Steve Kurth is what you’d call a G.I. Joe veteran. The Wisconsin-born comics artist has been doing tours of duty with the Real American Heroes going all the way back to 2001’s G.I. Joe series from Devil’s Due Publishing. He’s currently on the frontlines of IDW’s G.I. Joe series which he and writer Fred Van Lente relaunched in February, and is becoming one of the most prominent modern artists of the G.I. Joe comics franchise.
Last month in Newsarama’s monthly Yo Joe! column we broke the news that Van Lente was leaving the title with December’s G.I. Joe #11, and now we turn our attention to Kurth to talk about his long-time comics partner’s imminent departure, as well as the artist’s own thoughts on his runs on the series. Kurth spoke in depth about the impending Roadblock origin story to be told in G.I. Joe #11, as well as chiming in about characters and vehicles he’d like to draw in the near future. And as a last bit of juicy scuttlebutt, we ask the one-time Iron Man: Director OF S.H.I.E.L.D. artist how Marvel’s super-spy team would do facing off against the men and women of G.I. Joe.
Newsarama: In September Fred Van Lente broke the news here at Newsarama that he’d be leaving G.I. Joe in December. Can you tell us about that partnership with Van Lente, which goes back to Iron Man Legacy, and what you’re going to miss about his scripts?
Steve Kurth: I'm excited for Fred and the other projects he finds himself involved with but I am completely bummed to be losing him. Fred gives me everything I'm looking for in a script which means he's been spoiling me since we were paired on Iron Man Legacy. He's always great with action and humor but it's the character beats, the emotional depth that he brings to the table that will make me always want to work with him. That and I feel we've gotten into a groove. To the point where we occasionally decide to work in the "Marvel method" and I think it works pretty well. That's a way of working that can easily go off the rails but it seems pretty natural for us. Plus it's a great buzz to just plain be a fan of the guy you're working with. So I'm absolutely going to miss Fred.
Nrama: Although Fred is leaving, do you have plans to stick around for a while?
Kurth: I do plan to stick around for a number of reasons. It's been a year and I feel I'm getting into the groove and finding a voice. I also do my best work when I'm planted on a single title for a while and I'm excited to embrace that actual monthly schedule. Also, with who they've been talking about in regards to who the next writer is going to be [Newsarama Note: Stay tuned for our next Yo Joe column for an interview with incoming writer Paul Allor - this interview took place before that announcement] I'm definitely getting a great one so I'm happy. Allen Martinez and Joana Lafuente do great work so I'm happy there. John is a pleasure to work with and runs a tight ship so I'm happy. No reason to go if I'm happy.
Nrama: In Van Lente’s last issue, G.I. Joe #11, you and he are doing an origin story for Roadblock. Can you tell us your thoughts on the character himself and what you like best about him? And will his portrayal by Dwayne Johnson in the recent G.I. Joe: Retaliation movie affect how you draw him?
Kurth: I really enjoy Roadblock and how Fred has handled him. In our first story “Homefront,” even though much of the story delves into the character of Duke, Roadblock is the one with the most distinctive voice and second strongest presence I think. I think but he also gets to show more sides of himself than the others do. He gets more emotional at times, he gets cooler and more calculating, he steps into a leaderships roll and he's maybe the guy that we see looking at some of the weirdness and reacting like we would. I enjoy that while we see different parts of his personality depending on the situation the guy never loses that optimism or faith in people. Having said that he also has no problem snapping a viper’s neck for the cause.
As far as Dwayne Johnson goes I wasn't actively trying to draw on him for Roadblock, but I think it happened anyway. I think there is kind of a Dwayne Johnson thing going on with our version of Roadblock but I wasn't initially trying for that, it just kind of happened.
And visually I think he looks kind of like D but with more of a dome. You can't have Roadblock without a prominent dome.
Nrama: Fred tells us his big goal for his run on G.I. Joe was to develop Duke into a more fully-rounded character. How do you think he’s done, and do you have any goals you still hope to achieve with the series?
Kurth: I think Fred nailed it with Duke. Duke was very much like Superman for me in that I found myself liking the iconography of the character, and liking him on paper, I just found myself having a hard time connecting with him when it came time to actually sit down with the character. Now I love Duke. I love that Fred found the texture. In my mind he Battlestar Galactica'd the guy. We see some moments from Duke that show us he's a really good guy. Better as a person that we'd hoped, but more of an actual human being as we see the pitted uneven parts of him. He's done some questionable things. He's selfish at times. And then we see that there are reasons for this. He's a more complex guy that I want to keep reading about now.
Nrama: Now, how do you see Duke fitting in with the G.I. Joe structure? Snake Eyes is the silent but deadly type, but who is Duke to the G.I. Joe organization?
Kurth: I think Duke is like Captain America but not just because of the blonde guy patriotic military angle, but because of who they are. When cap shows up everyone is going to do exactly what he wants. I view Duke the same way. I'd like to think that if you put 20 G.I. Joe team members with memory loss on a small island within five minutes everyone would be deferring to Duke. Not just because he's capable and strong willed but because he's just that guy. He's looked at as the guy having the moral center, the guy beyond reproach, which is why I'm enjoying what Fred is doing with him in the “Threat Matrix” arc. We're seeing him act a little shifty. Some of the team are suspicious and feel the need to act on it. He's still a good guy but we're catching up to some of the secrets he's been keeping and how that puts him and his team at risk.
Nrama: You’re one of the few guys that have drawn both S.H.I.E.L.D. and GI. Joe. In doing G.I. Joe and Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., how do you think the G.I. Joe team members match up to S.H.I.E.L.D. team members?
Kurth: I think G.I. Joe doesn't necessarily mesh well with most other properties but you happen to have named one of the few where I think it would really, really work. I think it would be a dream book to draw actually as G.I. Joe team members match up really well with S.H.I.E.L.D. team members. If you take the superpower element out of it I think G.I. Joe team members are going to be more than capable of making life difficult for S.H.I.E.L.D. if they went toe to toe. I'd love to see Nick Fury square off against Agent Colton. I'd love to see Scarlett and Maria Hill trying to take each other down. Hawk and Dum Dum Dugan taking a swing at each other would be great. But then I think about the Baddies because they're going to get into it too I would think. Who wouldn't want to see the Baroness and Viper turn on each other. Tomax and Xamot getting into it with the Fenris twins as pa von Strucker and Cobra Commander are trying to shoot each other. I'm sure someone would want to crash the Helicarrier into the PITT. I would love to draw that. Hey, maybe this is the crossover that gets Fred back. I'm all aboard if it is.
Nrama: Excellent. You’re one of the longest running modern G.I. Joe artists, drawing G.I. Joe on and off since way back in 2001 when Devil’s Due was publishing it. What’s it like, here now in 2013, to be back on these Real American Heroes and what keeps it fresh for you?
Kurth: It's a dramatically different experience for me. When I was working on G.I. Joe a decade ago I honestly didn't know what I was doing. It's not as if I wasn't working incredibly hard, we all were, but I just wasn't at a proper professional level yet. I think I learned pretty fast. I think you can look at it issue to issue and see a great deal of improvement but I don't really think the first few issues we did were up to snuff. I don't think we did right by the fans but it wasn't for lack of trying. Our intent was earnest enough though. Now, ten years later I've actually got some chops. I think I'm a proper storyteller now. I think I've got enough of a skill set that I can do the characters justice now. That is not to say that everyone has to like my style or choices, but as I look back at the G.I. Joe of 2001, wow was that a different animal. While we learned pretty quickly, and over time started to deliver a better product I still liken it to a garage band that's trying really hard that has potential that doesn't quite know they're not there yet. So yeah, G.I. Joe in 2013 is much more satisfying for me. As an individual, sure, but as part of a team too. Having our editor John Barber and Fred steer the ship has been great. With Allen Martinez working his magic on inks and Joana Lafuente providing some fantastic colors, this has been a great experience for me.
One of the things though that is exactly the same a decade ago as it is now, is how I feel about what I'm working on. How much fun I'm having with the property. There was a page I drew about a month ago where Duke came repelling down a bridge to deal with some motorcycle riding twins and for whatever reason thought about every morning before school. Every morning as a kid I was shoveling cereal into my mouth as I watched G.I. Joe team members shoot lasers and every Cobra soldiers’ chute open after their plane got shot down. Loved it. So I was excited in 2001 and I'm excited now. That's what is keeping it fresh for me. That and the fact that I feel I get to do it right this time.
Nrama: After all these years, are there still some characters, vehicles or places in G.I. Joe that you’re hoping to draw at some point?
Kurth: I'd really like to have a reason to try and pull off a realistic looking Cobra Bugg or a Buzz Roar. I like the weirder stuff so drawing a D.E.M.O.N. or that pogo ball thing would be a ton of fun.
I love Zartan and the Dreadnoks so him driving around in a thunder machine would be very cool I think. I wish I could draw the crimson twins which I guess is pretty difficult considering what happened with Xamot. I could use a lot more Mind Bender and Firefly. As far as G.I. Joe team members go I've always liked Flint. I want to see him and Shipwreck out sourpuss each other. Flash would be great because he was the first G.I. Joe action figure I ever had as a kid so I think that would be cool. Sci fi because he's a stranger design compared to the other G.I. Joe team members and Gung Ho just because he's awesome. And obviously Snake Eyes. The real Snake Eyes. :)