Josh Blaylock interview

Josh Blaylock is the founder of Devil’s Due Publishing and the writer of Image’s popular G.I. Joe comic. This month, he begins the G.I Joe Battle Files mini-series. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Blaylock about G.I. Joe and an upcoming project from Devil’s Due.

Westfield: For those who have never read any G.I. Joe comics, how would you describe the book?

Josh Blaylock: G.I. Joe is a highly trained, top secret task force that was constructed to fight terrorism in America in the early ‘80s, according to the story, which ended up mostly being the Cobra organization. It’s kind of like the US military versus the Legion of Doom. The bad guys are very over-the-top, almost that super villain level. The good guys are just the best of the best that the US military has to offer, all taken from different branches. We're picking up 7 years after the 80's series, and claim that after the team disbanded, Cobra was weakened and fractionalized to the point of not existing any more except in small, tiny factions broken up across the world in the early ‘90s when the G.I. Joe team was disbanded. Ever since then, their leader, Cobra Commander, has been a fugitive all across the globe. The government hasn’t been able to catch him because they don’t know his identity. Now, years later, Cobra is back and hence the G.I. Joe team is called back into action. So we’ve got all the heavy hitters from the ‘80s, Snake-Eyes, Duke, Scarlett, Shipwreck, Flint; versus all the main baddies of the old Cobra organization and some new faces as well.

Westfield: This month, you begin the book G.I. Joe Battle Files. What can you say about that?

Blaylock: Battle Files is a 3-part Prestige Format 48-page who’s who series. The first issue deals with the Joes, the second issue features the Cobras, and the third issue is about the vehicles and the tech equipment of both teams.

Westfield: Is this all done by one artist, or do you have a variety of artists?

Blaylock: We’ve got a few different artists. We’ve got myself, Eric Hanson who’s drawing G.I. Joe #5 and Micronauts, Steve Kurth the regular G.I. Joe artist, Mike Norton, Tim Seeley, and Barb Schulz and John Larter are doing inks on that. That’ll feature statistics and weaponry and all kinds of information about each character.

Westfield: What’s coming up in the regular G.I. Joe book?

Blaylock: Our next story arc after we wrap up this first one is going to feature everybody’s favorite white ninja and it’s going to culminate in a Snake-Eyes/Stormshadow showdown, which’ll be in issues #6-9. Issue #5 is going to be a stand alone issue that takes place before issue #1. I think in the future we might break it up like that after each story arc. We might take a break with a one-shot issue.

Westfield: What challenges does working on licensed characters present?

Blaylock: You have to do everything more ahead of time than you would if it was a non-licensed property because everything has to be approved; all the images, the script, and a lot of the ads. Everything has to go through the owner of the property. Then you get changes that come back in and you have to deal with that and make sure it’s something that gets through approved and that, obviously, adds a whole extra step of hurdles in there. I’m very proud of the scheduling we’ve kept up even with that in there. When we get around to doing more regular, creator-owned books straight from Devil’s Due Studios, it’s gonna be cake.

The other challenge of writing G.I. Joe is there are so many characters. There’s so many things that I felt I needed to do. So many characters that everyone’s gonna want to see. It’s really easy to get in over your head with all these characters. We did introduce a lot of new recruits in the form of the standard G.I. Joe infantry soldier, but there really isn’t any time right now to focus on them too much without taking attention away from another character, an older character, that people would probably rather see. After this first story arc, which is this big, huge, battle royale type of thing, I think we’re going to scale back a little bit so that we can do more of a small-scale Joe vs. Cobra and concentrate on smaller task forces and be able to concentrate on individual characters more. Then we’ll also be able to take some time and flesh out some of the new troopers as well, so they’re not just these faceless entities.

Westfield: As you commented, the agents of Cobra are terrorists. Has there been any stories that you haven’t been able to do or things that you’ve been more careful about since the events of September 11?

Blaylock: There are no stories that have been turned down and there are no mandates that Hasbro’s come out and placed on me. The way that issues 3 and 4 were going to fold out before this happened were, in a lot of ways, similar to what happened that day. I personally scaled some of that back and changed some of that around. Still, in the book, it happens that Cobra does attack different parts of the country. That’s what was supposed to have happened; Cobra attacks different parts of the country and then there’s chaos all over. There’s news reports everywhere that different cities are getting hit. The only difference was, then the ground troops move in. Fortunately, the way G.I. Joe and Cobra is is that Cobra is so fantastical, and like I was saying before, it’s like this army of near-super villains, that no one’s really going to look at them and think terrorism when they’re reading this book. They’re going to think that they look more like these over-the-top comic book characters. I think if they were running around looking like the Taliban, it might be more of an issue.

There was one instance though, where Cobra Commander’s new army, most of his grunt troops (I say in the first issue which was written before all this happened), were supposed to be from different parts of the world, and a lot of them are disgruntled troops from the Middle East. Before this happened, I really wanted to play up on that and I wanted to give a really foreign element to the guards, to the Cobra troopers. I wanted to give them accents or to have the Joes hear them speaking in different languages every now and then and add that air of mystery to them. Now, I’m not gonna be having all the Cobra troopers Middle Easterners.

Westfield: When the first issue hit, it sold like gangbusters. Were you surprised at how well it was accepted?

Blaylock: I wasn’t. I had a lot of faith in the book and I, by any means, don’t think it was because I was writing it. I think it’s because it’s G.I. Joe. I think a lot of people didn’t realize the demand that the fans had for this property. I know that because I was one of them. I don’t know very many guys ages 20 to 30 that wouldn’t be at least slightly interested in checking it out, comic fan or not. I had that faith in the book from the beginning. What happened was a lot of retailers didn’t know what to make of it. They didn’t know if it would sell, so they under ordered. So fans rushed the stores, the retailers made major reorders, and it sold out. Then for issue #2, our initial orders went up and it’s because they were getting a better idea of the fan demand, and we still over printed and it sold out. For issue #3, the orders are about the same for issue #2, and we’re still over printing and hopefully it’s still gonna sell out.

Westfield: What do you think the huge appeal of the book is?

Blaylock: It’s because it’s something from our childhood. It doesn’t really have anything to do with war or to do with all that nearly as much as it’s something that as kids, we woke up, we watched the cartoon, we went to school and had it on our Trapper Keeper, we had it on our lunch box, we had it on our bed sheets, we came home and watched the cartoon, we played with the toys, we read the comic books. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, all that stuff, it was the first time that generation of kids was blitzed with that kind of marketing. It was the first time that the marketing masterminds came up with that overall, encompassing plan to bombard the licensing, and the merchandise, and the cartoons all together. That’s why we like it so much. And because it’s something from our childhood, we look at it and no cartoons these days for kids live up to what cartoons were like in our days in our opinion. That’s what we know and want and nothing else will ever be as good. A lot of people really do believe it sold out because of what happened on September 11. Some people might think it’s me not wanting to believe that, but I really don’t believe that. I think this book was going to sell great before that ever happened.

Westfield: Do you plan on keeping G.I. Joe as a separate entity, or if you get any other licenses from Hasbro in the future, would you consider crossovers with other books?

Blaylock: The main series in our little G.I. Joe universe will definitely be kept by itself. If there ever were any crossovers, I think the best way to handle that would be to make them a separate series out of that continuity. An Elseworlds, for lack of a better word. That way, it would be a separate series and you could have some fun with it and you wouldn’t have to worry about it hurting the integrity or continuity of the regular series.

Westfield: Devils Due Publishing is going to be doing a new Micronauts series soon. Can you tell us anything about that?

Blaylock: Yes. For anybody who hasn’t heard, it’s an ongoing bi-monthly series. It’s drawn by Eric Hanson and it’s written by Scott Wherle, who’s the copy editor on the G.I. Joe book and he’s also going to be doing some work on Battle Files. It’s a total revamp, mostly due to legal reasons because Marvel owns a lot of the old Micronauts comic book names and concepts. I’m really happy with the way it’s turning out. I think it really starts off well. The story’s not hard to follow. It brings in this human character who is going to be someone the readers can identify with because this whole crazy alien world is new to him. Basically, anyone who was a toy character, that means that the toy company owns it and that we can use those characters. A lot of the main heavy hitters are still there; Baron Karza, Acroyear, we will have a Space Glider, it just won’t be the same Space Glider, and we can also take off a lot of the older toys that people might not have gotten to see in the original comic book series that they would have liked to have seen. There was a lot that was left out, I think. There are also small tweaks that Eric is doing that are really cool such as a silver face mask thing that morphs over their heads to give them a chrome looking face and helmet feel that looks very much like the old toy faces. Little things like that that so far people are receiving very well. I think they’re very cool.

Westfield: Personally, I’m excited about classic Micronauts artist Michael Golden doing the covers for a few issues.

Blaylock: How could I leave that out? [laughter] We haven’t agreed to a specific number yet, but he’s definitely doing some of the first covers. I’ll hopefully be seeing some of his artwork here real soon.

Westfield: Do you have any closing comments?

Blaylock: We’re busting our butts here and we hope we keep pleasing everyone as much as we have. Our biggest priority is getting good books out and getting them out on time.

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