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Year of the Artist, Day 109: Keith Giffen, Part 1 – The Defenders #46 and 49

by  in Comic News Comment

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Keith Giffen, and the issues are The Defenders #46 and 49, which were published by Marvel and are cover dated April and June 1977. Enjoy!

Keith Giffen has had a long career in comics, and as an artist, he’s one of the most versatile people you can find. He can do straight superheroes (as we’ll see today and as we’ll return to, in my last post on him), but over the years, his style became so idiosyncratic that it made him very controversial. His work on The Defenders was early in his career – a little over a year since his first published work – and I wanted to look at two different issues with two different inkers, as one highlights the fact that early in his career, Giffen was consciously aping Jack Kirby (not that that’s a bad thing). It’s interesting to look at the way inkers shape the work, so let’s get to it!


If you don’t recognize Klaus Janson’s inks on this issue of The Defenders, you probably haven’t been reading comics long enough. Giffen was 24 (probably; he turned 24 at the end of November 1976) when he drew this, and Janson was either 24 or 25 (he turned 25 in January 1977), and it’s interesting to see how recognizable a style Janson already had, while Giffen was working on his by trying to draw like Kirby. I suppose if you were a comics fan and you were 9/10 when Kirby redefined comics, you might try to draw like him. We’ll see more of the Kirby influence below, because Janson’s heavy inks already tend to dominate whatever penciller he’s inking, especially a young penciller like Giffen. Giffen is basically “on-model” for each character, and Janson highlights the gorgeous cheekbones of Luke Cage and Stephen Strange. Janson’s inks make Hellcat’s boobs look bigger and define the Hulk’s and Luke’s muscles nicely. Notice in the upper right corner, the weird gargoyle/statue thing that Giffen puts in to frame the scene does look very Kirby-esque. Janson makes it look a bit more terrifying with his thick hatching, but it’s still a Kirby-esque creation.


Scorpio shows up, and Giffen gives us his best Kirby imitation … so far. You have to love the Kirby Krackle, especially the parallel line segments where Scorpio’s hand is clutching … whatever it is he’s clutching (it’s his “key to the Zodiac,” which looks like something that might inspire Prince to change his name). Giffen gives him a big Kirby hand, and Janson uses rough hatching to make him look buff but not sleek, which makes him look like his suit is a size or two too small. Giffen, you’ll notice, puts a lot of machinery in the background, which is a Kirby staple but is also standard for supervillains. Scorpio is in a nice pose – Giffen already shows that he can do fluid action fairly well, as Scorpio doesn’t look stiff at all.


That’s weird – I cut off a little of the bottom of this page. Oh well! As you can see, this page shows both Giffen’s ability at this point to draw like Kirby and Janson’s powerful inking, as the first three panels are very Kirby-esque. Scorpio, with Kirby Krackle energy flowing around him, blasts the Hulk, and Giffen leads our eye from the left to the right very nicely. In Panel 2, the machines attack the Hulk, and his proportions are very Kirby-esque, as his hands and feet are gigantic compared to his somewhat squat body. As we see in Panel 3, it’s not necessarily that Giffen is copying the King, because that’s really the model for the Hulk – a squat, wide nose and a large upper lip, but we still see touches of Kirby in the machinery that attacks the Hulk. Janson, meanwhile, uses heavy, rough blacks all over the page, and his inking in Panel 4 adds some nuance to Scorpio’s costume, making it look more like clothing and less like painted naked skin, which costumes can occasionally look like.


This is the next page, and once again we see how good Giffen is at such a young age, as the fight scene is choreographed pretty well. He manages to squeeze Nighthawk into Panel 1 so that we see him about to attack Scorpio. Again, there’s lot of Kirby Krackle in the panel, and Scorpio definitely has a “Kirby hand.” It moves us easily to Panel 2, where Giffen shows what happens when Nighthawk catches up to Scorpio. The momentum of the panel carries us back to the left, where Hellcat’s claw thing comes in a snags the Zodiac key, which is large in the foreground while Giffen fits the two characters into the background. The Zodiac key is duplicated in Panel 4, leading us down to Hellcat and Valkyrie, while in Panel 5, Nighthawk continues his momentum toward Scorpio and socks him. The way Giffen draws Scorpio in Panel 5 is very much like Kirby. Janson’s inks aren’t as heavy on this page, but he does once again accentuate Hellcat’s breasts which very heavy blacks around the curves of her chest. Patsy needs to show off the goods!


By issue #49, Giffen was being inked by Mike Royer, who often inked Kirby in the 1970s. Royer has a notably thinner line than Janson, even though, as we see in Panel 1, he’s not adverse to using heavy blacks. From the earlier scans, we can see how influenced by Kirby Giffen was, but Royer’s inking presence makes it a bit more obvious. The close-up of Scorpio gives us that Caesar haircut that so many of Kirby’s heroes sport, and Royer’s thin inks make his nose and mouth more exaggerated. Still, we have the thick eyebrows and shadows around the eye. Meanwhile, the robot thing next to Scorpio is heavily inked, but the spot blacks aren’t as rough as Janson’s, and we even get some blobs of black that mimic Kirby Krackle. Panel 3, in which Scorpio poses with the key, shows us a fairly standard Kirby-esque figure, with the simple geometric shapes, and Royer inks it a bit heavily, but more “cleanly” than Janson. Giffen’s drawing of Nick Fury’s face shattering is another Kirby pastiche, as we get the wide face, the high cheekbones, and the square head. I do like the wavy lines and David Kraft’s psychedelic colors in Panel 3. It’s so Seventies, man!


Royer inks the Hulk as darkly as Janson did, but notice that the blacks aren’t quite as rough. Mostly, I wanted to show this because it’s in the running for Greatest Panel In Marvel History, as the Hulk just wants to eat some turkey, and the Defenders won’t let him. Damn, that’s cold, Defenders!


Here’s a really good example of the difference in inkers. Royer uses chunks of black, but because his usual line isn’t as thick and because the chunks tend to have clearly defined borders, it makes the figures more sharply defined. The spot blacks on Moon Knight and Valkyrie in Panel 1 make both their costumes look metallic, even though only Valkyrie’s armor is. The Hulk in Panel 2 is so Kirby-esque that it’s almost bizarre. Royer’s thin lines on, for instance, Hulk’s feet differentiate it from Janson’s heavier line, while the well-defined balcks on his pants and shoulders are very reminiscent of Kirby’s work. Giffen puts Hulk in a very Kirby-esque pose, while his face is even more Kirby-ish than we’ve seen in other examples – his face is very wide, his eyes are very far apart, and his head is almost perfectly square. In Panel 4, we get another Kirby-esque post, as Hellcat lands on top of the Hulk and drives him into the ground. The symmetry of Hellcat’s design and the way Giffen angles her body so her head is much larger than her feet (she has already landed on the Hulk and is flying forward toward the reader) are both Kirby staples, while Royer’s sharp blacks along her center line also remind us of the King.


The final page of the issue gives us another Kirby homage. Jack Norriss has a prototypical Kirby face, with the wide mouth, high cheekbones, and large upper lip, while once again we see the exaggeration of the Hulk’s face, with his large mouth and teeth. The creature behind Scorpio could have stepped out of a Fourth World comic, as Giffen gives it a square face and long flowing mane, which just screams Kirby. Unlike Janson, Royer doesn’t ink Scorpio’s costume as heavily, so it seems to fit him a bit better. The last image in the comic that we readers see is the Hulk, and Giffen/Royer shadows his eyes to show the dark confrontation he’s getting into. It’s a good place to end!

I apologize for bringing up Kirby so much in this post, but it’s really interesting how much Giffen is imitating him here. It’s also very cool how much influence Janson and Royer have on the pencils. Giffen began to draw in a bit more stolid style over the next few years before beginning to create his most famous (probably) style, and tomorrow we’ll check out some of his art as it changed. It gets weirder and weirder! Meanwhile, there’s some weird art in the archives, if you’re so inclined to check it out!