Mega Con 2009: Dixon, Atkins and G.I. Joe

Dixon, Atkins and G.I. Joe

Dixon and Atkins

MegaCon saw a number of writers and artists talking with the fans over the weekend, and Newsarama was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Chuck Dixon and Robert Atkins to discuss their work on G.I. Joe at IDW.

The two started off by saying, with a laugh, that their plans for the book included lots and lots and lots of action. Dixon and Atkins agreed that working together on this book has been smooth going, and that they have both been pleased with the pacing so far. Dixon made it clear that in writing the book, he concentrates more on the G.I. Joe fans than the comic fans, and that part of the beauty of G.I. Joe is that it already has a built-in fan base. Dixon realizes, of course, that there is a lot of pressure to make sure that the “built-in” fan base is happy, but at the same time, it takes off some of the pressure of having to try and go out there and build a whole new group of fans for a new series. Dixon said he wants to do all he can to maintain G.I. Joe’s coolness factor. He also said another aspect of the book is all the “tech stuff,” as he called it, which he deferred to Atkins, saying how hard it is to find an artist who is able to integrate all of this stuff and make it look believable. He added that anyone can draw this stuff to some degree, but the real question is whether they can make it look believable. As far as Dixon is concerned, Atkins excels on that point, which makes his job easier, allowing him to pretty much write whatever he wants, knowing Atkins can handle it.

Atkins was a big fan of G.I. Joe growing up, collecting the toys and comics himself. When he heard IDW was picking up the series, his first thought was that whoever drew the comic better do a good job. He did not have any connections with IDW at the time, but when it turned out that he got the job, he suddenly realized that he was the one who would have to do a good job. Atkins indicated that all of the feedback they have received so far has been good, which has encouraged them. He doesn’t believe it is too hard to put this kind of book out, but it all depends on finding that right balance that is G.I. Joe. He believes that G.I. Joe has got a military story, with elements of fantasy and sci-fi, to a certain extent, which makes it fun and makes it not the grim and gritty realism – it is escapism in a military genre. Atkins believes that Dixon has done a great job in finding that perfect balance, and he knows that is what is really important to the fans.

Dixon then added that, since he is catering to the G.I. Joe fans, they will get excited when they see characters and vehicles used throughout the series, not necessarily in every issue on every page, but who will in some way play integral parts to the story and series. He eventually plans to use every G.I. Joe character, even if they only have a few panels, since he believes that every Joe is somebody’s favorite, and he doesn’t want to leave any out. They all serve a function, so it is easy to fit them in. Some may even come as a surprise for fans.

Atkins then stated that they also have to remember that they also have to deal with Hasbro as well. They have the element of working for a publisher, and ultimately that publisher answers to the owner of the licensed characters, so they ran into an interesting situation in the first couple of issues, since Hasbro did not want G.I. Joe characters to just pop-up in the background. If characters appear in any given issue, Hasbro wants them to be story-based. So Dixon’s challenge is, if they want to bring particular characters into the comic, there has to be a reason. Therefore, since Hasbro didn’t say anything about vehicles, Atkins has been trying to throw in as many vehicles as he can into the background that G.I. Joe fans will recognize. There are a few things like that that G.I. Joe fans will pick up on that generic comic fans might miss. Atkins did a signing at Graham Crackers comic store, and he found that a lot of G.I. Joe fans who had never bought a comic before were picking up the book for the first time. There are toy fans and there are comic fans, and there’s a little bit of a crossover between the two. There are G.I. Joe fans who have never bought a comic before, but at the same time, there are comic fans who are buying the book because of Dixon Dixon’s writing and know nothing about G.I. Joe.

G.I. Joe #4

Dixon added that for a lot of G.I. Joe fans, this is the only comic that they will buy. That is why when Dixon talks to his editor, his question is always, “What will make the Joe fans happy?” Dixon believes that as long as he and Atkins don’t mess it up, the G.I. Joe fans are the most enthusiastic fans out there.

Dixon enthusiastically stated that his favorite characters to write in the series are Baroness and Destro, who he could write forever. He says they have a sexual tension between them that they can’t define and that they can’t figure out if they will be together or not, and as a writer, Dixon said he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to figure it out himself. Dixon also added that he has found Scarlett to be an interesting character that he didn’t think he would like, but who has grown on his the more he has written her. Atkins said that for him, while a lot of people recognize the character, Snake Eyes is the most difficult to draw because of the lack of expression and dialogue. Emotion and expression has to be shown through body language. Atkins thought he would be fun to draw, but he has found him to be the most difficult. As with Dixon, liking Scarlett has come as a big surprise to Atkins. Now that he has drawn her more often, trying to develop her attitude, he has found he likes drawing her.

When asked about who made the decision to take G.I. Joe back to the beginning in this reboot and how they have dealt with the fans’ reaction, Dixon said this basically falls back to the question of the chicken or the egg. Neither he nor Atkins knows who ultimately made the decision to start again from scratch, but Dixon was quick to praise Larry Hama for all the hard work he did over the years, particularly when he was having to do the comic based upon a toy release schedule, having to integrate upcoming toys and vehicles into the stories because Hasbro wanted icons then. Atkins and Dixon feel they are fortunate, in that they get to play with the stuff that Larry Hama built. Because everyone knows who the characters are, Dixon believes they can roll out Cobra more dramatically, make it scarier and more sinister, since they are starting at a point where the Joes don’t even know about Cobra. Dixon pointed out that there is nothing cooler than when the reader knows something that the characters don’t.

Atkins wanted to assure fans that just because they are not recognizing the previous history, they are not changing the characters so drastically that they are forgetting the core material. For Dixon and Atkins, the characters are the characters, and they have become those characters because of the last twenty-five years of history. So, in that respect, they are keeping the essence of that history, but they are changing only the dates or the facts of how they came together or why for more dramatic purposes. Now, without saying anything about the previous ownership of the license, but if they were tied to that continuity, then they would have difficulty finding ways around so-and-so’s death, that person is a cyborg or brainwashed, or how do they work around those things. With the reboot, Atkins and Dixon feel this allows them to be more true to what the Joes were in their incarnation and what people love about the Joes, than having to try to work around plotlines individually or what kind of redesigns there were, which is very freeing for Dixon and Atkins as the new creative team.

Dixon told us that this is not a situation where he is coming in saying, “Oh, I’m going to fix this,” or “I’m going to do it right.” For him, G.I. Joe is already great. They do not plan to make Joe better, but rather, re-present it for a new audience in a way that readers will get goosebumps, thinking that they know what’s coming next. Dixon said that he and Atkins do not think, “Oh, now this is going to get done in the right way,” since, as Dixon put it, “you can’t catch lightning again in a bottle the way Larry did.” So, Dixon and Atkins have decided they are going to do their best.

Atkins said that when he started thinking about drawing the book and the characters, he decided he wanted to draw the characters the way he likes them. He wanted them to have that classic look, and since this series was going back to the beginning to look at how Joe started, then that only made sense. But if the story was going to change, he knew it would be slow going for readers to start accepting and liking the new book, and he didn’t want to complete re-designs on all the characters. He didn’t believe he needed to put “his stamp” on G.I. Joe and make it his own.

Dixon went on to say that since they had Larry Hama on board, he set the tone for the new series with the first story. Larry showed them the way, and if anyone wants to complain, Dixon would simply say that the man who created this entire thing is on board with them. Dixon said he has absolutely no interest in making the fans upset. Atkins added that IDW made a very smart choice in having Larry do the G.I. Joe Origins story, since, if they had allowed anyone else to do it, fans would have been crying out, “Larry would have done it differently,” or “Larry wouldn’t have done it this way.” So the best thing they could do would be to have Larry do it.

Dixon also said that the sales on the book have nearly doubled what was expected, and since that first issue, sales have been pretty steady, which, in today’s marketplace, is unheard of. Dixon believes this is due to the core G.I. Joe fanbase. Dixon said it is his and Atkins’s goal is to give G.I. Joe fans what they want and to exceed their expectations as much as possible. And with the trade coming out about the same time as the movie, they feel they have got the perfect opportunity to have booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble, to have a trade to put up for casual readers to see in conjunction with the movie hitting the theatres.

G.I. Joe is published monthly by IDW Comics, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Robert Atkins.

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