Thursday, July 7, 2016

IN PRAISE OF GIFFEN


This morning I had a talk with my old buddy—and certified mad genius— Keith Giffen to discuss the current Scooby Apocalypse stories we’re collaborating on.  Back in the 80’s, when we worked on Justice League, Keith and I didn’t talk much at all:  things were incredibly spontaneous.  Keith would write the plot (well, actually, he drew it out, creating a little mini-comic) and I wouldn't see it till it arrived at my door.  Then I'd sit down to dialogue and pretty much write the first thing that came into my head.  Sometimes what I wrote hewed closely to Keith's story and sometimes I created entirely new plot lines and character relationships that had nothing to do with what Keith had done. The real fun was watching Giffen take the twists and turns that I'd injected into the story and build on them in ways that always surprised me.  Then he'd throw it all back in my face and I'd twist it again.  It was an incredibly exhilarating way to work:  no egos involved, we just kept trying to top each other. 



These days, we’re more likely to talk about a series, discussing the characters, the stories, where we want them to go—but, because our approach remains as anarchic as it was back in the JL days, our conversations don’t necessarily reflect what ends up on the page.  Once Keith starts plotting, the final product might have nothing to do with what we've talked about.  Once I start scripting, I'll go off and follow the muse wherever it leads me.  I don't know if that kind of creative relationship would work for other people, but it certainly works for us, pushing us both to be better.



It still amazes me that Keith and I have been working together this long—almost thirty years, on and off.  Well, maybe it’s not so surprising:  Despite the fact that Keith desperately wants people to think that he’s surly and cynical, Earth’s Biggest Malcontent, he’s actually an incredibly nice guy.  As gifted, and generous, a collaborator as I’ve ever had.  When people ask me what it’s like to work with Giffen, one story always comes to mind.  I’ve told it before—apologies if you’ve heard it—but it really defines the man.

It’s the late 80’s.  We’re standing in the halls of DC Comics on a Friday afternoon.  Keith is telling me his idea for a new story:  the secret origin of one of our most ridiculous characters, the brain-dead Green Lantern named G’nort.  Keith spends five or ten minutes spinning the entire tale, in detail.  You can see he’s excited.  He likes this wonderfully goofy story and he wants to do it—just the way he’s envisioned it.

The problem is, I don’t like it.  And I tell him that I don’t.

Does Keith get angry?  Does he tell me I’m a talentless jackass who has no right passing judgment on his incandescent genius?  No.  He just looks at me for a second, takes a breath, shrugs—and then launches into an entirely new origin of G’nort, which he’s creating on the spot.  And it’s perfect.  I can’t think of many people who could switch creative gears like that, but Keith has more raw creativity than just about anyone I’ve ever known:  a tsunami of stories and characters and odd, brilliant notions.  


It’s been a joy working with Keith all these years.  But don’t tell him I said so:  it’ll wreck his self-image.




© copyright 2016 J.M. DeMatteis

12 comments:

  1. Well now you have to tell me the original origin of G'nort.

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    1. That is a secret locked away, several miles deep, in the Giffen-DeMatteis Archives!

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    2. The Giffen-DeMatteis Archives is a brilliant idea for a comic. I'd pay three fifty a month for that :)

      G'nort was one of those characters that I remember thinking "man I love G'nort. Why do I love Gnort??"

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    3. I feel the same way. Which is why you saw G'nort make his way into the final issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE 3001. We couldn't leave that book without a little G'nort!

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  2. Good to know. I actually just started JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000, but I am loving it so far. Why do you keep killing poor Flash though??

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  3. "Despite the fact that Keith desperately wants people to think that he’s surly and cynical, Earth’s Biggest Malcontent, he’s actually an incredibly nice guy. As gifted, and generous, a collaborator as I’ve ever had."

    That's exactly it—he's remarkably selfless and giving as a creator. And with a delightful singing voice.

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  4. You've got it, Scott: He can also dance like nobody's business! (Okay, we made up those last couple of things, but everything else is true,)

    AND he has great taste in artists.

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  5. Now that's quite the partnership.

    And I'm telling!

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    1. If you tell, he'll never forgive me! : )

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  6. This is a great story. I wish you two wrote more stuff together. Never been disappointed with the Giffen/DeMatteis team. Never!

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    1. Thank you, Douglas! I think as long as the two of us are still writing, we'll always find something to work on together. We've been doing it too long to stop now!

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