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NYCC: Interview with Fred van Lente

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Tuesday, October 16 2012 and posted in Features
NYCC: Interview with Fred van Lente

The writer spoke to The Outhouse about his upcoming run on IDW's GI Joe!

Writer Fred Van Lente has been getting around.  After spending the last few years writing all kinds of book for Marvel, such as Marvel Zombies, MODOK's 11, The Incredible Hercules (with co-writer Greg Pak) and Amazing Spider-Man, he's been spreading his wings.  He's the writer on the new Archer & Armstrong series from Valiant, and now he's been announced as the newest writer to join the stable of GI Joe creators at IDW.  Hours after the IDW panel at New York Comic-Con, Van Lente spoke to The Outhouse in Artist's Alley about his run on GI Joe.


The Outhouse (OH): The big announcement at the Con is that you'll be writing a GI Joe comic for IDW.  How did that come about?


Fred Van Lente (FVR): Ryan Dunlavey and I had published our Comic Book History of Comics at IDW, and they really liked how it's selling for them.  John Barber, who knew me at Marvel but hadn't had a chance to work with me, called me up with the gig and I was super happy and thrilled, and here we go.  We're off to the races!


OH: You mentioned being a big GI Joe fan at the IDW panel.


FVR: Yeah, particularly of the 1980's comic book by Larry Hama and Herb Trimpe.  I just thought it was terrific.  It was one of the best comics of the 80's, if you ask me.  One of the best-selling comics of the 80's.  It's almost like The Wire if you'll forgive a pretentious comparison, because you spend as much time with the Cobra characters, the villains, as you do with the Joes.  I really dug the way he handled all of that.  We're going to try to retain that in our series.


OH: There are going to be a couple of other GI Joe comics going on at the same time –


FVR: They're also relaunching with new #1's.  Mike Costa is still doing Cobra Files, and Chuck Dixon is going to be doing Secret Missions.  Our title will be very public.  In our GI Joe, the premise is that what happened in Chuck's run is that Cobra sort of "Wikileak'd" the existence of the Joes to the world, and instead of retreating from that, they decide to embrace it and it almost turns them into a superhero team.  They have these images and personas.  They're going to be marketed and there are going to be GI Joe toys – I don't mean to shock anybody – but in the GI Joe Universe there will be GI Joe toys.  There's a lot of that going on.  There are a lot of pressures involved in that, and a lot of opportunities.


OH: Talk about working in that environment.  Is there a lot of coordination among the writers?


FVL: Yeah, there's been a lot of that.  In fact, Mike and I are going to have dinner tonight to discuss some plot points, Hasbro's been great, people have been very open to a lot of my ideas.  I had to clean up some of the saltier language, but I understand that.  That's not a problem.  I write enough about real soldiers to know that they use some bad words, but our Joes will be a little more plain-spoken than some of the other military members you might meet in your life, but there will be some – "grim and gritty" is not the right phrase, but things are going to have consequences.  It seems a little dishonest to have a war book where nobody dies, so there will be Joe casualties as well as Cobra casualties and I just want everything to have high stakes and weight to it. 


OH: When people hear "licensed" comic, they think of a corporate behemoth breathing down the writer's neck saying "no" to everything, but reading all the Hasbro titles like GI Joe, that doesn't seem to be the case.


FVL: Well, don't forget: the Marvel and DC superheroes are "licensed characters."  That's what editors are, they're brand managers.  That's part of their job.  It's really not that different from working on a mainstream superhero, at least in terms of corporate oversight.


OH: You've worked with Steven Kurth before...


FVL: Yeah, Steve and I did Iron Man: Legacy together, we did a couple of other Iron Man things...he and I are developing a creator-owned series that we've had to set aside temporarily while we work on GI Joe, but it's really terrific.  He's really taken to it like a duck to water.  The first few pages are trickling in, and they've just looked terrific.  He's great with drama, he's great with technology, he's great with crap blowing up, which there is a lot of in GI Joe.  


OH: So who's the roster of the team in GI Joe?


FVL: The roster at the moment is: Duke, Roadblock, Shipwreck, Quick Kick, Tunnel Rat, Cover Girl, Doc, and a brand new Joe: Hashtag, who's their embedded social media blogger.  She's the first Indian-American Joe.  She's named after a good friend of mine who is an Indian industry person and also a big GI Joe fan.  I hope people really like her.


OH: I talked to Justin Jordan about Valiant, and we talked about the interconnectivity of that universe and the fact that it's still so small.  Can you talk about the coordination there and how that mechanism works?


FVL: Speaking of Justin, he and Patrick are doing a great job with what magic is in the Valiant Universe in Shadowman, and we're going to be doing some of that in Archer & Armstrong and piggybacking off of that.  In issue #6, we're introducing the Geomancer who, if you're a long time Valiant fan, you know she's the...calling her the Sorceror Supreme is overdoing it, but she's definitely the most powerful "sorcerer" in the Valiant Universe.  Her powers, and magic itself, are based not in science, but in logic.  We like to have explanations for everything, as opposed to just having things floating out there.  I think people will be really excited by what we're doing with her, and with "mysticism," I guess you'd call it for lack of a better word in general.


OH: You're a funny guy, you're known for your action comedies such as Archer & Armstrong and Incredible Hercules.  However, you've noted that you see GI Joe as a war book.  Is there room for humor in a book like that?


FVL: It is primarily a war book, and that's not something we're going to make light of, or fun of, but the codenames and their looks and the fact that they're branded so specifically to their tasks are things that in the relaunch are very much in the forefront because they're so much a part of the Pentagon's marketing and recruitment efforts, so there's a lot of humor coming out of that.  It's respectful, but with a little tongue of cheek.  Let's just say Shipwreck does not like his codename.  He's got a huge problem with it.  I mean, as the Wolverine of the group, he would think that anyway, but he wants to change his codename.  Let's see if he's successful.


OH: You talked about the premise of the book, in which Cobra does something different and goes the Wikileaks route, which puts GI Joe in a position they've never been in before.  That said, where does that put Cobra in this new paradigm?


FVL: Cobra's whole strategy hinges upon trying to be ten steps ahead of everybody, and they have a long-term strategy for the United States.  I don't want to reveal too much, but the further the Joes go in, they find more they didn't already know about.  Let's just say Joe relocating to New York City means New York may be the new central focus of Cobra's terrorist campaign, which as a New Yorker terrifies me.  


OH: How much of Cobra are we going to see, in terms of their roster?


FVL: The focus of GI Joe is squarely on GI Joe partially because we have a book about Cobra.  Baroness, definitely.  I keep calling her The Joker because she's the iconic villain, and where Baroness is, Destro will not be far behind.  Those two alone would be enough for the Joes to tangle with.  You'll also see a whole new band of antagonists, whom you've seen before but have not been in this position of direct conflict with GI Joe.  


OH: Where does your love for Baroness come from?


FVL: She is the ultimate geek girl sex symbol.  This book could be about Baroness having breakfast, going to the store, what movies does she like, etc.  I just like her as a sadistic, iconic villain.  My problem with female villains is that they always fall in love with the hero and go straight.  That will never happen with The Baroness.  She's far too evil.  I like a good sexy evil female.


OH: Getting back to Comic Book History of Comics, how did that get collected at IDW in the first place?

FVL: They asked us.  The head of IDW, Ted Adams came up to us and asked to publish the book.  As you may know, we self-published the series, we self-published Action Philosophers!, but to be perfectly honest with you, we are really shitty at it.  So we really wanted partners to come and help us.  IDW made us a great deal, they've been terrific with the book.  We're about to go to a new printing and it's just been super exciting.  In fact, as you heard at the panel, Ryan is going to do variant covers of the first four issues of GI Joe telling the history of GI Joe in the style of Comic Book History of Comics.  


OH: What's the status of Action Presidents?


FVL: The first script is done writing-wise, I'm waiting for approval from my educational advisors and Ryan's going to start drawing.  It's going to appear sometime in early 2013.


OH: I talked to Justin Jordan about Valiant, and we talked about the interconnectivity of that universe and the fact that it's still so small.  Can you talk about the coordination there and how that mechanism works?


OH: Anything else you'd like to tell the world?


FVL: New York Comic-Con is bigger and better than ever, and I'm super-psyched that it's grown so much.  I've literally been to every one, and I hope to continue my relationship. 

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