G.I. Joe Roundtable, Part 1: Hama, Dixon, Gage & More

A G.I. Joe Roundtable With IDW

Earlier this year, when it was announced that IDW had obtained the license for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, a vast number of questions were raised; anything from concerns of continuity regarding the last license holder, Devil’s Due, and Larry Hama’s involvement to reprints of the original Marvel work. Initial questions were answered in San Diego—but now, IDW has assembled their own elite strike force—for not one…but three books which launch at the beginning of 2009.

Newsarama contacted IDW and their elite cadre of professionals to discuss the reboot of G.I. Joe in a two-part interview.

Newsarama: First off, let's start by talking about the make-up of the books that IDW is going to be launching--care to give readers a taste?

Andy Schmidt: Yeah, there are three books launching. The #0 issue out in October gives readers a taste of all three series and for only $1. That's it! Spend a buck and get three brand new stories introducing the new world of G.I. Joe. And there's cool back up material in it too including interviews with the writers, character designs with commentary by Robert Atkins and so on...

But the three books break down like this:

Larry Hama and Tom Feister bring you G.I. Joe: Origins. This is exactly what it sounds like--the origin of the GI Joe team. Has Hama done this before--not exactly. This is a new JOE and he's writing something that I know--not think--I know will surprise new readers and long-time fans alike. This lays the foundation for the Joe universe.

Chuck Dixon and Robert Atkins are doing the book simply titled G.I. Joe and it's the meat and potatoes Joe book. You get your action and your intrigue and the larger cast of characters here. I really couldn't be happier with what these two guys are doing.

And the last of the books, written by Mike Costa and Christos Gage and illustrated by Antonio Fuso with colors by Chris Chuckry, is the thriller JOE book. It's the darkest and the most emotionally intense. It's got a film noir thing going on that's awesome. But most importantly, this is the book that brings the reader behind the curtain of the COBRA organization. And it's not pretty back there.

Rounding out our creative teams are cover artists Dave Johnson (100 Bullets), Andrea DiVito (Annihilation, Thor), Howard Chaykin (Every awesome book ever), and the special wrap around cover by Gabriele Dell'Otto for issue #1 of the Dixon/Atkins book.

NRAMA: Chris, how does it feel to control the childhoods of so many children of the '80's? Transformers...and now GI Joe...when does the reversion to childhood and megalomania ensue...or has it already?

Chris Ryall: The full reversion happens when I work on new ROM, Spaceknight comics... and maybe Stretch Armstrong, too. But this reality will suffice nicely in place of that fantasy world.

NRAMA: Andy, how involved was the task of organizing the impressive roster of talent for the launch of this new line from IDW? Who are some of the artists that are going to be joining the likes of Larry Hama, Chuck Dixon, Christos Gage and Mike Costa?

AS: Organizing this whole thing was a bear but it's well worth it. We toyed with a bunch of ideas on how to do this, but we decided that the three book approach was the way to go. We wanted some things to make core fans happy and we want to attract new readers as well. Larry was the first phone call. Then artist Robert Atkins was on board next and he started doing design work.

I then reached out to Chuck Dixon after reading what he did for the GI Joe Movie Prequel comics. Holy crap, he's good. I'd never worked with Chuck before, but I'm loving his scripts. When we decided that Dixon's book was going to be the more mainstream one, Robert moved over to it.

Then I called Chris Gage who was, frankly, to busy to do the COBRA book but he introduced me to Mike Costa who has been outstanding not only on COBRA but also just contributing to all our discussions. Mike is a guy you're going to want to keep your eye on. Chris got so excited by what we were all talking about that he was happy to make time to co-write it with Mike.

Tom Feister got the call for Origins because he's got a really unique and timeless style that fits perfectly with what Larry is doing there. Tom won his first Eisner working on Ex Machina with Tony Harris and now he's struck out on his own doing pencils and color.

And lastly, I went to Italy to capture that film noir feeling for the COBRA book. Antonio Fuso is the perfect choice and despite his Italian roots, he's actually a big Joe fan which kind of cracks me up.

NRAMA: Let's have the writers of each book tell us some information about their projects. What can readers expect from each of these new titles?

Larry Hama: Origins is gonna be just that. It's not just a retelling, of how the team got together, but a re-imagining of it as if it took place in the real world. I’m trying to keep it as gritty as anybody will let me.

Chuck Dixon: I’m doing a movie-related prequel mini in addition to the “kitchen sink” comic with all the Joes in it. The mini will be four issues each featuring a standalone story of four different characters. Duke, Destro, Baroness and Snake Eyes. The main book will be the Joes moving forward in uncovering a vast, global criminal conspiracy.

Mike Costa: Our title is very much about the underbelly of the Joe universe. It's about a double-agent infiltrating a group of bad people doing bad things and losing his soul, inch by inch. It's a lot like The Departed, or a one of the grittier, less-operatic HK crime-thrillers.

In that respect, it's a lot darker than the other Joe books, and probably darker than fans are gonna expect. We'll turn some heads with this one, but hey, it's about nasty people – it's supposed to be nasty!

NRAMA: IDW has decided to scrap all the prior stories and permutations of GI Joe from previous publishers to start fresh--certainly there will be nuances from these other books--what do each of think is crucial when you consider the challenge of capturing a new slant on this tenured concept and its illustrious past?

CD: The biggest (and smartest) change to my mind is the slower reveal on the nature of Cobra. These characters are universally recognized by a huge audience. That lets us play more with expectations and approach. We have a luxury that Larry didn’t have when he created this franchise. He had to roll the good guys and the bad guys out simultaneously ‘cause there were toys to be sold, dammit! Now that he’s done all the hard work and gave the comic a life of its own far beyond a mere product tie-in book, we can mess with what Larry’s done. The coolest part is that Larry’s playing with us and working all new riffs on his stuff.

MC: I think it'll be interesting for the fans, because some characters haven't changed at all really, while others have been almost totally re-imagined from the ground up.

For Chris and I, whenever we had an idea to really shake-up an established character, we always used the original characterization as a launch-pad. We were really serious about maintaining the core "truth" of that character. I even went so far as to read the original character cards from the back of the action-figures to make sure we're staying true to who these people really were. If a character's specialty used to be listed as "assassin" then rest assured he's not going to show up as a helicopter pilot (unless that helicopter pilot assassinates somebody.)

Ultimately I think readers are going to be surprised at some of the characters we're working with in our book, but we're really only extrapolating what's already there. The Joes in our main cast were always listed for either undercover or intelligence work – they've just never really been utilized in this way.

LH: Events and continuity never meant anything to me. The important thing was the characters, and the stupidly simple fact that if you make the characterizations extremely consistent, you can create an alternate verisimilar universe despite lasers and day-glo and Cobra-La.

AS: Fearlessness. It is tempting and would be easy to regurgitate old stories and familiar tropes. But that would also be kind of stagnant, I think. Doesn't mean our characters aren't going to be recognizable as themselves but it does mean that we're going to move in other directions and explore new ways of expressing how cool these guys and ladies are.

NRAMA: Is there a natural tendency to lean towards the pre-created (and marketable) iconic looks of these characters--or are readers going to see markedly re-invented concepts for these characters?

Antonio Fuso: I think readers are going to be surprised by the new Cobra’s suit I have designed. Let me explain myself a little bit better: Imagine Teletubbies with a big pink Cobra logo on the chest! Amazing, isn’t it? (Don’t worry Guys, I’m just kidding!)

Talking seriously, all the people involved with these books are big fans and we are going to respect everything that makes GI JOE the fantastic concept that it is.

Robert Atkins: I'm pretty sure we had some wiggle room with the character designs; however, I decided to keep them as recognizable as possible. I used the classic designs as a springboard and went on to make them more contemporary when needed—some more than others. For example, Cobra Commander's original design embodies that character. While others looked like they just walked out of a WHAM! video.

Tom Feister: Personally, I think GI Joe should look like the characters from the toys and cartoon and the Marvel Comics series. At this point, Robert is leading the way on the look of the characters. He's got the longest track record with the books. The biggest change I'm aware of is that Hawk now has dark brown hair and looks less like Duke.

The Origins series focuses on the early days of the Joe team so I'll be looking to have less fully formed "costumes" for the characters. Snake-Eyes will look like Snake-Eyes but he might not have the same type of gear with him when we first meet him than he does in Robert's book that takes place a few years later. I think there's a learning curve and these highly trained professionals are constantly adapting and upgrading their gear.

These books are in the hands of people that are genuinely fans and we're going to protect the integrity of the characters and the concept. Having said that I think there is certainly a place for Elseworlds type stories of the GI Joe characters.

NRAMA: Andy, will these three books be interwoven in the same continuity? Or will the IDW GI Joe line have several different continuities like the Transformers line from IDW?

AS: The only other continuity that will exist is the movie continuity. Those books will be clearly labeled as such with a different logo treatment and all that.

The three books we've been talking about here so far are all a part of the same world. But we're intentionally leaving some wiggle room. For example, Origins obviously takes place earliest in history. But how long before the other two series is a question we're leaving unanswered. There are gaps we're leaving not to be vague but because we've got plans on how to fill them that will blow your mind.

You're going to like your new Joe.

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