Comic books are moving toward the television model in a number of ways. Season numbering has taken over and we are proud to put the footwear references aside to give you an exclusive interview with writer Fred Van Lente as he puts on his battle helmet for Season 3 of G.I. Joe from IDW Publishing, on shelves today.
DIGBOSTON: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today about your new number one G.I. Joe issue from IDW.
FRED VAN LENTE: Thanks for having me.
Last summer we saw the Summer of Valiant and your take on Archer and Armstrong. Tell me, what are the first things you think about when relaunching popular characters. Is it like when you get to jump on an arc of Spider-Man, or is there more pressure on you?
Spider-Man was a fairly unique situation, just because I was writing with six other people. When flying solo, I guess I try to get to the essence of the property, which is pretty easy with G.I. Joe — it’s an archetypal “war” story, with an eternal battle between two opposing forces, one representing democracy, the other tyranny.
G.I. Joe fans are a particular breed. For example, I saw more toy fans than comic fans when Larry Hama was in Boston for a signing last year.
I’m signing with Larry for the book’s release date in February—I can’t wait!
Are you getting “YO JOE!” a lot when you walk down the street these days? Are people asking you to sign their H.I.S.S. tanks? I can almost guarantee someone is working on a Fred Van Lente custom figure for the next JoeCon.
Not on the street, but definitely on Twitter.
It’s a really great fan community I’m thrilled to be a part of.
So in recent years we’ve had such great writers on G.I. JOE the likes of Chuck Dixon, Mike Costa, Christos Gage and of course the Admiral Larry Hama. Will your Joeverse acknowledge the IDW G.I.Joe vs. Cobra run, wherein a coup for the Cobra Command was at the forefront and a Cobra Commander was killed?
I don’t think so… To be honest, there’s been so many books and I’ve been trying to read as many as I can, but I’ve only been on the job since July, so it’s been a bit of a challenge… Our run is a continuation of Dixon’s G.I. Joe run, but we also reference G.I. Joe Origins heavily.
Costa and Gage took a very different tone with their book, and while we don’t expect your style to get very dark, will you be working in any elements from that run?
Well they really set the standard for reinterpreting the G.I. Joe characters in a modern, darker way. We have some … bleeding edge concepts in our series, but I’m definitely following in their footsteps. I’m hoping to do the same things for the reinvention of those characters that Mike and Christos did in Cobra.
The IDW version of Serpentor being some weirdo cult leader of a Scientology-like sect was very interesting. Hey wait … wasn’t Archer raised by a fanatical religious cult, too?
He was, but he’s remarkably well-adjusted for it. Remember that when people try to put down homeschooling!
Enough of those other guys, we’re glad your the one steering the Flagg this year. Who’s your team leader? Back in the day it could waver between Hawk, Flint, Snake-Eyes or Lady Jaye. I never recognized Duke as the one in charge. Is that bad?
I don’t know that it’s bad. It’s definitely Duke in our series, in many ways he’s our main character. #3 is his full origin, which so far is one of things I’m most proud of having written.
It’s interesting. Every G.I. Joe is someone’s favorite, but Duke seems to be the least appreciated member of the G.I. Joe team. I wonder if that’s a result of him being the Drill Sergeant, the “bad cop” in a way.
I read somewhere on-line that even Larry Hama said he never quite got a handle on the character of Duke, which gives me the Oedipal urge to define him such away that makes him super-popular.
In an interview you did with CBR, you revealed that the Joes will be outed by Cobra in a Wikileaks press debacle. Mind telling our readers what that means when you say the Joes will be public and exposed? That’s a major change from moving the location of The Pit every twenty issues!
It already happened in Dixon’s G.I. JOE run, Zartan did it about #16 or so. Yes, the G.I. Joe team has a brand new headquarters on Governors Island in New York Harbor, which was an army base for almost a century.
They’re a completely public team now, the advantages and challenges to which will be eminently noticeably in the first issue of the series.
How are Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow getting along these days? Brotherly ninja killing spree side-by-side or at each other’s throats? I always got to play Storm Shadow versus my cousin at summertime woods battle. But then twenty minutes later we were eating hot dogs at the picnic table together.
We—and by we, I mean IDW—have decided to chill out on the ninja stuff, at least for the first year of the book. I’d suggest reading the Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow title to see how their storyline wraps up…for now…
Can we expect some cool military lingo jive-talk in the book? If it wasn’t for Larry Hama I would’t know what a C-4, an L-Z, or what BDUs are. Gotta keep this new generation up to speed in that way.
Hell, if we didn’t, the whole thing would go Tango Uniform. (Google it.)
I’ve been noticing tablets, devices and phones in comics of all flavors lately.
When we were growing up, we might have thought the military has some of these computers hidden in secret and a Joe might use a device on the field.
One challenge I can see today writing these toys into the action would be that there’s nothing magical about a hand held GPS when everyone has one. I can pretty much guarantee.
How do you keep Joe tech interesting and a couple of years in the future?
The stuff does proliferate rather quickly. In the spring I was at a think tank in San Francisco where they’re designing little cardboard robots to be deployed on the battlefield — support bots, basically. I incorporated this into G.I. Joe #1, thinking myself oh-so-clever, and low and behold a few months after Steve finishes the first issue I see ads for the latest Call of Duty in which they have the exact same thing. Ah, well.
We still do our best to keep one step ahead of the present, though. There’s no point, to me, in doing straight realism in G.I. Joe as this story incorporates so much fantasy.
We’ve now got a new Joe by the name of Hashtag going to be liveblogging missions? Are they that public?
Oh, yeah. Most of the G.I. Joe team think this is an incredibly stupid idea. They may be right. Or — she could just be the best secret weapon they’ve ever had…
Is artist Steve Kurth as excited as you are to be back on the book? He had a run on the Image line of the book.
Indeed! He’s super thrilled, and the pages he’s been knocking out have been great … and the covers are even better!
The aforementioned Duke Origin has one of my favorite covers of anything that’s ever graced my work…
My editor, JPat, perhaps your biggest fan, will be mad if I don’t ask … what else do you have in store this year? We’re enjoying the hell out of our Action Philosophers! and Comic Book History of Comics with Ryan Dunlavey. Any other projects you can announce to us coming down the pike?
Thanks JPat! I have a couple more things I’m super excited about, but the chip inside my brain will explode if I tell you. Hopefully announcements will be happening soon:
2013 is shaping up to be a great year for me.
Thanks so much for taking the time, Fred. It means a lot, YO JOE!
Again, thanks having me! Looking forward to saying hello too!
BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE! CHECK OUT THE NEWLY REDESIGNED WWW.LEAGUEPODCAST.COM — BOSTON’S COMIC BOOK AND POP CULTURE PODCAST — “Thinking about Comics … ALWAYS”!
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