Yo Joe! Comics’ favorite military fighting force is back – with Skybound’s newly launched continuation of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as well as the new Duke limited series from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Tom Reilly. The two creators recently spoke with us about their plans for the Joes’ fearless leader, and the journey he’s on in their smash-hit Energon Universe title. Here’s what they had to say…
Josh, in your afterword for Duke #1, you mention you had a notebook full of ideas for G.I. Joe when you were a kid. Were you able to use any of those ideas in this series, or did you approach it with entirely fresh eyes?
Joshua Williamson: Predominantly, the ideas I had for Cobra are the ideas that that we’re using. I had a lot of thoughts on Cobra, and I was always very curious about how something like Cobra came to be. Without getting too much into spoilers for what we have planned, I just had things about Cobra that I was like, “If I ever have an opportunity start over and do G.I. Joe from the beginning, this is how I would do Cobra differently.” And that is what we’re doing. When it comes to the rest of it, when it comes to G.I. Joe, a lot of that just came from the conversations with Robert [Kirkman] and Sean [Mackiewicz]. We were talking about what we all wanted to do with the property, but all of my thoughts on Cobra were in my notebook, and now that’s the stuff that we’re doing.
It’s often a challenge with licensed comics to make a story feel fresh and organic, but Duke #1 accomplishes that. What’s the secret to making it successful?
JW: A lot of planning. That’s really it. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of conversations when we’re doing a book like this. Skybound has such a good relationship with Hasbro, and they had built a massive plan before I was officially hired, before Tom was on. I still want to take ownership of it and still make it ours, but, at the same time, a lot of the groundwork was already set up before we got here. So we knew that Starscream was going to kill a friend of Duke, and that Duke was going to have an experience with a Decepticon that was gonna be traumatic. We knew that going into it. Then Tom went and drew his version of it, and it’s awesome.
Tom Reilly: Visually, Daniel [Warren Johnson] killed it [in Transformers #1]. With the Transformers, he’s got them all down perfectly. So I had a good foundation to work with, visually, especially with that scene that I drew. It’s kind of beat for beat. What he ended up drawing, I got to do my version of it. It was pretty fun.
The other thing that’s really striking about this issue is the patience of its story, and the minimalism in both its writing and art. How did both approach the book’s storytelling?
JW: Well, from my end of things, it was actually a really easy issue to write. I wrote an outline a long time ago, and then when it came time to write, I just knew what I wanted to do. I was a big fan of Tom’s work from before. We talked about working with each other a lot in the last couple of years. So I had his art in my life. When I was writing it, I was just pacing it out… One of the things that Robert and Sean talk to me a lot about is patience. With this, we really want to make sure that book felt like it had that kind of pacing to it. I think sometimes, with plot, I’ll rush through things, move too quickly through moments. With this one, because of the confidence that Hasbro has in Skybound and that Skybound has in us, it allowed us to take a deep breath and let it have that kind of pacing. For example… When I wrote the first issue, we all agreed that we need more pages. It was 24 pages when I first wrote it, and we weren’t adding scenes. All we did was take what was there and extend it out to let it breathe a lot more. Then Tom got it and killed it again.
Tom, “lovely” is not a word often used to describe G.I. Joe comics, but it feels appropriate here.
TR: I mean, if it’s a different take, that’s exciting to me. That’s kind of what we want to do – not do something that’s already been done before. So if I’m not someone who would typically take on this book, I think that might lend credence to that.
I’m always trying to improve and draw things a little bit differently with every project. So some of these pages have a few more intricate details than I would normally put in, just because there’s so much real- life technology in them – like military tech – and I want to make sure I get it right. I’m doing a lot of research to try and find out about standard issue stuff that soldiers use, just to get the correct reference. Usually, I’m drawn more towards fantastical stuff – like superhero stuff – that doesn’t need that many references. There’s a lot of building things out of your own head. But now I’m looking up actual ways people get Judo thrown or punched. I’m trying to keep it pretty grounded. Then maybe, eventually, it’ll get crazier down the line, and I can use more imagination.
JW: It does get crazier. I’ll give you some great new stuff later… I know you’re really good at taking the scenes and adding your own spin to them, adding character moments. Especially in the fight scene with Duke and Mercer. There’s a gag you put in – one of my favorite things – when he throws Mercer into the window. That was such a genius way of doing it. It kind of reminds me of Eduardo Risso. Risso would do things with his panels in 100 Bullets, just taking these different angles… It was a good gag. It was a really cool storytelling thing that you added in there. I thought it was funny. [Laughs.]
What can you guys tell us about the arc this book will take?
JW: This first arc mostly just focuses and on Duke’s journey and how he gets through some of the stuff we’ve seen. How does he go from being this broken person to coming back around again? That’s predominantly what we’re working on. Then him investigating this mystery and starting to figure out this bigger world that he’s coming into that he wasn’t aware of before. That’s predominantly what we’re doing with him. There’s a lot of fun stuff coming in though. You get to see this new take on G.I. Joe and this new take on the Energon Universe. You get to see Duke’s introduction to it, his entry into it, which also works as readers’ entry into this big world.
There’s a lot of fun stuff coming out. It’s hard because I don’t want to spoil all the characters. We have a lot of cool characters come in. There’s some really fun and crazy stuff that’s coming up in this book. It’ll be an interesting journey, looking at that bunch of cool G.I. Joe characters show up and do cool shit and then watch Duke go on this emotional journey. The end of his emotional journey is the end of this arc, because of other stuff coming. But you get to see a big piece of how he gets brought into this world and how he reacts to it. This is, in a lot of ways, an origin for Duke as well as setting up the other stuff we have planned.
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