Sunday afternoon at New York Comic Con, creators from IDW’s G.I. Joe and Transformers comics gathered to discuss their upcoming plans for the comics, their excitement over the upcoming feature films, and how the movies will be reflected in IDW’s titles throughout 2009.
On the panel: IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall, editor Andy Schmidt, Cobra co-writer Christos Gage, longtime Joe writer Larry Hama, G.I. Joe artist Robert Atkins, Cobra co-writer Mike Costa, and Cobra artist Antonio Fuso.
Ryall opened by admitting that the panel was lopsided with G.I. Joe creators, as only Mike Costa has any upcoming Transformers work scheduled with the company. The G.I. Joe fans in the audience erupted with an impromptu “Yo Joe” cheer.
Transformers fans immediately responded with a cheer of their own when Ryall’s first slide displayed the words: 25 years, 1984-2009,” noting that the franchise will be marking its Silver anniversary.
Several projects were announced in rapid fashion, including the current All Hail Megatron and the Simon Furman-written Maximum Dinobots, with Nick Roche on art. Following those two series, Ryall announced All Hail Megatron Coda, by Costa, Zander Cannon, Furman, Shane McCarthy and various artists. Series editor Schmidt described the four issue series, which starts in July, saying that each issue will have two 11-page stories. Coda will bridge the gap between All Hail Megatron and Maximum Dinobots, as well as setting the stage for upcoming plans.
Two prequels to the upcoming Transformers 2: Rise of the Machines film were announced: Alliance and Defiance. Writer Chris Mowry is scripting writing both series, which will have cover art by one of the movie’s major character designers. Fan-favorite Transformers author Simon Furman will also be scripting a weekly-shipping adaptation of the film itself.
In other Transformers news:
Readers can look forward to omnibus collections of The War Within and Beast Wars.
New Spotlight issues previewed include: Jazz, which “ties in with All Hail Megatron.” The one-shot moves between the present day and the distant past, providing “insight into Jazz and why he’s respected the way he is.”
Drift and Metroplex also get Spotlights, with Metroplex’s issue written by Schmidt and drawn by Marcelo Matere. The issue marks the city-sized Transformers’ “first appearance in the IDW universe. He’ll appear in a big way.”
Finally, Ryall mentioned that young Transfans can look for his “picture book/comic book hybrid” book for young readers. Preview pages got several “Awws” from the crowd.
Shifting focus to the G.I. Joe team, Ryall gave the microphone to artist Robert Atkins, who is collaborating with writer Chuck Dixon on the new G.I. Joe series. Atkins described the pleasure of working with Dixon, saying Dixon is “a wonderful craftsman who really understands the characters and the amount of action to put into it.” Readers will be “starting to learn more about the characters as we’ve set them up,” he added, saying that upcoming issues provide an “intricate examination of the Joes, the new Pit, and more insight into the Cobra situation … The Baroness will be appearing soon.”
G.I. Joe: Origins, the five-issue series by popular Joe writer Larry Hama and artist Mike Hawthorne, got a positive reaction from the crowd. Talking about the coming back to the characters he’s associated so strongly with, but working in a rebooted universe, Hama said, “I had to start from square one, but it’s a lot of fun. I try to do something completely different with it, yet still keep the feeling of the characters. To me the characters are always the same.” Though the “set up, modus, little rules change,” the characters themselves are “pretty unique and pretty stable.” Hama added that he enjoyed finding new ways to illuminate aspect of the characters. Focusing on Hawk and Duke having to put the group together, Origins allows new audiences to get to know the G.I. Joe team as the leadership does.
Schmidt, Hama’s editor on the title, said that the writer is “succeeding with flying colors at finding new ways to do things.”
“I’m trying to get into aspects nobody’s gotten into before,” Hama continued. He added that readers will get to see the team stuck “with a guy who’s all bandage d up and can’t speak, stuck in a hospital bed.” Explaining how the characters have come so natural to him and remained so consistent under his pen, he told the crowd, “I never really made up any characters.” All of the characters are “basically people I knew or know. Three or four are walking about the floor today,” he cracked, getting a good laugh from the fans. “It’s like basing stuff on your cousin Joe (no pun intended, it seemed), how they talk, their body language.”
Turning to the villain-centric Cobra series, by co-writers Christos Gage and Mike Costa and artist Antonio Fuso, Ryall said that it takes a “grimmer look into the Joe world.”
The series focuses on Chuckles, who is infiltrating Cobra at a time when G.I. Joe doesn’t know what cobra is, Gage explained. His mission is to infiltrate and “let us know what it’s about.” Forcing Chuckles to do “a lot of questionable stuff” and the series explores whether it’s possible for to Chuckles to “do bad things in the name of the better good and still keep his humanity.”
Saying that the series is reminiscent of Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper, Gage admitted that he probably knows the least about G.I. Joe of anybody on the panel, but he was lucky to be paired with Costa, who “knows the Joe universe inside and out.”
Cobra, Costa said, explores a corner of G.I. Joe universe that’s a lot darker. The creators wanted to establish Cobra as a serious organization, “not a bunch of guys with lasers that always miss and have no agenda other than attacking Joe.” For longtime fans, he said that he and Gage will bring back a lot of characters, but “in ways you might not expect. Characters will turn out to be people you didn’t think they were in the beginning.”
Fuso explained his contribution to the series as follows: “I try to draw more realistic Hawaiian shirts. That’s all.”
Ryall then asked if fans saw the Super Bowl trailer of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, getting a strong applause from the crowd.
Written by Dixon and drawn by SL Gallant, IDW will be publishing a four-issue prequel miniseries, each issue a stand-alone “look at a character before the movie starts. In order, expect to see Duke, Destro, the Baroness, and Snake-Eyes. The prequel comics will tells fans where each character is at when the movie starts. The movie adaptation itself will be written by IDW editor Tenton Tipton and penciled by Casey Maloney. “I probably shouldn’t say more about the movie,” Ryall said.
However, the publisher has one more Joe comic based on the movie. Snake-Eyes actor Ray Park, also known to most Newsarama readers as Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Toad in X-Men, will team with co-writer Kevin Van Hook and artist SL Gallant in fall 2009 for a four-issue Snake-Eyes series based on the movie. Park actually approached IDW about the possibility, as he’d enjoyed playing the character in the movie so much and wanted to do more with him.
Among the upcoming collections of past G.I. Joe material, IDW mentioned Best of collections focused on: Hawk, Cobra Commander, Duke, Destro, Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow.
IDW will also continue to collect the original Marvel run.
As Ryall worked on a Transformers picture book for children, Andy Schmidt has done a similar book for the G.I. Joe franchise, a project Schmidt called “a whole lot of fun to work on.”
Upcoming G.I. Joe Spotlights focus on Beachhead, by J.T. Krul and Klaus Scherwinski, Helix, by Brian Reed and Joe Suitor (“I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about this,” Ryall said) and Baroness, by Marc Andreyko and Ben Templesmith. “The cool thing about working with G.I. Joe is hearing from people, like Ben who you never expected to be a fan, saying that they want to do something,” Ryall added.
Schmidt admitted that one benefit current G.I. Joe and Transformers creators have over past creators is that the current teams “don’t have to roll out characters to keep up with the toy line,” which allows them time to make “you to care about the characters.”
Opening the floor to questions, the group addressed the following concerns. The character formerly known as Roadblock is referred to as Heavy-Duty because of trademark problems that prevent IDW from using the Roadblock name. Because the character is very popular with fans and creators, the decision was made to change the name.
“It remains be to be seen” if readers will see Lady Jaye again, Schmidt teased, of the character controversially killed off during the previous Joe run.
Addressing the sudden sex-change of Dialtone, now a woman in the current G.I. Joe comic, Schmidt said that the character wasn’t intended to be a new Dialtone. She was simple a background character filling a role for an arc, but Hasbro “said that they have three characters who already fill that role,” so IDW gave her the Dialtone name.
Despite loud applause for the idea of another G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover and Ryall’s admission, “We’d love to do it and we have some ideas,” he said that the editors and creators “really want to establish Joe before doing that.”
After his five-issue Origins, Hama is writing the Snake-Eyes Spotlight. After Ryall praised the thumbnails Hama provided for the artist on the issue, Hama said that his art was “layouts more than thumbnails,” and described the writing/layout process as “pretty close to what I did on the first silent issue that Steve Leialoha did finishes over.” Schmidt later confirmed that Hama has another Spotlight issue in the pipeline.
Ryall said he was floored by the number of requests for the Dreadnoks that he’s had since gaining the G.I. Joe license. “One of the artists we’ve shown will be drawing a Dreadnoks story,” he teased, but offered nothing more.
A female fan dressed as Scarlett asked if Scarlett will resume her relationship with Snake-Eye in the IDW series. “You’re sitting right next to him,” Ryall laughed, pointing to her friend, dressed in full Snake-Eyes garb.
Schmidt told Transformers fans, “If you liked All Hail Megatron, you will like what’s coming up. If you didn’t like AHM, you will like what’s coming up.” Writers Shane McCarthy, Simon Furman and “some new blood” will be “diversifying the line” and ramping up the action.
Although the company has plans for Beast Wars and Beast Machines, Ryall explained that “because we’re so excited about what we have coming up,” those concepts will not be seen in the immediate future.
McCarthy, Furman, Costa and Zander Cannon are all working with IDW’s editorial to shape the direction of the Transformers line in 2009 and beyond. Schmidt explained that the ideas “primarily come from the writers. We don’t hire people to paint by numbers.” At times, different writers may have the lead on the line, but the writers are always the driving force behind how they develop the properties.
Costa, who said he’ll be writing an upcoming Transformers story, added that he and the other writers, as well as Ryall and Schmidt, “are all talking and on the same page. We definitely have a direction we’re all working toward.”
“There’s a lot of hugging too,” Schmidt joked.
There is no set system of which characters get Spotlights, Ryall explained. Schmidt said that he’s read “150 springboards at the very least,” but the decision is based on which pitches are the best, what fans want to see, and “what we want.” Only occasionally is a Spotlight editorially mandated, such as when they need something to tie into another series like AHM.
Asked about their favorite characters, the panelists replied:
Fuso: Mickey Mouse is not in the book?
Hama: Snake-Eyes, because he’s the easiest to write. I can do an entire story with no dialogue and still get the same pay.
Atkins: I’ve really come to enjoy Scarlett, especially because her role has changed a little bit.
Ryall: I never like to give to put out my biases, but … Soundwave.
Yes, new robots appearing in the second Transformers movie will be revealed in prequel books, Ryall admitted.
Of the Metroplex Spotlight, Schmidt explained that to comprehend the scale of the character, the “entire story is double-page spreads except pages 1 and 22.”
Fans voted vocally positive when asked if they’d like to see more combiners in Transformers.
Despite there being no plans to spotlight Spirit, Schmidt did suggest that fans of the character can find him in Schmidt’s all-ages We Are G.I. Joe book.
“Nah,” Ryall said when asked if IDW will publish comic explaining how the classic Transformers became the Beast Wars incarnation. Schmidt elaborated, saying, “Comics that just exist to explain how to get from A to B aren’t really stories,” and he is very hesitant to publish stories that just “dot the I and cross the T.”
Ryall: IDW is collecting “all” of the original Marvel G.I. Joe run.
Most of the creators did not want to go on the record when asked if G.I. Joe or Transformers will be the bigger summer movie. “No way Hasbro doesn’t dominate the summer, but there’s room for Terminator and Star Trek, because we’re doing those,” Ryall laughed.
Finally, Costa committed, saying that because it’s a sequel and has built-in fans, “Transformers will be the biggest of the summer.”
Although IDW would like to reprint Dreamwave’s Transformers comics, Schmidt said that there are issues because many creators “were paid and many not so much.” He described the process of untangling the rights to the work as a “nightmare, really boring to talk about, but I’m trying to untangle that stuff.”
A series focusing on the original thirteen Transformers is not scheduled, but is something IDW wants to publish.
The Joe team will confront threats other than Cobra, Schmidt confirmed, directing fans to Hama’s G.I. Joe: Origins for more on those dangers.
The War Within Omnibus will not collect the partial third series, because it was not completed and Ryall is “not sure who was paid on that one.”
Saying that they’d like to publish more Cobra stories, Schmidt offered that a second series will not follow immediately on Gage and Costa’s first miniseries. There is “stuff going on in Chuck’s book that precludes an ongoing Cobra series.” However if fan reaction and sales are strong, he absolutely wants to explore Cobra with more stories focused on the villains.
With plans for G.I. Joe currently through the series’ second year, Serpentor is currently not scheduled to re-appear in IDW’s series. Hama: “There is a suspension of disbelief conflict,” as the series is “going in a different direction to reality.”
Laughing, Schmidt said that it might be difficult to get Sgt. Slaughter to appear, then asked readers what current celebrity would be a comparable figure to join the Joe team.
A fan dressed as Snake-Eyes (the friend of the previous fan-Scarlett) approached Schmidt with a question written question. “Yes, and well played,” Schmidt replied.
Atkins: I drew Bazooka in issue four, he’s hard to miss.
On the subject of breaking into comics:
Fuso: You send your stuff and if it’s good enough, you start.
Costa said it’s hard to break in as writer. After ten years of trying, he was working in L.A. at a production company when he had to call DC and made a friend there. Subsequently, he was able to “show them some stuff.” He got involved with Cobra when Gage recommended him for the job.
Gage explained that he went to film school and started writing television (Law & Order: SVU) and movies. He then met Jimmy Palmiotti, who introduced him to people in comics and he pitched the Deadshot mini-series to DC. However, he suggested, the best method for writers is to get an artist, publish online and show people what you can do.
Hama started as illustrator for various magazines and “fell into Neal Adams’ Continuity Studio, and I got into comics that way.”
Atkins went to art school, where some professors introduced him to some people. He said that his biggest lesson, from Walter Simonson, is that new artists must be “good enough, fast enough, and have that lucky break.”
“We’re talking about it now,” Schmidt said of comic book sequels to the two anticipated movies. “Do you want it?” A strong round of applause brought a smile to his face. “That’s good to know.”More New York Comic Con 2009 Coverage: NYCC '09 Video Page