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All The Stars There Are in (Super-hero) Heaven!

The 1970s Justice Society Revival-All-Starring the Original Cast!
by Roy Thomas

Layout penciler, All-Star Comics #60-63
Interview Transcribed by Brian K. Morris

From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #14

In Alter Ego #14, you'll find Roy's take on the 1970s JSA revival. You can find mini-interviews with some of the other participants: Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Ric Estrada, Keith Giffen, Al Milgrom & Joe Staton.

This Giffen/Wood page from All-Star #63 is repro'd from a photostat of the original art, as sold in a catalog. Thanks to Jerry K. Boyd. [©2002 DC Comics.]

RT: You started with #60, the series' third issue. Do you remember how you got the All-Star assignment? Was it your first job in comics?
KEITH GIFFEN: No, but it was my first job at DC. My first job in comics was at Marvel-The Sword in the Star, bad experience -and Gerry Conway had looked at my samples to give me All-Star. Of course, that was a trip, given the weaknesses of my drawing, and boy, there were a lot, Roy. [chuckles]

RT: Well, it came out looking good.
GIFFEN: Well, Wally Wood-come on! Woody over the top of me! I guess Gerry responded to the fact that I seemed to know my way around a story.
The one thing I'll never forget about getting that job on All-Star was the first day. They sent me down to Carmine Infantino. I'd never met him, but I was a big Flash fan when I was a kid, and all of a sudden, I'm being dragged down to meet Carmine Infantino. The fact is he's the publisher and I'm intimidated, but he was also the guy who drew my all-time favorite comic when I was a kid. I'll never forget: Carmine was sitting behind the publisher's desk. He had his coffee in a mint julep glass with a sprig in it and he was getting a shoeshine. And I thought, "Oh God, now what? What have they brought me into? Who is this man?"
He looked through my pages real fast, he pulled out a box of tissue paper, and he said, "I want to show you something. I'm only gonna take you through this once, kid, so you pay attention. Here's how you tell a story; here's how you lead the eye." And he put the tissue paper over some of my crude little drawings, my portfolio pieces, he did a couple of pencil lines, and in two minutes, taught me everything I've ever had to know about visual storytelling in comics. He taught me things I still do to this day. Two minutes! Bum-bum-bum! [laughs] It was like a white explosion goes off behind my eyes. You go, "Of course."
He knew how to take the top of the head at a certain angle and have their eyes slide from the top of the head, lead the word balloon down the shoulder, bang, right into the next panel, just where you want the effect. He was simply a master, the way he just passed it on in such a cavalier fashion, I was good and lucky. Looking back on where I was at that point, I certainly wouldn't have hired me. I still think they were responding to the fact that I had a rudimentary sense of storytelling, and they knew that I was still going to be inked by Wood. I could have drawn stick figures and it still would have looked good.

RT: Page 2 in #60 has a T-shaped panel in which The Flash's leg extends down between two other panels, so you were somewhat audacious, for DC, from the very beginning.
GIFFEN: For DC, yes. George Péérez was stretching his creative legs over at Marvel, starting to play around with panels. It was a time where any kind of visual experimentation, as long as it moved the story, was not only tolerated, but actively encouraged. I really think
it charged up the writers, too, because when you use a six-panel grid, ... la Jack Kirby, the storytelling there could be dynamic, it can be solid, but there's something about the panels almost becoming part of the story that got a lot of people very excited about comic books as a visual format.
Of course, the ideal situation probably falls somewhere in between. I've seen people who can take the grid and make like Kirby. No one is going to deny Jack. Dynamics, that was Jack's artwork-and how powerful it was, even with a very standard layout. What was going on in the panel superceded everything, especially when one got into Jack. I still think that a lot of our experimentation with panel design actually reflected nervousness or inadequacy: "Oh, I don't think my drawing is good enough. Okay, can't I just play a little with the visual rules?" I think we were also the first generation that came in very heavily influenced by film and TV. We were the first visually-oriented generation.
We were beginning to understand the concept of not only juggling the camera, but we were also turning into the sound bite generation. We were getting a lot of the French film, the whole auteur thing, which came rolling down on us, different ways of telling the story, moving the camera around, panning shots. The stuff that Steranko did [in the 1960s] barely scratched the surface of this new vision.
It was just a lot of fun back then, and you know that. You were there.

RT: Before, during, and after. The first villain Gerry had you do was Vulcan, Son of Fire, an astronaut turned into a mad Thor type, with a double-headed axe. Did you design that, or did Joe Orlando?
GIFFEN: I think I did design Vulcan, because I see in the design a lot of little things that I was doing back then. Once again, I was looking over at Marvel and what George Pérez was doing. He was putting a lot of detail-and, of course, I was young enough to say, "Oh boy, I'm going to draw this guy, all these details"-and suddenly realize halfway through, "Oh, no-I've gotta draw this guy about 55 times!" [laughs] And I'm sure Woody cursed me.

RT: Did you work what they then called "Marvel style" with Gerry-with him giving you a plot, rather than a full script?
GIFFEN: Yeah. It was a very tight plot with some loose snippets of dialogue put in there. Oddly enough, I didn't work full-script until I did some horror stories with Robert Kanigher, when I worked on the ghost books. Gerry was very much a Marvel thinker, and that was being resisted at DC. I think that's another reason why I might have landed on the All-Star book-that I could work off a plot. I remember Gerry being very, very dedicated to each individual book and really, really caring. I'm a good PR man for Gerry right now.

RT: He's producing and writing television now... has been for years.
GIFFEN: God bless him. He had a good story sense. You know what the whole thing is? We all get to a certain point where, "Oh, man. I'm tired. I want to go watch some TV. I want to go outside and take a walk so I'll just gloss this part of the story over. They won't notice." That one part where you know you didn't give 100% and hoped no one would notice? The first thing, he'd flip through the pages, "Dum-te-dum-dum-dum. What's this here?" And aw, jeez. Gerry always notices. He'll always call you out.

RT: You and Gerry also created Zanadu of Lemuria.
GIFFEN: I did the basic designs on him. Gerry would go over and sort of tighten them up and fine-tune them. If I remember correctly, we had all sorts of different little subplots. It was just a fun book to do, and I didn't mind back then. To this day, I still like those stories. I liked that I could pack it full of stuff. And, again, there was a certain confidence, knowing Wally Wood was going to go over it. That let me-you know, I was new-do those upshots, those weird angles.

RT: The first couple of credits don't identify "penciler" or "inker." It's "Keith Giffen & Wally Wood, Artists," or "Keith Giffen & Wally Wood, Illustrators."
GIFFEN: Which I always objected to. I was just the layout artist. I can make a claim to some design work, the pacing of the story, and the layout of the panels. But I was just the storyboard guy. And then Woody would come along with his people and he would work his magic over the top of it.

RT: I'm a Wally Wood fan, too, but I felt the work you and Wally did together was superior to the two issues he drew afterwards on his own, or rather with his assistants.
GIFFEN: Well, the funny thing was, he got excited about the book, about what was going on. It might have been his first exposure to that kind of tight, barrel-down storytelling. All I know is, Gerry at one point said to me, "Woody's having so much fun on the book that he wants to do it solo." But Gerry didn't throw me into the street. He had something waiting for me, but what was I going to say? Like I felt kind of good. Like, wow, I kind of got Wally Wood charged up. [laughs]

RT: But, after you left, Wally only lasted two issues as the full artist on All-Star.
GIFFEN: Maybe the All-Star stuff was kind of a novelty to him. And then, maybe, once he was doing it all himself, he just felt it was too much like what he'd been doing since EC.

RT: But you two were a great combination for those few issues.
GIFFEN: We were having fun-we were really having fun. Who knows? Maybe when Gerry left, Woody left, too. All I know, Roy, is, how many guys can say, right out of the box, "I worked with Wally Wood"? [laughs] That man was incredible.

Zanadu strikes, in #62. The effect of the guard's flashlight shining about the museum storeroom for several panels was incorporated in the lettering of his scream. [©2002 DC Comics.]

RT: All-Star #62 says: "Keith Giffen, Pacing" and "Wally Wood, Pictures."
GIFFEN: That's the way it should have been. I think that, in the first two issues, Gerry was being very generous in terms of the credits. As for my style you talked about-I call it "The Pérez School." Starlin was there, too, but Pérez was the guy who rubbed your face in it. I've always said: if you like it, send George Pérez a thank-you letter. If you don't, blame him. I was very much looking at his stuff, because we're both around the same age, both coming in-what's he doing that I'm not? I was fascinated by it. It was like I was a raven, and he was a shiny object.

RT: I remember the big panel where Zanadu is towering over this guard, strangling him. And you drew pictures in the guard's "EEYAAAAAAAA!" scream lettering that showed the museum, with the guard's flashlight shining around over crates, etc.-then suddenly, he's attacked.
GIFFEN: That was very much Gerry's idea: "Let's make the flashlight beam a character in this sequence." I distinctly remember him saying that, not as an order, but he was always going to suggest something that was so dead-on right.

RT: He probably didn't suggest putting in the lettering, though. He just said, "Do it in panels." So that just shows how he gave one visual suggestion and you took it and turned it into your own thing.
GIFFEN: Yeah. That's why I said it was fun. The most fun comics for me have always been the ones where I look at it afterwards and I don't remember where I started and somebody else left off. To this day, Marc DeMatteis and I argue over who was the first one to do "Bwah-hah-hah" in Justice League. But you know what? I don't care. I still think the best books are collaborative books. I've read interviews with you where you'll say, "You know, I don't remember whether that was me or Buscema, or me or Barry." I'll bet those are probably the books you had the most fun on.

RT: Of course, there are also books in which each person says, "I did everything." [laughs]
GIFFEN: And if you think back, those would be your painful experiences. I love the books where it just all blends, because I'm a very big proponent of the end product, the book. I think the book is more important than any one, the individual person working on it.

RT: You did a nice sequence of Superman changing. In the final panel, suddenly, there's just a bunch of papers blowing around. That gives the feeling that Superman has flown off and left a vacuum behind him.
GIFFEN: That was right out of one of the old Fleisher cartoons. The one thing I will take credit for in All-Star Comics is that Superman face-that Shuster face. That came from me-because, to me, that is Superman. To me, no one should ever know what color Superman's eyes are because he's always squinting. I liked them, especially when Wally followed through on it. The only thing I didn't do that I wish I had done was, I didn't have him doing the Wayne Boring jog. Yeah, I look back on All-Star as a really fun experience. I find it hard to find a down side.

RT: Was it Gerry's idea to do the schematic diagram of the underground part of the headquarters? The credit on it is, "A hearty hand for Keith and Wally."
GIFFEN: It was Gerry's idea, though Paul wrote it later. I was the one who diagrammed it and put in all the little things, so the diagram is mine. Back then, I liked that kind of stuff. I remember how thrilled I was when, in Fantastic Four, they would cut away the side of the Baxter Building. So I figured, let's do it.

RT: When you finished #64 with the white-templed Superman retiring in favor of Power Girl, did you know, even though it's a continued story, that you wouldn't be coming back?
GIFFEN: I knew before that issue began. I knew Woody wanted to take it. I had no problem with that. Gerry had Kamandi or some other book lined up for me. But after All-Star, it all started falling apart.
I blew myself out of the field. After Gerry left, I was dealing with Paul Levitz, and I have to admit to you-well, there's a reason I disappeared from the comics for about three years. Back then, I was doing the work, but I was also a kind of a jerk. I got in, I thought I'd do everything, I thought, "Hey, I know about comic books!" And it got to the point where I could have written a book on how not to break into comics. I would blow deadlines; it was horrible. Eventually, I literally had to leave the field in shame with my tail between my legs.
And then, later, my girlfriend, now my wife, said, "What's the worst thing that could happen? Don't you owe them the opportunity to hang up on you?" I really had slunk out of town, it was really pathetic. But I called up Joe Orlando and he said, "Come in, we gotta talk." And he sat me down and he didn't make it easy on me. He said, "You know, you were a screw-up, but we still think you've got something to offer. So we're going to put you on probation."
And they bounced me into Dick Giordano's lap. He was editing the so-called "horror" books at that point. Robin Snyder was the assistant. And they gave me the acid test. They gave me the work, but it was all Bob Kanigher. And you know, you don't mess with Kanigher, because he'll come after you! [laughs] So it was kind of like, "Here you go-you're going to have to wrestle this grizzly bear." And so they watched me to see if I could make the deadlines.
Then Mike Barr brought me on board to do the "Dr. Fate" backups in The Flash, and that was my first foray back into super-heroes. I really put nose to the grindstone and made sure I didn't miss a deadline. And when Gerry went back to Marvel, before long, he brought me over to do The Defenders, if I have my chronology right.
After the way I'd been before, the fact that Paul Levitz let me come back later and work on Legion is a testament to the fact that, really, he's not as bad or as harsh as people think. [laughs] I mean, Paul really tried to help me. It wasn't like, "Eh, get rid of him. Throw him on the street." He really stretched!

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