What happens when there’s a military mission out there and it’s too tough to handle for G.I. Joe? You call in Snakehunter.
Snakehunter is the codename for a new covert team of Joes led by Scarlett that premiered last month in the new series G.I. Joe: Special Missions. Written by longtime G.I. Joe scribe Chuck Dixon, G.I. Joe: Special Missions takes on the operations that are the most challenging and the most sensitive, with the longest odds and the worst outcomes if not accomplished. Scarlett, along with her second-in-command Mainframe, draft in specialized members of the G.I. Joe membership to fit to the needs of each mission, creating a Mission: Impossible meets… well… G.I. Joe hybrid. Sounds like a tall order, but luckily IDW’s drafted a top notch player to join Dixon: Paul Gulacy.In this second installment of our monthly column “Yo, Joe!” we talked with both Dixon and Gulacy about their special forces squad and the challenges they’re facing in this first arc.
Newsarama: How would you describe the difference, theme-wise, between this book and G.I. Joe?
Chuck Dixon: Well, I can’t really speak for the other book. But G.I. Joe: Special Missions is just what the title promises; tales of a specialized unit within the G.I. Joe team that tackles the more covert, more sensitive missions. They’re an enclosed group who gather, and act upon, their own intel against threats to the national security.
Nrama: Paul, seeing your name on a G.I. Joe book was jaw-dropping for G.I. Joe and Gulacy fans, but that opening scene with Baroness nailed it. What was it like stepping into this, and for that particular scene?
Paul Gulacy: The timing couldn’t have been better. I happened to have an opening in my schedule. My entire career is based on things that happen to fall from the sky out of nowhere. I never plan ahead. I let things drop and have been real lucky so far. Not that this is an ideal way to go about business. I don't recommend it. Anyhow, when I read Chuck's script I knew we had something here. He's got everything in there to make it sing. I learned years ago from master craftsman Jim Steranko the importance of grand entrances so I definitely had to play that up big with the Baroness.Nrama: This team is dubbed Snakehunter, and led by one of the core Joes, Scarlet. How’s this team work?
Dixon: The core of the group is Scarlett as team leader and Mainframe as her number one. The rest of the team can shift and change according to the demands of each mission. Scarlett has clearance to re-assign any G.I. Joe team member if she needs their particular talents. Often the mission demands change as the operation proceeds and the roster can change mid story arc. The team deals with bad situations getting worse by the second.
Nrama: Can you go into detail on the rotating members of this team?
Dixon: Absolutely. The first arc is mostly a naval operation so we’ll see Torpedo and Deep Six and the other nautical G.I. Joe characters. In our second arc it’s an op in the Australian outback and Spirit will be there as an expert tracker. Our third arc requires the help of a team member we haven’t seen in a while and I want that to come as a surprise.
Nrama: This first arc is a continuation of what you were doing previously in the previous volume of the G.I. Joe, with everyone trying to get after the Neptune Bonanza lying at the bottom of the sea with $40 billion dollars inside. Can you tell us each group’s motivations in going after this?Dixon: The G.I. Joe team go in believing this to be a Cobra backed operation. They don’t know that Baroness is on the outs with Cobra. She’s trying to work her way back into the organization by retrieving those billions that Snake Eyes sent to the bottom of the Atlantic the year before. So the team starts with a half a loaf of intel and things go sideways in a hurry.
Nrama:Paul, the next issue of G.I. Joe: Special Missions promises some underwater action. As an artist, how do you prepare for that? Any tips for other artists wanting to draw good underwater scenes?
Gulacy: That was a cinch considering Chuck, editor Carlos Guzman and I are all former retired Navy SEALs. Just kiddin'. I watched Thunderball and read the script while listening to a variety of movie soundtracks. The same old drill I've done for years. The rest is looking at the clock and realize it's either sink or swim so to speak. Just jump in. Gather up your reference. You should have files on underwater stuff. Get online and search. Go. You’ve got a deadline, bro; move.
Nrama: Something said in the first issue really stuck with me; about how the public team in G.I. Joe gets more funding than Scarlett’s team – how will that affect the group going forward?Dixon: They’ll need to scrounge. In the previous series I was writing I introduced Bildocker; a mooch, a schemer and a master at “obtaining” whatever the G.I. Joe team might need. Vets and serving military who are fans of the Joe have told me that they love this character because they recognize him. Every branch of the service has operators like Bildocker and the SpecMiss Team needs him to get them transport and gear off the grid. He’s their force multiplier when it comes to stretching their shrunken budget.
Nrama: Re-reading your various G.I. Joe work for this interview, I noticed that Mainframe has been a character that you’ve done a lot to develop. Can you describe your views on Mainframe and how you see him fitting in with stalwarts like Scarlett and Snake Eyes?
Dixon: With cyber warfare a more credible threat to our national security than any conventional weapons, a guy like Mainframe is invaluable to the group. With no human intelligence assets of their own, the team relies on what Mainframe and his fobbits can uncover through the means of cyber espionage.
Nrama: Getting a bigger picture, how is the personal politics in the group with Scarlett and everyone – and also with the Snakehunter team inside the larger G.I. Joe operation?Dixon: There hasn’t been any interaction between the SpecMiss team and the rest of G.I. Joe yet. But, for Scarlett, there’s always the frisson of tension in the background left by Snake Eyes. Within the group, they may argue over some tactic or disagree on the best way ahead but in the end they’re a cohesive unit. If they have any differences at all it’s over the best way to deal with Cobra.
Nrama: Paul, doing my research hereI realized that this is the first time you’ve ever drawn G.I. Joe despite working in the industry longer than the comic has been around. As the industry’s sole line of war comics, how do you feel about the G.I. Joe comics and what made you want this as your next project?
Gulacy: Are you kidding me? I went to art school with Fred Flinstone. I was initially contacted by Chris Ryall at IDW to work on a Judge Dredd story last year and that subsequently lead to G.I Joe. I was actually working on Master Of Kung Fu back in the 70s when Larry Hama was doing all of the scripting on the series when Marvel had it. I thought it was hot back then. Great storylines. I'm not sure how many people are aware of Larry serving time in the military in Vietnam, so, he knows his stuff. Larry and I actually worked on a Batman series together. The bottom line is this-the fun factor. It's nothing to me if it isn’t fun and entertaining. Stan figured this out years ago. That is what drew me to comics and that is the over riding factor that has to be there. Chuck's scripts deliver that particularly in this series. He customized it for me and he's got everything in there to make this rock. I'm geeked.
Nrama: Any good war comic is research intensive, but I imagine G.I. Joe is even more so given it’s a licensed book. How’d you prep for this book, learning the characters and Dixon’s own intensive weapon-specific writing style?Gulacy: There was no prepping. I'm still flying by the seat of my pants. It's very akin to my working on Star Wars, which is murder reference-wise. It's like you're online as much as you are at the board tracking down things. Luckily, I have a shadow figure helping me get through this on top of my editor Carlos and Chuck.
Nrama: You said you were familiar with G.I. Joe going all the way back to early years at Marvel. Are there certain characters you are itching to draw at some point?
Gulacy: So far, all the well-known characters and the ones that everybody is familiar with are in this story plus some new faces. here's a funny story: years ago a guy that used to work for Dark Horse ran and ad in the local newspaper announcing that he was liquidating his G.I. Joe action figure collection, I dropped by out of curiosity. I was blown away. He dedicated an entire room of his apartment with everything G.I. Joe that Hasbro came out with including the five-foot carrier, all the jets, choppers, every vehicle. It was nuts. The walls were lined with tons of shelves with every character that was made. If I recall, he just let me have his doubles and triples on the house in a big shoebox. These were primarily characters from the seventies and the eighties. As a result, if I ever through the years needed to design a character in a comic story, a villain or whatever, i always resorted to that shoebox for ideas. Just tweaked things enough to get away with it. My creed and my code in this business has always has been-"an artist is as only as good as his reference." Those little G.I. Joes pulled me out of the soup more than once.