FX International: The G.I. Joe Panel - More Cobra, More Joe

Dixon, Atkins and G.I. Joe

A G.I. Joe Roundtable With IDW
A G.I. Joe Roundtable With IDW
GI Joe #0

Hot on the heels of the IDW re-launch of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe property, and just in time to get ready for the upcoming release of the motion picture, fans gathered together with writer Chuck Dixon, writer Christos Gage, and artist Robert Atkins to talk about the various series at Orlando’s FX International show this weekend.

“Yo, Joe!” cried Gage, firing up the fans who showed up for the panel.

Gage said he has seen what Dixon has planned out for the next dozen to 15 issues, and fans will be very excited. He said that one particular description that was the coolest ever – just one sentence, but it was enough to get him excited. When prompted to reveal what that sentence was, Gage would only say that it had the word Cobra was in it.

G.I. Joe: Cobra has had a great response, and as the co-author, Gage admitted to getting very excited about the noir aspects of the story. Mike (Costa) is doing some great stuff, deserving the real credit, Gage added, saying that they are both just glad people are responding positively. Gage then shook his head, saying he couldn’t believe they are getting away with what they are doing in a book – after issue #3, if the fans are ready to kill them, he said to be sure to direct all inquiries to Costa. “He really knows the mythology,” Gage said, “so blame him!” Also, Gage revealed that while G.I. Joe: Cobra is not an ongoing series, there will be another mini-series with the same creative crew. He is even going to try and get Howard Chaykin to continue doing the covers as well.

Atkins then clarified that initially, the set up is that G.I. Joe is the main, ongoing title, while G.I. Joe: Origins is a five issue mini-series, and G.I. Joe: Cobra is a four-issue mini-series. However, IDW’s plans have changed due to the overwhelming positive response to the titles. As stated, Cobra will have another mini-series, and Origins is going to be an ongoing title with a series of arcs that will focus on either a group or a single Joe. Atkins feels that IDW had a brilliant idea by coming out with three different titles, each one speaking to a different group of G.I. Joe fans. Some fans have come into G.I. Joe through the cartoon he explained, other through the comics, and still others through the toys. Atkins believes that the main G.I. Joe title is for more general fans of the cartoon, while the Cobra mini-series has touched the hardcore fans because it is new. Then you have the Origins title, which has Larry Hama attached to it, giving a sense of nostalgia. With three titles, IDW has made it clear they want to speak to all types of Joe fans.

Two special guests

Dixon indicated that the Joe phenomenon has surprised him, especially since the sales on the books have remained steady, which never happens. Usually, with a new title, sales will start off big, but then they will drop off. This has not been the case with G.I. Joe. Joe fans are loyal, Dixon said, and they want to see more, so they hope that the fans like what IDW is doing.

Atkins then talked about a recent signing in Chicago, where quite a few fans came in who said they never picked up a Joe comic before now, as well as a lot of new fans who are picking up the title. He said there are also a lot of kids that are into the new series as well. They are touching a much wider audience than any of them realized. The core fans are only half the readership, but with the consistent numbers, they are obviously reaching new fans as well.

Atkins said that he was also surprised to find that a number of people responding to the title that he never expected to be Joe fans – including Ben Templesmith, who did an incentive cover for issue #0. He said that Ben has done a beautiful Baroness special Marc Andreyko wrote. And he told fans that they could look forward to work by other creators in the future that may be surprising.

With the movie coming up, Dixon mentioned the four one-shots that are prequels to the movie’s story. He admitted that he had to read screenplay in order to write the prequels, quickly adding that he absolutely cannot reveal anything from the script, as he signed a non-disclosure agreement as tall as him. He laughed, saying that his two kids know the screenplay is somewhere in the house (Atkins told fans to check out e-bay when they go home tonight, as perhaps the kids found it!). Dixon assured those present that he was very pleased and that if they do what’s in the screenplay, particularly the end, it will be a mindblower.

Atkins then discussed the art direction of the books. On the main G.I. Joe title, Atkins will be doing the art for issues #1 thru #6, while SL Gallant (who has done the Duke and Destro prequels) will do the next six issues. Atkins has seen the art for issue #7, and it is outstanding. Atkins will then return for issues #13 through #15.

Gage reiterated that the same creative team will be on hand for the second Cobra mini-series. He added that many times with licensed properties, they want all to look the same. But they have been fortunate that Hasbro has been so great about it, as they have allowed them to use various art styles and interpretations in the books. Atkins said that the different styles match the different tones of the books.

G.I. Joe: Cobra #4

The floor was then opened for questions from the fans.

The first question raised was whether Destro and Cobra Commander, who always wear a masks in the comics, will do so in the movie, since films are famous for not having name actors remain behind masks for characters who, in the comics, where masks all the time. Dixon answered by saying he couldn’t really say (Gage and Atkins pointed out that they really didn’t know). Dixon did say that the film has successfully taken a lot of things that the fans are familiar with, and the long-time fans will have a number of goosebump moments.

The panel was then asked whether fans can look forward to seeing Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fight in the film. Dixon laughed and said that, once again, he couldn’t say anything under the threat of getting his legs broken if he revealed anything from the film.

In the comic, however, they will be building up to Storm Shadow slowly. This was the editor’s idea, and Dixon agreed. Each villain deserves the “full court press roll out,” the writer said. Fans can look forward in the regular book to seeing entire arcs that will introduce certain Joe villains. They already have a way worked out for Zartan to be brought in the Dixon thinks the fans will really like.

Atkins added that they have the wonderful luxury with the re-launch of not having to tie their stories to a toy release. They don’t have to start the books with an all-out battle as the original Marvel series did. This gives the reader an opportunity to know things that the characters in the book don’t know. Everyone has their favorite character, and they will love the arcs about those characters. Plus, this gives the writers an opportunity to flesh out the characters more.

Gage said that it’s a privilege to work with Larry Hama, who started the whole (modern) thing in comics. When Larry started, Hasbro was putting out a toy line, so Larry had to put all the characters in the book right away, and he would have liked to build them up more.

Dixon remembered that when he started at Marvel, Hama was in the middle of the G.I. Joe stuff. “He was my editor,” Chuck said, “and he was frightening. The first time I met him, I was in the offices, and he had invited me up for lunch. At the time, I was writing Conan. Anyway, he comes into his office and sees me sitting on the sofa. He asks who I am, and when I tell him that I’m meeting him for lunch, he sighed and said, ‘That was today?’ We went into his office, and he opened the case he was carrying, in which he had a Three Stooges video and a .45 automatic. I looked at it, he looked at me, and I asked if it was a government model. He said yes, and then we were fine.” Chuck went on to describe the other side of Larry, which was seen whenever the toys would arrive from Hasbro. Hasbro would send him a case of toys that they wanted in the comic. Larry, who would scare you before, would act like a kid under a Christmas tree, giggling and laughing, tearing open the boxes to see the toys. Larry was born to write G.I. Joe, and when you read the first issue of Origins, you’ll see that it’s pure Larry.

G.I. Joe Movie Prequel #4

Atkins told the audience that Hama is going to draw a single issue, the same way he drew the silent issue for Marvel years ago. Atkins wasn’t sure which book it will be in, but the story is slated for next year. When asked if it would be another silent issue, Atkins replied that it wasn’t planned to be, but in doing the art, any time you draw Snake Eyes, it’s going to be silent. Dixon said he has a 12-page fight scene in one of his issues that doesn’t have a word. “Of course,” he laughed, “when you fight to the death, what are you going to say?”

Dixon was then asked if he was planning to stay past the fifteen issues he has worked out now, and Dixon replied by saying that if anyone knows his past history, he stays with a book until the wheels come off. He said that he already has plots out through issue 18 and ideas beyond that. He said that the biggest challenge with writing Joe is always asking the question – what is Cobra doing? He doesn’t want to do the tired old James Bond-style stand-by stories, where Cobra steals a nuclear weapon or some such. Rather, he wants to come up with ideas like Goldfinger – irradiate the world’s gold or some such. The challenge is to come up with crimes and ideas and horrible conspiracies hopefully no one has thought of before – try to stay one step ahead of the headlines.

Atkins then gave a shout out to all the fans. He said it was a real treat that he gets to communicate with the fans on a daily basis. He gets a lot of feedback from the faithful fans, which helps him a lot. Since he just as much into the property when he was a kid – having all the toys, had made it rather convenient now that he is drawing the book. Plenty of reference material! He said it has been a blast working with the fans, to see what they like, what they don’t like, and to get the feedback. He said to keep it coming, as a lot of that goes into how they approach the book

Someone then asked if the new G.I. Joe is geared more towards the younger fans or older? The reply was simply that IDW wants to reach both. The main G.I. Joe title by Chuck Dixon is more geared to an all ages readership, while Cobra is harder-edged and geared towards a bit of an older audience - nothing that you wouldn’t see on Law & Order or CSI, it was pointed out, but it is the hardest-edged. No one is going to see any hard R-rated stuff coming down the pipeline, as IDW wants to make sure there is something for everyone. Atkins gave kudos to Hasbro for giving them free reign, indicating that Hasbro has not come back art-wise and said “That’s too much. You’re pushing the limits.” They have had a lot of leeway in what they are doing.

Hasbro, however, has made an obvious direction, in that they do want to give G.I. Joe a new brand while keeping the nostalgia intact, it was pointed out. Hasbro has untied their hands to let them tell more military-esque stories, incorporating harder elements. Dixon explained that Hasbro is a licenser that came into this project as a collaborative effort, much the same as they did with Marvel originally. Hasbro wants to know what the writers are doing before they do it, and they have set down some guidelines, but nothing that they can’t easily work around. And the editors at IDW have talked Hasbro into letting the writers do some pretty great stuff, he said. Gage agreed, stating that when Costa suggested what he had planned for the third issue, Gage felt that Hasbro would never let them do it, but they did. Hasbro has not been coming in and telling them what to do; rather, Hasbro has been asking them what they think is cool and letting them go with it.

G.I. Joe #6

Atkins said that behind the scenes in the creation of the comic, it has been a pleasure working with Dixon. They have a great dialogue with one another, as Dixon lets him know if he likes a page or not, and he makes his scripts simple enough that Atkins can grasp what Dixon wants. Further, Chuck allows him the opportunity to make suggestions on what he wants to draw. Dixon then added that he wouldn’t be able to do the book without Atkins. In the first issue, when he first plotted the two page spread of the Pit, he got worried about how the artist would be able to do it, but then he got a call from Atkins, who was excited about it, talking about all the things he wanted to add to it after looking at his toys. At that point, he knew there would be no worries.

Gage said he has the same comfort level with Antonio Fuso, the artist on Cobra. They give him the basic G.I. Joe concepts they want drawn, but add a new dimension. For example, in issue #3, fans will see a piece of Cobra equipment that is in its very early stages (just like the costume in issue #2, which people are suspecting is an early stage of the Crimson Guard). Plus, there’s a female that fans agree looks like the Baroness - is this going to be her? Gage would not confirm any of the questions. He said it’s a lot of fun to play that guessing game, and Antonio has done a tremendous job of making it work.

Atkins added that in starting these titles from scratch, everyone will get to see the characters progress and come into the character that fans know and love. Particularly, with Destro, who readers will get to see as younger, learning things, gaining wisdom, long before he becomes Destro. Thus, when he becomes Destro, fans know his motivations and background, and he will be more devastating when he does finally become successful.

The next question raised the issue of whether Hasbro is requiring them to change characters in the books to match those in the movie. It was made clear that the movie line of books (prequels) and the adaptation, and possibly a line after the movie are separate from the regular titles. They are not changing to match with the movie. If there are any similarities, it’s because of Hasbro policy (i.e., the Roadblock / Heavy Duty thing). Dixon explained that the only place they intersect is if there is a startling look for someone in the movie, Hasbro will want them to keep it the same in the comic; or if they say “Don’t use this character,” then that usually means they are saving such character(s) for sequels. “So when they tell us don’t use someone, that’s fine, since, with over 300 characters, that’s easy for us to do,” Dixon said. However, if the toy is a different ethnicity or gender than the comic or movie, that’s a decision made by Hasbro. One case in point is when Dixon needed a female techie-type of character, so he created one and gave her a name. When Hasbro saw it in the script, they said no, since she doesn’t exist. So that’s how Dialtone changed genders and became a woman. Chuck never intended for Dialtone to change genders, but Hasbro gave him the name to use for the character he created. Atkins believes such a change works well, since the Joe line needs more female characters, particularly since women play a much greater role in the military in today’s world. Atkinsa said that he especially likes Dixon’s approach to Scarlet, providing her with an established leadership role.

Dixon told the fans that sometimes the characters surprise you. Sometimes they evolve on their own, and while he didn’t think Scarlet would ever be a favorite of his, she has quickly developed into just that. This made Gage think of a time in New York City, when Larry said his favorite character was Snake Eyes, because he doesn’t talk, so when he draws him in an issue, he still gets paid the same as if he wrote dialogue – so less work without the dialogue, but same pay! Dixon was quick to point out this is not necessarily true, since Snake Eyes is hard to write without dialogue, as he has to show it through body language, which is not always easy.

G.I. Joe Movie Prequel #2

Suddenly, Cobra Commander and the Baroness, arm in arm, come walking down the aisle, making quite the entrance and certain garnering the attention of the panel. After both the panel and the audience got over the shock (and mild laughter) at the interruption, the questions resumed.

This time, however, it was Gage asking Atkins what is the toughest thing he finds about being a fan who is now drawing the comic. Atkins replied that it all has been exciting. As a longtime fan of the toys and the Marvel run of comics, he feels a need to depict the characters exactly as they were, but at the same time, to modernize them. For instance, there is no need for Bazooka to run around with the jersey on. Yet, Atkins said he still wanted to distinctively identify him, so he put a patch with the number 14 on it to identify him. He uses the same approach with everything, from the vehicles to Duke in issue #3, where (when he goes into a firefight), he uses a kind of armor, since it would make no sense for him to run into a firefight in a simple button down shirt. Atkins said he is not tied to the designs – he’s not going to have Torpedo walk through the Pit in his flippers. So, for Atkins, it’s not so much a challenge, but it is exciting to depict the characters the way he loves to see them, but at the same time, make the look practical.

Another question came from the audience, asking if G.I. Joe would address real world issues of terrorism, such as Al-Qaeda. Chuck said that they haven’t gotten any directives from Hasbro, but that they try to make reference of real events in passing, but don’t have it integral to what’s going on. Obviously, any book about the military published right now would have to talk about what’s going on in the world with Al-Qaeda and Iraq and so on. For them, they want Cobra to have real world motivation. They don’t want to just have the same old “Rule the World” philosophy (not that there’s anything wrong with that, with a nod to Cobra Commander and the Baroness in the audience), but fans are not going to see Chuckles infiltrating Al-Qaeda. The only references that are made are those similar to a scene with Beachhead complaining that the people the Joes are going up against are dumbasses. Chuck reminded the audience that we have real people out there dying for our country, so if they were going to do a “real world” story, they’d want to do it about them, not about guys in masks fighting. World-spanning conspiracies are real (maybe not as cool as Cobra, but real all the same), so this is the perfect time to bring G.I. Joe back. Dixon and the others at IDW want to pay homage to our military, but they don’t want to do a disservice by implying that G.I. Joe could have won it in two weeks.

Gage agreed that Dixon was making a good point. The reason that, for the past 60 years, war comics have all been about WWI, is because you can’t embellish what the troops are doing out there – you just can’t. They don’t even want to try. If you want to tell an amazing story about real world stuff, you can pick numerous real world tales and go with them.

Atkins told the audience that the Vietnam War was such a big part of Hama’s life, and that at the time Larry was doing G.I. Joe, it was still very much affecting conflict in the world, and it showed in Larry’s stories. Now, though, we have new influences, and so the new titles won’t be exactly like the Marvel run, because different things are influencing the stories.

Dixon went on to add that what made Hama’s run on G.I. Joe so successful was that Larry ran counter to what the press was showing that Vietnam was about - Hama showed America as heroes. Dixon said that he believed that Hama ran counter to the conventional wisdom of the time, and that helped make G.I. Joe a number one comic at Marvel for a many years, outselling the X-Men for a long time.

Another film question was raised, questioning the casting of Joseph Gordon Lovett as Cobra Commander. Dixon, once again without revealing anything about the film, said that Lovett is a tremendous actor and has a lot of depth, and he believes that the fans will really like it. It’s a different approach in the film, but it fits perfectly in G.I. Joe. Hasbro has billions of dollars at stake in these toys, so they certainly aren’t going to let the movie people destroy the franchise – they are shepherding the project to be true to Joe.

The panel then came to a close, with each of the creators thanking the fans, asking that they make their voices known to IDW by giving all the feedback they can, both good and bad. “And if you know any Joe fans out there,” Dixon told everyone, “tell them about the comics!”

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