GIFFEN on the OUTSIDERS Looking In

Click here for 5 pages of Keith Giffen pencisl from The Outsiders #34.

There are quite a few writer-artists at DC Comics, with creators like Tony Daniel, Dan Jurgens and David Finch often pulling double-duty on their own books. But writer-artist Keith Giffen has the unusual job of writing different comics from the ones he's drawing.

Giffen is picking up a pencil again to draw next month's Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 by writer Paul Levitz, and now he's the regular penciler on The Outsiders, the comic that's written by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio. At the same time, he's writing Doom Patrol and co-writing Booster Gold with J.M. DeMatteis.

We recently talked with Giffen about his work on Doom Patrol -- including writer Gail Simone in the interview, since Doom Patrol is soon crossing over with Secret Six.

But now we turn our attention to the creator's other work, including a discussion about why Giffen hates too much realism, whose costumes he's changing, and what he thinks about the death of Magog.

Newsarama: Keith, we talked with you recently about Doom Patrol, but you have other projects coming up. Some that you’re drawing. How's it's been getting back to the art side of things?

Keith Giffen: It's great. I picked up the pencil and can’t put it down. I’m the regular monthly artist on Outsiders.

Nrama: So you're drawing at least a comic every month? On top of your writing?

Giffen: Yeah. And The Outsiders is just absolutely tons of fun. And I actually got Dan’s permission to go in and make some of those costumes work. Like Geo-Force has been in that outfit for ages. And I refuse, absolutely refuse, to draw the Olympian in that, excuse the term, baggy little Greek outfit he’s running around in.

Nrama: What kind of tone are you going for in The Outsiders?

Giffen: We kind of agreed that we just want to do big, loud comic books. You know? Just people throwing buildings at one another, get back to that frantic four-color wheel that they used to have and just toss reality out the window.

I hate too much reality. I mean, the guys who Photoshop in photo reference and every superhero has to look like he’s really walking in the door and everything has to work? To me that is dull as dirt. Comic books are not reality. Yeah, this whole idea of trying to, I think it’s about getting them closer to reality so it’ll be more attractive to the movie industry", like, "here’s how you can do it." Screw the movie industry; I just want to tell good stories.

I just think we really, really, really gotta, you know, pull our heads out of our asses and realize that we can have so much fun with this stuff if we just stop treating it like we’re curing cancer. I just think it’s time to get back to that free wheeling, manic feel the comics used to have that made them so attractive.

Nrama: I can't help thinking the seriousness of superhero movies has only encouraged that approach in comics. It was 10 or 15 years ago when comic book movies started making superheroes very grounded in reality, with the success of Blade and the early X-Men movies and even Spider-Man. It's only reinforced that approach to superheroes.

Giffen: Yeah, somewhere we took this left turn into serious literature, and it doesn't always work. I just go through some comics and I go, "What? Five pages to put on his pants?" And I just want to get back to comic books as fun for fun. Let’s get some of the characters in there; let’s have a rollicking good time with them. You pick up one of these, like, big bone books they’ve put out, these black-and-white collected editions, and just pick up one at random of any book that they’re reprinted: Read two or three stories, then take the same book and go read the latest two or three stories that we’re putting out. There are rare occasions, there are rare exceptions I mean, but nine times out of 10, the modern product is going to suffer in comparison. You know, end of sermon.

Nrama: Getting back to The Outsiders, how has it been working with Dan DiDio as a writer?

Giffen: Working with Dan on Outsiders, I’ll tell you, he’s really thought it through. He’s got long-term plans, he knows what he’s doing, he knows who the characters are. So, you know, there are a lot of people out there who think, "Oh, he’s the boss. He’s just jerking off onto the page because he can." Not the case. I’ve actually been impressed at the fact that everything is so well planned, and readers will see that everything comes together in one big, white-hot explosion. So all you Dan haters out there, back off a couple of steps. Hate me, I’m used to it.

Nrama: And you're penciling the Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1, reuniting with Paul Levitz. You're just hopping from publisher to publisher!

Giffen: I guess I am! But working on the Legion has been like going home, and that’s just been a sheer joy to do, just getting back together with Paul and also having fun with one of my old time favorite Legion villains, the Emerald Empress.

I've been after Paul for years for us to do something together again with the Legion, so this is just a thrill for me. You know, the weird thing about the Legion is you get this kind of weird wish fulfillment. You can draw anything you want to happen in the future, and that's a real thrill. I think that's part of the appeal of the Legion, is that it's pure escapism.

And I want the book to really have that sense of wonder about it. It’s the 30th century, for God's sake, you know? If it’s got wheels, it’s wrong. Just to push a button, it’s wrong.

So yeah, between The Outsiders and the Legion Annual, I'm keeping busy with the penciling.

Nrama: But Keith, with all this talk about your penciling, particularly now that you're the regular artist on The Outsiders, are you still planning to continue writing Doom Patrol and co-writing Booster Gold with J.M. DeMatteis? You're not leaving your writing career to start penciling more, are you?

Giffen: No, I’m just plugging along on all my comics. They'll have to pry Doom Patrol out of my hands. And you know, Marc [J.M.] DeMatteis and I are finally addressing the fact that Booster Gold became a hero by committing a crime.

Nrama: Yeah, I saw that. His past is coming back to haunt him in the future.

Giffen: Yeah, in other words, "Hi, Booster! You’re under arrest for theft."

And people should be warned: We’re going go through with it. This isn’t a joke, we’re going to put him through the ringer. He’s going to pay for doing the crime.

It’s the one thing that always bugged me a little bit about Booster was, and all respect to Dan, you know, but it always bugged me that he started his career by stealing shit. That would be like me going into a lab and stealing a raygun and then becoming a superhero. But, you know, when you go back far enough, it’s still a crime that started my career. And it’s got to be dealt with, so we’re finally going to do that.

Nrama: You also just had Booster go through the ringer as he realized Ted Kord is not coming back. But what else is coming up in future issues?

Giffen: We're introducing a major foe for Booster Gold and getting more into Michelle and Rani’s relationship. And we're just planning to continue having fun, assuming we still have the book a year from now, but it’ll be fun for a while.

Nrama: You know, I also wanted to ask you about your recent run on Magog, where you set up a lot of interesting things for that character, yet he was recently killed. I was just wondering what your reaction was to his death?

Giffen: No, no, it’s like when Blue Beetle died: I walked away from the character; I’m not doing the character anymore. Whatever the new caretakers want to do, let them do it. And as we all know, if I want Magog back, all I’ve got to do is have him walk in the door and go, "Hey, I got better!" It’s a comic book.

With comics, if you want him back, he’s back. There are ways. You want to do stories with Blue Beetle? Well, use time travel and he’s back.

So Magog was killed? Isn't Kingdom Come part of the continuity?

Nrama: I think it’s a different earth now.

Giffen: Ah, yeah it is. Variant earths come in real handy. I will say that death in comics is kind of frustrating because, sometimes, it means the potential of a character is being wasted. And you can't help thinking it's like, "What are we gonna do with the character? I don’t know. Let’s kill him!" But then, I should talk, since whenever I get on Legion, I kill Karate Kid. But that just becomes more of a joke than a serious intent.

Nrama: Anything else you have coming up that you want to tell fans about?

Giffen: I have some other stuff sort of percolating in the talking stages right now that could be interesting, but I’m not going to say anything about, simply because whenever I say something, I jinx it. So don't worry about me. I'm keeping busy.

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