Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Keith Giffen!

Happy Birthday Keith Giffen!

Giffen has been a major creative force with the Legion for the last three decades and I have appreciated all he has done for the team throughout the years. One of the things that amazes me is that Giffen has been around long enough and I have been a fan long enough to see first hand his art change over the years.

So to celebrate Giffen's birthday I thought I would quickly look at Giffen's art style over the years. And what better way to do that then to look at his rendering of one of my favorite Legionnaires, Ayla Ranzz.

 Back in the earliest days on the book, Giffen had a very rounded, very polished, organic appearing style.

Everything was clean and beautiful.

There was something truly compelling and wonderful about this era. After some Janes and Staton and some rough art, Giffen brought a true vision to the book.

This is probably Giffen's prettiest era. From the rounded gleaming cityscapes to Wildfire having a sort of hood over his shoulders to the gorgeous women, Giffen shined here. And the readers agreed. This was probably the height of the Legion's popularity.

 At the end of his run on the Baxter series, you could see that Giffen's art was coarsening. Things weren't as smooth. Things weren't as pretty. Things weren't as perfect.

After wallowing in his prior style, it took some time to get used to this Giffen. There were certainly quirks. Extreme close-ups. Faces hidden in shadows. There were always 'grime lines' on everything, like Ayla's coat on the left. There was a more realistic take on the human form and face.

Surprisingly, this is the Giffen art I picture in my head. This is unique and brilliant. Plus, in 5YL you see Giffen's genius in layouts, stuffing the tiny 9 panel grid panels with information. This is my favorite Giffen age.

The prior era's Light Lass might be 'hot'. But this Ayla Ranzz is beautiful.

Giffen's art has taken yet another turn and has truly veered to the Kirby side of things.

While the 5YL run was coarse, this art is outright blocky. It is borderline ugly. It definitely has the sensibilities of the 'King' Jack Kirby. And while there is an energy to these panels and a flow to the story, this is almost unfinished feel to this style.

While imitation is a high form of flattery, this is almost too much. Now I love Giffen doing layouts and someone else penciling.

While not seen too often in Legion (a couple of pages in a one 5YL issue), Giffen had another short lived overly rendered, fever-dream era which I call the 'Trencher' Giffen. This Giffen was so busy that the beauty of his art is lost.

So those are my thoughts of the ages of Giffen, a way to celebrate his birthday and his time in comics.

Which era of art is your favorite?


  1. I just love Keith, period. As an artist, plotter and even scripter (maybe a little less at this).
    I love all iterations, but I agree that the last days of the Baxter series and the 5YL were THE Giffen art years.
    Much has been said about Jose Muñoz' influence in his art (at the tail end of this first Legion iteration) and this version we like has a strong Maguire element (the pouty mouths, the down to earth anatomy).

  2. Not being a Legion fan during any of the Giffen periods, I have come to his art late. The Giffen I know is the erstwhile Defenders artist, the humorous JLA writer and, before that, the "plagiarism controversy" Giffen --when his art veered too close to Munoz. Because of articles here and elsewhere, I've become slightly obsessed with Giffen's very weird mid-to-late-period design choices, especially during his cyberpunk 5YL period. I consider the first 2-3 years of that strip Giffen's "Watchmen". Of course, like everything he did, artwise, a watered down, second-hand version of his role-model. But still interesting. I like the weirdos. But I also like the classics (Curt Swan rules!).

  3. I loved Giffen's art in the early run of the Legion, but when his style changed at the end of the Baxter run, the art just sucked! I absolutely hated all the changes he made to the Legion's uniforms. Artistically, I was glad when the Baxter series ended. In fact, I still have a hard time going back to reread those issues.

    Just like Giffen's coming in after Lightle to ruin the Legion's artistic style, him following Portella in the retro-boot Legion, led to another low in artistic Legion history. I was so glad he only lasted an issue or so before jumping ship.

  4. I have to agree with the poster above. I really enjoyed his earlier work on the Legion, back when IK2 and WW were the newbies. But after that - ugh! I liked some of his plots and creations (like Ambush Bug), but don't think it meshed well with the rest of the DCU on a regular basis.

    I met him at a con once. He acted like a condescending jerk.