Keith Giffen has been writing comics for decades and for a variety of publishers; mostly writing for DC Comics over the years, he recently spoke to us about this week’s release of the collected edition of Sugar and Spike, which was originally published in the Legends of Tomorrow anthology. Giffen spoke to us about the series, the character he’s always wanted to write (and hasn’t been able to), Marvel vs. DC, and more!
Don’t forget to check out our review of Sugar and Spike too!
Keith Giffen: I love the name of the website by the way.
AiPT!: Hey, thanks! What were your favorite comics growing up?
Giffen: I went through two real passions growing up. My all time favorite superhero, bar none, was the original Giant Man from Marvel. After that I become a huge fan of Wally Wood’s Daredevil. I bet DC is really thrilled that none of their characters are in there.
AiPT!: The gumshoe detective story isn’t one you see very much of, especially in comic books today. Why do you think it holds value in a superhero universe as well as it does in Sugar and Spike?
Giffen: My take on it is, with Sugar and Spike, you can use Superman, all these powers, but then there has to be something in your past you really don’t want to get out there. Something that’s embarrassing, something you did when you’re thinking back and you go, “Oh man what was I thinking?”
For instance, Wonder Woman almost married an alien; the only reason she didn’t marry him was because he didn’t show up at the church…I am not making this up! That’s too rich a story to ignore. There are hundreds of other DC things I could have chosen. I figured, especially with the way the DCU is set up now, these heroes are basically played dead serious, they’ve got their own method of operation, and the last thing Batman wants is for someone to go, “This zebra bat suit is yours?”
Note the Batman zebra costume. What were they thinking?!
AiPT!: That was one of my favorite parts of Sugar and Spike, all the wacky things they uncover. If this kept on going do you have an endless list of dirty laundry for Sugar and Spike to clean up?
Giffen: Oh, god yes. You wouldn’t believe the amount of things we deep-sixed. We didn’t plan it this way, but it actually worked out that we had cases with Superman, Batman, Green Lantern…the main charactrers at the end, and the one Legion of Superheroes one, which was a nod to stuff I’ve done. These stories are out there. There are all these incredible DC stories, which I’m sure fans who are into continuity wish would go away. I thought, yeah, wouldn’t it be great to have a book that holds them up. It may be silly and goofy, products of their time — but they were fun stories. I’m not looking for a story that’s as deep as something Alan Moore would do. I don’t want to be as deep as Alan Moore, I want a few chuckles at the end for people to have fun.
AiPT!: Do you think Sugar and Spike could still work if the characters were in a romantic relationship?
Giffen: For me, no. I’ve got a lot of friends who are women and they will always be friends. As long as I’m doing Sugar and Spike they’ll never be a couple. What’s wrong with a guy and a girl who have been close friends for all their lives? Friendships are a neglected relationship in most comics.
AiPT!: It makes the book a little bit more unique from others, since everyone else is romantically involved with men …
Giffen: They have a past, and in my head they’ve got a whole history; I know exactly what happened to them, but I’ll probably never tell those stories. I’ll never tell those stories because I’m extremely focused on separating this Sugar and Spike from Sheldon Meyer’s Sugar and Spike. I don’t want to interfere with that. It was a charming book, I don’t want to do anything to sabotage it or soil it.
A cover from one of the original Sugar and Spike comics.
AiPT!: Is the reason for that because Sheldon Mayer had an agreement he’d be the only person to write Sugar and Spike?
Giffen: I don’t know the details on that, but that was basically because…I like Sugar and Spike — I enjoyed the series that he did, I still enjoy reading them, they’re these wonderful little tales — I don’t want to go all hamhanded and screw that up. Writing this series, it’s a nod to Sheldon; tip of the hat, you did a real good job, we got Sugar and Spike over here and I promise I won’t mess up anything you did. As far as I’m concerned, my Sugar and Spike started when we met them breaking into the warehouse taking on killer moth [In issue #1 of Legends of Tomorrow].
The page in question.
AiPT!: Will we see Sugar and Spike in the future?
Giffen: Oh sure, as of issue #3 they’re the supporting cast in Blue Beetle. I’m not leaving these characters alone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if DC calls me tomorrow and asks me, “You want to do a Sugar and Spike series?” — don’t even ask me just tell me the deadline. I would be happy to write Sugar and Spike for the rest of my career, I love the characters. Bilquis Evely, I’m stunned by her art, she made the strip for me. When I saw that first issue a lot of stuff coalesced that wasn’t there before. I couldn’t have done it without her.
AiPT!: Her artwork reminds me of an older time in comics, giving it an extra special feel.
Giffen: If this [comic] was a meal, Sugar and Spike would be the sherbert you get between courses to cleanse your palette.
There’s a lot of history in this panel!
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Giffen: Getting up in the morning. I procrastinate with the best of them. When I procrastinate it’s when I don’t have a handle on the character, if I’ve written myself into a corner, and rather than doing the work and digging myself out and finding a way out of it I’ll flip through Netflix. I’d probably be doing this if nobody was paying me. I’d be posting these stories for free on the web; ultimately I’d probably die before I run out of stories.
AiPT!: What do you wish someone had told you about the comic business when you first started?
Giffen: That’s a good one. Probably it will take about 20 years before you find your rhythm. The first 20 years, you’ve got deadlines, working 2 or 3 in the morning and you’re second guessing yourself. After the years go by you pick up a rhythm, right now at this point I get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, sit down, write…I’m usually done by 1 o’clock and the rest of the day is mine. But that’s 35 years in the business.
AiPT!: 35 years in the business; what’s the best advice you ever received?
Giffen: Julius Schwartz gave me the best advice. I was working on a plot, he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m working on a plot,” and he said, “It’s a comic book.” That doesn’t mean you can just sluff off or do whatever you want, but it puts it in perspective. You are entertaining people, and if you’re not entertaining you’re not going to stay in the business. So all this talk about continuity or researching the past of the character so you understand the character fully that really doesn’t…play with me. If they’re going to call me up and say “Hey you wanna pick up Cyborg?”, the first thing I think of is, “Do I have cyborg stories?”
AiPT!: What’s the answer, Keith?
Giffen: Oh yeah! Yup. Let me put it this way, it might not be Cyborg stories you like. Maybe stories that Cyborg fans might like, but … I don’t think there are any bad characters. Is there bad handling of characters? Yes there is. Any book, if you can find the right voice, what makes the character work for you, that’s great — then your job is to basically convince everyone else that character will work for them. That’s the way I’ve approached all this stuff.
AiPT!: Are there any characters you haven’t written that you’d like to?
Giffen: The one character I’d love to do and I never have, and I totally never will because I’m at the wrong company: Captain America. The one character I’d like to spend an entire year on, but I have to qualify that. I’d have to spend a year on it my way.
AiPT!: You have 35 more years to get Captain America.
Giffen: A character is interesting to me if I can keep myself interested in the character. Doesn’t matter if it’s Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spawn, it doesn’t matter. If the character and the potential for story in the character is there — that gets me charged up. One of the great secrets of comics is that DC and Marvel …all these other companies, we need each other.
AiPT!: Why do you say that?
Giffen: If we were alone out there, then…, well you need, an arch foe. You need someone to do better than.
AiPT!: You need a foil.
Giffen: You need a foil, yes! The comic book industry is like that. If DC or Marvel were to fold then the comic book industry would be that much worse off for them not being there.
AiPT!: It would certainly cut down on fans arguing over which characters or stories are better.
Giffen: That’s the thing, that’s all the arguments have ever been about. That’s what kills me. When the fans are arguing, it’s that good-natured back and forth. The best comics out there are the comics that you put the out and the unsaid message is, “Yeah, can you top this?” That’s what drives us. Marvel, DC, whatever. When Alan Moore was knocking it dead on Swamp Thing, you can guarantee every writer out there was thinking, “Can I top this?” It’s competition as inspiration and it’s almost the perfect way to work.
AiPT!: I’d love to see more Sugar and Spike and hopefully the trade paperback does well. Sugar and Spike was my favorite story in each Legend of Tomorrow issue.
Giffen: That’s all you really got at the end of your day, your opinion. It’s as valid as anyone else’s. The people who enjoy Sugar and Spike, I’m grateful to them. Those six issues of Sugar and Spike, that’s the high point of my career that was a fun book to do.
Each story has a beginning, middle, and end. This one starts with Superman.
AiPT!: Each one stands on its own. There’s some beauty to that.
Giffen: Remember when comics were self contained stories?
AiPT!: Those were the best, I’m reviewing about 15 issues a week and those are the ones I typically like the most.
Giffen: Yes and you get the payoff. The average fan picks up an issue of whatever comic book, and to get one chapter of a multi-chapter story that’s already being told and isn’t finished? We’re closing doors and that’s never a good thing. The new readers need someplace to come in. The one issue length is just suited to Sugar and Spike stories. I can’t think of a single Sugar and Spike story that needs to end with to be continued.
AiPT!: Right, it’s how a good detective story works.
Giffen: Here’s the problem, how do they solve it, the end.
You can buy the Sugar and Spike TPB from Amazon on November 15th.
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