Last night, as I write this, daughter Adriane came downstairs while I was watching a typically clever and compelling docuweird from James May. I knew from the expression on her face I was about distance myself from Mr. May’s well-honed sense of humor.
Adriane carefully informed me that my old friend Keith Giffen had died. Such an event has grown all too typical and they all hurt, but, damn, this one came right out of the blue. My editor Mr. Harrison and I were just talking about Keith on our weekly video Squadcast and I remember cutting myself short under the belief that Keith would get his due from us later. Yeah, well…
I’m going to ignore my journalism teachers and not give you the mandatory obituary routine. If you are not familiar with Giffen’s work, there’s a couple tons of it on the trade paperback racks at your favorite bookstores. I will point out that Keith co-created a many great characters and concepts, including Rocket Raccoon, Lobo, Ambush Bug, and the latest version of the Blue Beetle, Jamie Reyes, presently of motion picture fame. His Wiki page is quite good and most likely getting even better right now.
But all the bios and reflections cannot do justice to his work and his approach to storytelling. The word “unique” is an absolute term: either something is unique or its not and one thing can not be more unique than another. Keith Giffen’s work was unrelentingly unique. Keith Giffen was unique.
In all the decades I’d known him, I had never had a less-than-remarkable time. His wit, his charm and his creative courage were his and his alone. When first you encounter one of his stories your response likely would hit the high end of the vaunted Richter What-The-Fuck scale. By the time you were done with that first story, chances are you’d start looking for his other stuff.
Or it might just piss you off. Art is like that, and so was Keith. He told his story, his way, and did so brilliantly.
The first memory that escaped the attic of my brainpan was a conversation we had in 2016 at a massive party that preceded the world premiere of the first Suicide Squad movie. Dan DiDio and DC Comics threw one hell of an affair and everybody who was anybody in comics and was in the New York area at the time was there — and plenty of people flew in as well. I told Keith how much I was enjoying the work he and Dan had been doing recently and, while I was fumbling for a clever way to say “my appreciation seems to be the kiss of death” Keith kept interrupting me.
It certainly did. Evidently, it also surprised the folks at Hanna-Barbera, which was and remains part of Warner Bros., as does DC Comics. Evidently, they had a hard time recognizing DC’s often brilliant reimagining of their characters — and when it comes to bringing home the animated bacon, nothing does that more consistently than Scooby-Doo. And Keith found an alien heart deep inside the property, and he ran with it. Proudly. And deservedly so.
I should add it’s become my favorite of Keith’s work. Well, his living work, at least.
Several days ago as Keith was dying from a stroke, he composed a farewell note for posting after his death. If you are about to check out of this reality, you’re going to have a hard time doing a better job than he did. His farewell was pure and complete Keith Giffen. He posthumously posted “I told them I was sick… Anything not to go to New York Comic Con, Thankx. Bwah ha ha ha ha.”
That New York Comic Con is happening right now, this very weekend, and Keith is wonderfully all over it.
That, my friends, is how to go out in class and style.
His work, of course, lives on. Along with his friendship.