Yo, Joe #3: Zartan Strikes Back in G.I. JOE: SPECIAL MISSIONS!

G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
Credit: IDW Publishing

There’s more to the massive G.I. Joe universe than the Joes and Cobra. Barreling between those two are some of the roughest characters in comics, the biker gang known as the Dreadnoks. This biker gang would give the guys in Sons of Anarchy a run for their money, and sitting at the head of the table for this motorcycle club is the chameleon-like mercenary Zartan. And now after being left for dead by Snake-Eyes in the Australian Outback, he’s back and he’s at odds with both G.I. Joe and his former employers at Cobra.

Starting with the July issue #5 of G.I. Joe: Special Missions, Zartan and his motley crew of Dreadnoks are after a crashed Cobra satellite but Scarlet’s special ops crew is out to get to it first. Last month we spoke to series writer Chuck Dixon about this uncompromising cutthroat crew of Joes in the Special Missions book, and now we look forward to the next arc as they meet a force that could be more cutthroat than they could ever be in Zartan’s Dreadnoks.

G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
Credit: IDW Publishing

Newsarama: This upcoming story-arc features the return of the Dreadnoks and their famed leader, Zartan. Can you tell us what brings this motorcycle gang back into the picture?

Chuck Dixon: As readers of this G.I. Joe continuity know, Zartan crash-landed in the Aussie Outback after a bomb (planted by Snake Eyes) went off in his plane. Cobra believes that Zartan is dead. The last time we saw him he was wounded and dying of thirst until the Dreadnoks arrived.

Nrama: This arc takes place in the Australian Outback. Will, how do you go about familiarizing yourself to draw this and make it look right?

Will Rosado: I've never been to Australia so used Google. It's mostly wide open rocky desert landscape. Nothing fancy here. Only thing I needed to do was to make sure that there were a few “landmarks” in the landscape for myself to keep oriented while drawing the pages.

Nrama: After Zartan survived that crash into the Australian outback and was found by the Dreadnoks, he’s lunging to get ahold of a crashed Cobra satellite. What would Zartan and a motorcycle gang like the Dreadnoks want with that want with that?

Dixon: Well, it’s one of the Daystar satellites placed in orbit by Destro for use with the M.A.S.S. device. Zartan was the first subject to be teleported using the device and that did not end well. This iteration of Zartan is a clone created from data downloaded from a Daystar. I think Zartan’s interest in getting ahold of one of these is easy to understand.

Nrama: Fans remember Zartan as the face-painted, chameleon-like member of the G.I. Joe line. But in the modern context of warrior and political drama, how do you see Zartan and any real-life analogues?

G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
Credit: IDW Publishing

Dixon: He’s the ultimate infiltrator. He can be anyone. And he’s a chess player. He plays a long game. Now that he is an enemy of Cobra as well as the G.I. Joe team, he’s more dangerous than ever.

Nrama: Zartan’s among the mass of enemies that G.I. Joe faces, but how does Zartan and the Dreadnoks stand out from the pack of other foes the Joes have faced?

Dixon: Well, the Dreadnoks are more free spirited than other bad guys we find in G.I. Joe. They’re rebellious and grungy and not so much down with the world domination thing. But they’ll go along with a good global conspiracy if they see something in it for them.

Nrama: Will, I hear Zartan’s gone through some changes which had you redesign him somewhat – can you tell me about Zartan’s looks now and what you’re inspired by in drawing him?

Rosado: This version of Zartan gave us an opportunity to give him a new look which pays homage to the original design. Editor Carlos Guzman sent along some visual direction for me to use as a jumping off point. I always liked the basic Zartan look. I also liked the previous IDW Zartan.

So after showing a few sketches to Carlos, one with his direction and the other my direction, it was decided to go with what I had in mind for the character. He now has a rustic feel, with hammered armor plates, several knives, pistols, double sawed-off shotguns holstered over the shoulder. The key for me was the hood and face markings. To me that's the version of Zartan I have always wanted to draw.

Nrama: Also in this you have the bikers, obviously, with the Dreadnoks. How do you go from drawing the clean-cut Joes to the rag-tag roughnecks like the Dreadnoks? How do you make sure they look legitimate enough, so tpo speak?

G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
Credit: IDW Publishing

Rosado: The Dreadnoks have been a real challenge for me on this arc. Growing up I was a big fan of Zartan. I was such a Zartan fan that I carried around, in my wallet, a newspaper clipping about the action figure. I carried the clipping so long that it disintegrated in my wallet.

Dreadnoks were a weird fit for me in the G.I. Joe books. They add a different texture to the G.I. Joe universe. They are coarse, rude and cold-blooded. I'm was a little shocked at what they do in this arc.

Nrama:G.I. Joe: Special Mission features a rotating cast of G.I. Joe team members led by Scarlet and Mainframe – who’s called into action to retrieve the satellite and stand up to the Dreadnoks?

Dixon: It’s a team comprised of Beachhead, Tripwire, Hard Drive, Roadblock and Spirit. It looks like a pizza run so neither Mainframe or Scarlett are along for the ride.

Nrama: Will, you have a long history with the G.I. Joe books – even longer than Chuck, from your recent work on the main GI JOE title but also way back in the early 1990s when you got your start as a comics pro drawing GI JOE during the Marvel era. How do you feel about the GI JOE title and team returning to them like this?

Rosado: It seems like a different world to me. On my first go-around with G.I. Joe I was your standard hardcore G.I. Joe fan who grew up with the G.I. Joe trifecta - collecting the toys, comics and watching the cartoon. I would record the G.I. Joe commercials for the toys and comics and pause them to look at the frames...and then make my drawings look like the cartoon. I mean I was a victim of one of the greatest brand strategies in history. [laughs]

So when my first job in comics was G.I. Joe it was a dream come true. My concerns then were different than today. On those old G.I. Joe books, I wanted to draw the uniforms/costumes like the toys and include every little detail. Today, I'm less concerned about being "on model" and just want to draw these characters in dramatic situations.

I have always loved the G.I. Joe books and returning to them was exhilarating, but at the same time I felt fearful because I was going to draw the stories my way and I wasn't sure if readers would be interested in how I draw the stories. The real challenge for me was my “day job”. I do a lot of freelance storyboard work and juggling the two has been interesting... [laughs] Other than that I've enjoyed drawing the intense battles and all the ninjas!

G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
G.I. Joe Special Missions #5 Art
Credit: IDW Publishing

Nrama: You two previously worked together on the main G.I. Joe title and even drew Green Arrow at DC years ago. Chuck, as a writer dreaming up these stories, is there anything you threw in there just anticipating of how Will will interpret it and draw? Is there things you’ve learned about working with Will in the past that you’re implementing here?

Dixon: Will is one of those artists I feel simpatico with and I tried from the start to get him on G.I. Joe: Special Missions. His storytelling is flawless and he brings a sense of the real world to the background of Joe. He can draw anything and draw it well. The fact that he’s a Joe fan is icing on the cake. He has an intuitive understanding of the characters and the gear and draws every crazy thing I ask for and makes it all look easy.

Nrama: Like Chuck said, you Will can draw pretty much anything. You’ve drawn G.I. Joe off and on for years, but is there some mission, some character or some vehicle you haven’t gotten a chance to draw that you’d like to do at some point?

Rosado: This is a tough question... there are so many characters and vehicles that it's hard to come up with characters I'd like to draw. I have always like Lowlight, Gung-Ho, firefly and Wild Weasal. I actually got to draw Snake Eyes' wolf, Timber in the last issue of Season 2. That was awesome! I got to draw Shipwreck early on, whom I kinda modeled after myself just a bit. [laughs]. I think I've drawn all the characters that I grew up with and loved. Maybe a story with Steeler, Grunt Clutch, Breaker, Short-Fuse, Zap, Flash.... Love those guys too. Also a fan of Tripwire and love how he has been used in the IDW G.I. Joe books.

I tend to like the characters that are grounded in reality. I know I’m contradicting myself here because Zartan is a favorite but I just like drawing all the military gear and action. So any of the G.I. Joe team members would do. I think it's easier to ask me which characters I don't want to draw!

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