13 GREAT COVERS AND PAGES: The Stylistic Evolution of KEITH GIFFEN

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE to the late comics creator, who was born 71 years ago, on Nov. 30, 1952…


When you’re a long-time comics person, you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about, well, comics and their creators. And one of the things I regularly ponder is which living creator has contributed the most pages.

I’ve long maintained it was Keith Giffen. Keith first started drawing comics in the mid-1970s and was still doing vibrant, amazing work well into the 21st century. But even removing the pages he actually drew over the decades, he also wrote, co-wrote, plotted, did initial layouts, or otherwise participated in so many hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Combine all of that and I’ve no doubt that Keith would’ve been near, if not atop, the list of most productive living creators. Unfortunately, Keith had to mess up that conversation entirely by dying just before New York Comic Con in early October.

Giffen’s final tweet

I had heard that Keith was ailing the past few years, and for such a prolific guy, the time period between his last work, Inferior 5, and whatever might come next, was growing more and more lengthy. To a worrisome degree.

Keith’s loss hit me hard. It hit so many of us hard. I adored his work, in all its incarnations. There are very few creators with so long a track record as his that were doing more exciting work toward the end than the beginning. But all along the way, raw or refined, it was a thrill to watch Keith evolve in so many directions. Whether his work was influenced by Kirby or Munoz or Maguire, he was never boring, always just invigorating in his creativity and his constant desire to evolve.

When Keith passed, I revisited a number of his works across a wide array of his styles, and presented them in my Substack newsletter that week. And I’m happy to dig into even more of his work here in celebration of both his birthday – he would’ve turned 71 today – and his complete body of work.

Now, there’s no way to offer a complete showing of his output in that newsletter, in this space, anywhere, really. There’s just too much work, so much of it great and worth a constant revisit. So what I put together here is a 13-piece retrospective spanning his earliest works up until that final Inferior 5 series. It was especially hard to limit this one to 13 images.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 variant cover

I wanted to include an image from the one time I worked with Keith directly — on the cover to a Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover series. As much as I loved the cover, I loved even more the couple calls we had, where his full Keith-ness, crusty and inventive, came across in full fashion. I also planned to include a 1976 Claw the Unconquerable splash page but just recently came across another Keith guest-appearance on a title, in this case an Iron Man comic from 1978, and since it already showed an impressive bit of growth from his 1976 work, Claw got bumped. (So Dan, groovy editor that he is, added both to this intro.)

I’d hoped to work with him again. I once tried to orchestrate the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire team rejoining forces to do with some Hasbro properties what they did with Justice League and The Defenders. Keith, of course, had a mountain of ideas for that one, but it never came to pass.

More recently, we talked about one other project, what he said was one of his dream projects, an adaptation of a certain vampire novel. The plan was possibly for Keith to pencil it and Ashley Wood, also a fan of that same novel (and of Keith) would finish it. It could’ve been great. Again, Keith ruined everything by leaving us far too soon. But he also left us some of the best comics I’ll ever read. He was one of the all-time greats, and he’ll forever be missed. So if you do find yourself missing him, well, check out any of the comics featured below, or anything else he worked on. The man knew how to make great comics. Happy birthday to ya, Keith.

Marvel Preview #7: the first appearance of Rocket Raccoon (1976)

Super-Villain Team-Up #8 (1976)

The Defenders #50 (1977)

Marvel Premiere #44 (1978)

Invincible Iron Man #114 (1978)

The Omega Men #3: the first appearance of Lobo (1983)

The Legion of Super-Heroes poster (1983)

Action Comics #560 (1984)

Video Jack #1 (1987)

Hex #15 (1986)

The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 4 #13 poster (1990)

Trencher #1 (1993)

Inferior 5 #1 (2021)


— LEVITZ AND GIFFEN: When the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES Was at Its Best. Click here.

— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Pieces of KEITH GIFFEN Original Art. Click here.

Chris Ryall is the co-owner/publisher of Image Comics imprint Syzygy Publishing. His latest series is Tales of Syzpense, out now. Subscribe to his Substack of the same name!

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Yeah, I was really saddened by his passing.
    He had some of the most “in your face” headshots.
    Giffen seemed to be an acquired taste early on for me but once I “got” him it was all love.

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  2. Damn shame DC never finished the Inferior 5 book!

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  3. Keith’s passing hit me hard as well. My first comic by him was Defenders 49. I followed his work up to the Inferior 5. Too bad we’ll never see that protect with Ashley Wood. Happy Birthday Keith, thanks for all the great comics.

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  4. So glad I got to see him at the Chicago comic convention back in the 90’s. Loved his Trencher work.

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