That's
gone right now. Now it's give me what I want when I want, and a big royalty
bag, and screw you. The journeyman is dead. It's funny, Paul predicted
that ten years ago and I thought he was pulling my leg; but apparently, no.
The cover of Defenders #42. Pencils by Kirby.
Characters ™ & © Marvel Characters, Inc.
TJKC: Just backtracking a little bit, there was a controversy with Ambush
Bug with Munoz?
KEITH: Yeah, yeah. I didn't even know what I had at that point.
A friend of mine who shall remain nameless, because I don't want him dragged
into this, showed me a whole bunch of xeroxed pages of this Munoz artwork. I
was flabbergasted. I think for about a month I couldn't work. All I could
do was study this guy's work; poring over it and poring over it, until
the point I practically became that work, and I stepped over a line. I fully
admit that—not for any of the reasons they claimed I did. There was no
time I was sitting there tracing or copying, no. Duplicating, pulling out of
memory and putting down on paper after intense study, absolutely. Did Munoz
wrong? Mm-hmm, sure did. I guess they could have a nice little article on how
you get so fixated on something and so obsessed by it that you can actually
do somebody that you're a big fan of wrong. The odd thing was the end result
of the whole thing. I got Justice League and then my career really took off.
So I don't know how that works. [laughter] I'm not kidding. I was
so gun shy at that point about putting pencil to paper. I moved into the plotting
and the breaking down and telling the story, which I always thought was my strong
point anyway. I think I tell a story really well visually. I went into that
for a couple of years and the art didn't seem to matter much anymore, until
Trencher came along, which was an experiment in not penciling.
TJKC: Going straight to ink?
KEITH: Yeah. Taking a zipograph and drawing his glasses and go!
TJKC: [laughs] Do you feel that you've come as close with that
book to your own personal style?
KEITH: I think Trencher was the closest. It was me spontaneously—not
looking at anyone, not referencing anyone, not with anyone in the back of my
mind. Just putting it down on paper. Had it survived, more and more blacks would
have bled in. I just broke it down to linework at first. Had it continued, God
knows what would have happened. It might've been really interesting to
see where that might've gone. It wasn't meant to be, I guess.
TJKC: Did you feel liberated when you were doing it?
KEITH: Did I ever. Putting aside the tight pencils—and if the line
wasn't right just go over it again—it was very Bleckman. He uses those
squiggly lines, that kind of approach. That window is on a forty-five degree
angle and that window is on a thirty degree angle. Cool! [laughter] That was
a lot of fun. It grew out of "Infanticide," the Lobo "Infanticide"
issues. I started moving in that direction, then with the Trencher book I figured,
"Let me just push it all the way"; my version of the "big foot"
art that seems to be so popular.
TJKC: With Lobo and Ambush Bug, did you see that comics needed a good
kick in the pants with humor?
KEITH: I still think it does. I was told by an editor up at DC that humor
is all genre in comic books. I could have hit him. [laughter] Comic books, for
such a small, incestuous, inbred, little business—and I mean that in a
good way—we take this job so seriously. All the time I was doing Justice
League, even when it was number one and outselling everything DC had, there
was not a day that went by that I was not pressured to take the humor out. "It's
destroying the book." People would yank their characters out of the book.
"I don't want Keith getting them. He'll make fun of them."
And the deal I had with people was when they walk in the door of the embassy
they're mine, when they walk out I will return them to you in the same
shape they were when they came in. But some people couldn't handle the
idea that Batman had a wry sense of humor, or that Beetle and Booster could
be bumpkins. They totally missed the point of the book. With Ambush Bug it was
basically comic book Candide; innocent, but broad. It was deconstruction of
comics and inviting people to come look under the rug. Maybe pointing out things
the companies didn't want you to know. Like when we did our spoof on Crisis,
we told the truth: Crisis on the only Earth we're allowed to use. It didn't
go over big. There were a lot of people who got their feathers ruffled. Lobo
was originally meant as an indictment of the grim and gritty hero with a gun.
To me they were villains who were doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
But boy, so many people missed the joke. [laughter]
TJKC: More guns!
KEITH: I thought Lobo was one of these vile, completely unlikable buffoons
who would be the poster boy for High Caliber Axis. But apparently he went a
whole other direction. Interesting story about Lobo; we did the first series
and the damn thing took off and DC did not know what to do with it. I was stuck
with a character that I really didn't like. So as a goof, I cobbled together
this Christmas story. It was so far over the top. I sent it in to DC just to
watch their eyeballs spin. Two weeks later Simon Bisley calls and goes, "You're
kidding, right?" I said, "What?" He says, "This Christmas
thing." I said, "They sent it to you?" He goes, "Yeah."
Okay, then, let's jack up the level. We went in and got Santa as a cross-dressing
elf-molester and stuff and they published it! At that point I went in to Dick
Giordano and he said, "We want to do another Lobo mini-series." "Okay,
Dick, I'll tell you what. I'm going to stay on this series and continue
doing Lobo." They were thinking of doing a monthly, which I thought was
a really bad idea. I knew they'd try to shoehorn him into the DC Universe
and he doesn't belong there. Their continuity— I believe in consistency
in comics, but continuity has killed this business. I said, "I'm going
to keep throwing stuff at you and the first time you tell me to stop or you
censor me I'm going to leave the book." And he laughed and said, "Keith,
I don't think you can do that, but go ahead, I trust you." It was
the final issue of Lobo's Back when they called and said, "You can't
do this." Do you remember the scene when he's fighting Torquemada
and the Inquisitors of Doom?
KEITH: That was not in the original plot.
TJKC: What was?
KEITH: Combat Christ and the Howlin' Apostles. [laughter] And they
said, "Absolutely not." [more laughter]
TJKC: Well, you tried.
KEITH: I said, "Okay, fine, so long, take care." I wished Alan
Grant all the luck in the world and walked away from the character. I came back
occasionally. I'd be interested in what Steve Ditko meant when he said
he'd wouldn't go back to Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, because you really
can't go back there. It's not the same character, it's not the
same time. You always look crappy when compared to the earlier work. That's
why when I wanted to do something with Trencher I certainly didn't revive
him as a comic book. I wrote him up as a screenplay and landed him with a producer
TJKC: Is it under option now?
KEITH: Uh-huh. I'm doing another ground floor re-write. Somehow,
someway they decided, "Oh, maybe we should do it your way."
TJKC: So you're staying a pretty busy guy?
KEITH: Yeah, I got hobbies. I look upon all this stuff as hobbies. I've
got a horror script out there that Stan Winston has attached himself to as director
and is shopping around. I still miss the spontanaiety and fast return of comics.
I thought that was the best thing. You do the book and a month later it's
out and you get a response from people. I miss that. I miss guiding these books.
It's funny, it's always the really difficult children that I look
back on, like the re-vamping of the Legion, the five years later, that was just
agony to get through, because of all the interference and the hassles and the
hate mail and everything. I look back at that and I'd go back and do that
in a second. The Justice League books with the constant hassling to take the
humor out of the books. Punx, which I never even got to finish. I've been
talking to the people on the Marvel scene. Give me the Impossible Man for one
issue and let me rampage through the Marvel Universe. Nobody wants humor. They
want all of this X-Men angst. Talk about missing the boat. As I remember, the
X-Men angst was these guys were just ordinary people with extraordinary powers.
They were no great shakes. I think Jean Grey was a good looking woman, and that
was about it. And Warren Worthington was a spoiled, rich guy, right? And, of
course they'd whine and moan and bitch and piss around. "Oh, we're
not accepted and oh, we're mutants and everyone hates us." I look
back and say, "Yeah, they're outcasts, but now they're all drawn
like a f*cking fashion model. The guys are handsome. The women are drop-dead
gorgeous. They got the cars, they got the clothes, and on top of everything
else they can fly? Shut the hell up. I don't want to hear about it."
TJKC: What does Kirby mean to you?
KEITH: Comics. There's no way you can approach comics from any angle
without bumping into Kirby. I'm sure if you sat down and talked with Robert
Crumb long enough, Jack Kirby would pop up. The punk comic book movement—talk
to Gary Pinter; Kirby pops out of his mouth. You can't escape him. He's
probably the one single, all-pervasive influence in this business. If you had
one third the career he had, you'd be looked upon as a wunderkind nowadays.
A phenomenal talent. I used to think that when Kirby would walk away it would
take five or ten people to fill the void, but we don't have five or ten
people anymore—people who I consider being able to come up with a new concept,
new ideas, populate those books, feed that common pool. I don't see it.
TJKC: Do you think the industry passed with him?
KEITH: I've always said the comic book industry died about three
or four years ago. Officially died. Everything that's been going on since
then has been this bizarre publishing version of Weekend at Bernie's. I
think it's time to turn around and go, "The average comic book doesn't
sell enough copies to place one issue on each seat in Madison Square Garden."
We're heading for the Franklin Mint. "Order your Civil War chess set
and the latest issue of Superman." We don't have any more Julie Schwartzs
to come in and point the way on how to revive the super-hero genre. We don't
have any Stan Lees or Jack Kirbys. Hell, we don't even have any Murray
Boltinoffs—and if they were able to knock on the door, they would be locked
out and beaten into submission by this industry that's now run by cronies
and short-term thinking.
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