Rob Liefeld has announced a new project with IDW Publishing and Hasbro as part of a major push for the G.I. Joe brand in anticipation of new toys and the upcoming Snake Eyes movie in theaters on October 23rd.
The fan-favorite Arashikage ninja Snake Eyes stars in Liefeld’s miniseries in June. Matt Dursin and our own Clay N Ferno from League Podcast hopped on a call with Rob to capture his infectious energy and talk about how G.I. Joe has had an impact on kids of a certain age and continues to today!
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FOG! Matt: It’s good to talk to you again. We talked to you before Major X, now you’re back. Thank you.
Rob Liefeld: Good to talk to you. Hey, I love comics, it’s my passion.
FOG! Clay: We love G.I. Joe and Snake-Eyes, that’s for sure. I have a Snake-Eyes tattoo on my arm!
Rob: Dude, that is killer. Congrats. That’s awesome.
Matt: It sounds we had a similar upbringing really, as far as G.I. Joe toys and comics and cartoons.
Rob: Of course.
Matt: Clay, do you have almost all the Marvel run, or how many… You missing a few?
Clay: I’m missing a few. I’m plugging them in but I challenged myself. I only go to conventions to get them. I won’t order them off of eBay.
Rob: Right on. I went shopping a couple of weeks ago at a local shop and I loaded up too. It was good.
Matt: This is a bucket list item for you, the Snake-Eyes book?
Rob: Well when you get to be an old guy me, you look at it- (laughs) … no, I’m serious.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing this. And look man, I can say with great confidence, I love where my work is at. I’m always pushing myself. I push myself in regards to storytelling more than anything because people don’t.
Mike Zeck, who obviously did a lot of great G.I. Joe covers, I met him… I stayed at his house in 1988 when I was first breaking in, visiting New York, stayed with him in Connecticut. And he said, “you know Rob, good storytelling and the design of a page is lost on most people why, when they close the book, they enjoyed it or they didn’t”.
“Good storytelling, which carries your eye through the page effortlessly, it’s composition of the page”.
And is one of the fundamental reasons why you elevate one guy over the other. And so I like where my work’s at and I keep pushing myself in term terms of story, drawing, storytelling, page design, all of that. So I had been hoping to do a G.I. Joe project for quite some time. IDW called me last year when Major X was coming out and asked if we could finally get together and do something. And we figured out our deal.
I pitched them a story, they pitched it to Hasbro, Hasbro signed off on it, and I started this last fall producing this series. And I’m happy that it’s out there and people know it’s coming.And my whole thing is, look man, we have our job cut out for us. G.I. Joe, as you guys well know, was once the top of everything.
I tell my kids, I told my wife, this was the number one cartoon, the number one toy, the number one comic book.
Matt: Oh yeah, we know. Oh, we know.
Rob: Yeah, you guys know this. And it has some ground to gain and I like a good challenge too. But what makes it easy is when you have love and passion for this stuff. And like I said on my Instagram, these are the champions of my toy shelves, these were the heroes of my sandbox. So I mean, I started way early. I’m Kung-Fu Grip, I’m Eagle Eye G.I. Joe.
And then they pulled the plug on G.I. Joe for years. And then I was thrilled when they brought it back in ’81 and ’82. I remember the assault of comic, cartoon, toys and how exciting that was.
And how much everybody loved Snake Eyes more than everybody. What?
Matt: I was just going to ask that. I mean, for every kid, Snake Eyes was the favorite, right?
Rob: Yeah. That was it. The thing is, I mean it’s just very exciting seeing the pages come together. I don’t really know if what I’m doing is working until I work with the colorist. The guys from IDW, John Barber is my editor and he worked with me 15, 16 years ago at Marvel. And when he saw the pages he’s like, “Rob, you always get the best out of your color guys.”
And it’s because I’m a bit of an art director, but I need talent to work with and I know how to pick really good colorists. And my guy on this, Federico is super talented. And when I see the pages come together, I just go, ah, this is good, we got the goods. Like I said man, I have had a great career going on 34 years now. I know how to speak to my audience and I’m confident that we have a story and a comic book that people are going to enjoy. And hopefully we can restore some of the former glory to the G.I. Joe brand.
Clay: I thought of that and some of the artwork reminded me, and please take this as the compliment it’s meant to be, Frank Miller, Ronin storyline. The color is really great, very painterly. And I love how the reds pop, it’s so good.
Rob: He is my single biggest influence. I’ve always worn that on my sleeve a hundred percent, a hundred percent. You are seeing it because that is a huge influence. Love it. The art that he did, year, the work that he did back then, again getting down to storytelling. He is… Frank Miller is the best storyteller, page designer, of the last 40 years in comics. He was always the best, he’s never stopped being the best, especially in terms of, again, storytelling and page design.
I mean he transformed Daredevil. Then went on and did Ronin and then transformed Batman. We live in this world where people think Batman was always the number one character for DC. And I’m like, really? That’s funny because in 1983 they were canceling Batman comics left and right.
World’s Finest, canceled, Brave and The Bold, canceled. He was no longer the draw that he was. Superman was the star of the show. And they canceled Batman Family.
I mean, they reformed Brave and The Bold into Batman and The Outsiders and then just threw out Batman called it The Outsiders. And then Frank Miller walks in the door and says, here, let me show you how it’s done.
And then we get Dark Knight.
My favorite thing is, I worked at a comic store that year. That’s the year I worked 10 months at a comic store and I was the clerk. And Dark Knight and Watchmen were the two biggest books. And people went crazy when Dark Knight didn’t come in and it had some delays. And people just went ape shit over that stuff.
We are still coasting on the trajectory that Frank Miller put in Dark Knight. But the bottom line is, look man, if I could get any ounce of that with this. But I mean, of course Snake Eyes is the baddest ass ninja warrior, soldier. But yeah, I take that as the highest compliment. I’m very honored for you to say that. I just hope that it spills over. I’m very confident it will. I really, again, I’m up for the challenge.
Captain America was selling 24,000 copies for a good, solid two years before I launched Heroes Reborn. 24,000 copies, all the while everyone’s cheering on, “oh, this book is so good”, it’s critically acclaimed, but they couldn’t move the needle, couldn’t move the needle. Captain America number one, 300 plus thousand under me, we averaged about 250,000. It was a huge challenge. Nobody was into Captain America or the Avengers at the time. It was an X-Men, Spider-Man world. And Jim Lee and I took those books, him with Fantastic Four and Iron Man, and we launched to the top again and–
Clay: And look where those characters are now?
Matt: Yeah, they’re still there.
Rob: I was going to say it. My former agent at the Hollywood agency that represented me, he’s now Chris Hemsworth’s, a part of his management team. So he became Chris’ manager. And he said to me at the… I went over to say hi to him and he introduced me to Chris Hemsworth at the Thor: Ragnarok premiere and he said, “Hey Chris, everything turned around on the Avengers when this guy and Jim Lee stepped with these characters. What Rob did with the Avengers and Captain America in ’96… And my agent looked at me and poked his finger in my chest and said, that’s what started all this. That’s when the turnaround started. That’s where it started.”
The focus shifted at Marvel and it’s true.
From 1996 on, after the decade of everything is Spider-Man and X-Men. We put the spotlight back on those books and even through all of the controversy and the books not finishing strong because I left after six issues, Marvel went into bankruptcy because they had bigger problems than Captain America and Avengers not selling.
But we did. I love challenges. I love a challenge. If Snake-Eyes can get into people’s hands… I’m going to be honest right now, it represents the challenge. Several stores in my area don’t carry the book and I had to find that out when I went to buy some comics for research.
But they’re going to carry the book now and if I can expose people to something I love, like I said, that’s when you know you’re doing it for love. You know, it wasn’t like, Hey Rob, we’ve got the winning formula for ya, this guy. You can ride that back to fame and fortune buddy.
There is no guarantee, like I said, for that right now. G.I. Joe is a brand that needs a new coat of paint. And it’s getting it with new toys, with a brand new movie and I’m doing the comic and I hope it’s a three pronged punch that gets people up and excited about it.
Matt: Well, we’re definitely excited. Can you give us a little glimpse of story?
Rob: I can tease you, yeah. Here’s the deal man. We jump right out of the gate. He’s jumping out of a helicopter on the first page and you will, obviously through narration, understand the mission at hand. And I can tell you it’s a mission… He’s there to free a prisoner because that prisoner has knowledge of a threat and the location of a weapon/artifact. And he releases that soldier and realizes that there’s a ceremony that’s taking place that obviously command was not aware of. That it’s like he may have arrived too late. And immediately tries to go and intercept this ceremony that’s occurring. And the moment he stumbles onto this you realize how in over his head he is and the scope of what they’re up against. And it has a definite, a mystical, supernatural and mythological element to it, which is always fun.
When you got more grounded characters going up against, whoa. But he’s a cool customer but he recognizes that this is more than anybody asked for or maybe Command was not telling him everything in the first place. But he’s obviously a quick study and quite relentless. And the rest of the series is learning about our new villain and this weapon and if there is another weapon that can stop it. And maybe that weapon is Snake Eyes himself.
And so tune in and read Snake Eyes: Deadgame.
Matt: “Yo, Joe!” It’s coming in June, right?
Rob: It is, it is. I just didn’t want to do another “Snake-Eyes versus Cobra”. I read a lot of those and I’m not sure I’ll do better than those. So I wanted to take it into a different realm, make it a little more personal, a little more him up against something much bigger.
And when I say Mission: Impossible, those movies are based on giant action sequences. All the Mission: Impossible movies—they don’t even hide it. From movie to movie they’re like, well, we’re going to try it outdo ourselves this time. You know, we’re going to… Tom’s going to hang off a plane, Tom’s going to jump into space, Tom’s going to race a train and win. But the thing is, I’ve always really dined out on big action, that’s my key. And right now I see a sea of comics that have forgotten how to produce that or have chosen not to, whichever. It’s not the comics I grew up on.
Every single Marvel comic was based on about, at least, 10 pages of action in a 17 page comic. And we have definitely stopped kicking and throwing punches. And anyone who follows me is, I know my way around a gun or a sword. So it’s going to be great. He’s the ultimate action hero, the classic. And it’s just great. I mean, again, he is a tremendous visual and that’s what this is, a visual medium. So putting him through his paces is just a blast. I really appreciate your support.
Matt: Oh yeah. We’ll be there. Are there going to be any more G.I. Joe work if this takes off?
Rob: Yeah. Hey man, if people like this, I’ll do more.
Rob: It’s one story arc. Look, I’m very confident. I really am. I wouldn’t do it… Like I said, every hour of my day is accounted for. So when I decide to do something, there’s got to be a payoff in there. And what I mean by payoff in this is, it’s got to reach an audience.
And right now, like I said, my youngest son doesn’t know G.I. Joe, Snake Eyes, anything. I sat him down, I said, look, you’re going to watch The Toys that Made Us with us and you’re going to get this history lesson and so you understand better.
And I made my wife and my daughter, too… My oldest son at college, he’s three years older than his brother but he has knowledge of them because he went and saw the last round of movies and saw the cartoon.
But I mean, the brand could use a shot in the arm. And I think that’s what, like I said, every division is trying to step up with their best and I’m proud to represent the comic books and I would love to do more. Because drawing him is fantastic. He’s so much fun to draw.
Matt: Well the art looks great. Yeah. I mean, we can’t wait.
Rob: I think you’re going to really enjoy the story. Thanks guys.
Snake Eyes: Deadgame Will Arrive in June 2020
An audio version of this same interview arrives soon on LeaguePodcast.com‘s
new G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue by issue podcast!
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