In 1990 Lee Weeks had recently finished at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (now just “The Kubert School”) and was regularly drawing Daredevil for Marvel. Before that job started, fellow alum Andy Kubert had helped get him a cover job on G.I. Joe, and in the middle of that 10-issue cover run, Weeks drew a fill-in issue as regular artist Mark Bright’s time on the series was winding down. Continue reading
Tag Archives: G.I. Joe comics
In our last episode, Tim stretched out this story of getting into G.I. Joe comics by also including Marvel super-hero books like Uncanny X-Men. This week he gets back to G.I. Joe. Sort of.
After that first mail order in the early summer when my brother Kevin and I got 11 G.I. Joe back issues for $22, we were hooked on the process. New Jersey-based East Coast Comics, the fine retailer that had filled that first order, was smart to include an updated catalog (a pamphlet, actually) with it, and some months later we gathered our pennies and plotted to fill more holes in our G.I. Joe run. At this point, the series is on issue #95 or thereabouts, so we’ve got 70 comics or reprints to track down. Several options offered opportunities to get those comics, each just uninteresting enough that I will probably blog about them individually on upcoming Fridays – finding other comic book stores, attending our first comic book convention, sampling a mail order company beyond East Coast Comics. But for today: Our second and third mail orders.
This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but for me this image is all nostalgia: The handwriting of my 11-year old self, my mom’s signature, specific G.I. Joe gaps we were attempting to fill, the fact that I still didn’t understand what “Alternates” were – (second choices in case a comic was sold out, so East Coast didn’t have to issue credit slips), and the fact that we were trying out a new series (Nth Man, Ninja Turtles Teach Karate).
Also, memory is funny in how often it turns out to be wrong: This scan concretely places when we bought issue #36 of The ‘Nam, meaning I was incorrect a few weeks back in this very blog. I must not have bought that issue at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks as 6th grade began. Apparently it arrived by mail a few months later. I have no recollection of receiving this box, although I do remember thinking Solson’s TMNT book was an amateurish affair, remarkable considering how amateurish the production in Mirage Studios’ actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was. So this must have arrived right around Christmas of 6th grade. Anyway, there it is, what was probably our second ever mail order.
But let’s skip a few months ahead to spring of 6th grade. The first two mail orders have arrived quickly. Kevin and I have saved up enough money to place a big order, and with East Coast selling many issues for less than a dollar, this was not going to be 10 or 15 comics. No, this time we ordered 40 G.I. Joe back issues. It was bold, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking. Even though we were clearly comics buyers by now (Joe, The ‘Nam, Marvel super-hero books, Ninja Turtles), it’s still a transition from being boys who spent money on toys to boys who with our own money bought things to read. (Chapter books and the occasional Garfield collection were paid for by our parents.) This shift represented, in a very real sense and not just symbolically, us growing up and away from childhood. We bought toys and played with them for a few more years (me much longer than Kevin), but toys’ days were numbered the moment I bought that first Joe comic. (Except for me becoming a vintage toy collector, another topic for another day.)
My friend Will (Hi, Will), also in 6th grade with me, was becoming a comics reader as well. And comics had a certain currency in my tiny classroom. One friend talked about Wolverine. I drew a cutely terrible Batman parody in my notebook. And new G.I. Joe issues did appear each month concurrent to all this. But as the weeks went by, I got anxious about this big mail order. Why was it taking so long? Why was it taking weeks when the earlier order had only taken one? Was the package lost somewhere en route? Did East Coast abscond with our money? Was the parcel stolen from our front stoop? During lulls in class I would fantasize to Will about what it would be like to open a box with 40 comics in it. To instantly more than double the size of our collection.
The specific scenario I kept painting went like this: Arriving home one day, I’d notice our screen door propped open, even though it always closed shut on its own. Something must be in the way, something I couldn’t see from the car. We parked. I approach cautiously. Now the box is revealed: It’s eight feet tall, cardboard, sealed with packing tape. It can only be one thing. It can only be an East Coast Comics parcel bursting with comics. Literally, the box edges are no longer straight, parallel, and perpendicular, as if the comics are forcing their way out, the packing tape starting to tear, like a cartoon container for some magical energy, some tazmanian devil, some pressurized tank ready to explode. Inside the house I cut it open, but a tidal wave of newsprint pages and glossy covers, G.I. Joe comics the likes of which I’ve never known, surge out as if from a fire hose, like an avalanche, pushing me back, smothering me, the sound like the crash of beach surf!
Will and I said this to each other in a stage whisper, as I’d act it out in my seat, making the rumbly sound effect for the shower of comics. It was a vignette we’d quietly pantomime for each other, sitting in our seats during a lull in class. Will’s enthusiasm only reflected back on me, and the wait only became more difficult.
WHEN WOULD THE BOX ARRIVE?
In our last thrilling episode, Tim bought G.I. Joe issue #93 and saw Snake-Eyes’ face!
Just below issue #93’s great cliffhanger was the “next issue” blurb, one that promised the beginning of “The Snake-Eyes Trilogy.” My brother and I owned enough issues of G.I. Joe by now to know that the series had never been delineated with story arcs. Chapters weren’t branded as “part 1,” or “part 2.” It was all an ongoing story, with some characters and plotlines taking the spotlight and others moving to the back or dropping out for stretches at a time. So combined with the fact that this “Snake-Eyes Trilogy” was about the mystery man, and that we had just seen his scarred face for the first time, here was ample evidence that #94 and beyond were a big deal. The tiny preview of next month’s cover showed a healed Snake-Eyes pulling the bandages off his head and brandishing a pistol, a steely look of resolve over the NINJA COMMANDO’s face.
Oddly, when that issue did arrive at Waldenbooks in September, the cover was different. The earlier image had been redrawn, and much of the space was now taken up with giant type that read “SNAKE-EYES GETS A NEW FACE!” And “THE SNAKE-EYES TRILOGY PART 1: WARRIOR REBORN!” And “TOP SECRET.” One of the important factors that separated the monthly G.I. Joe from almost all of Marvel’s other output was the lack of type on its covers. Marvel super-hero comics (and some of the licensed books) regularly had dialogue on the front, and copy that sought to pull in young readers, a decades-old remnant of once head writer and editor Stan Lee’s hyperbolic writing style (“The Day Kitty Pryde Leaves the X-Men, is the Day the X-Men Fall!”) In fact, only 16 out of the previous 93 issues of G.I. Joe had cover copy. This point is worth spending some time on. By way of example, note how impactful this random cover by Mike Zeck (issue #62) is:
There’s tension. You’re worried about the prisoners. One looks injured, one looks seriously ticked off. Maybe he’ll try to escape! Visual cues let you know they’re out of their element: barbed wire and AK-47s particularly. These guys are prisoners behind the Iron Curtain. That’s a scary thought for a soldier in 1988 or so, or a boy following his exploits. But the cover loses all its power if there’s copy:
So when Kevin and I found issue #94 at Waldenbooks, with its leading cover text, even if we didn’t consciously realize it, the “part 1 of 3” and the mere presence of a blurb meant that something was different. Now it may have just been Editorial trying to goose sales — Read this issue or you’ll miss out! – but the cover treatment, whether it pulled in additional readers or not, was an accurate reflection of the heightened stakes in this run of issues. I mean, last month the Baroness just blew up the Dreadnoks’ van. In this new issue, she shoots Scarlett point blank in the head! I’m not a bloodlustful guy, but I do appreciate edgy kid entertainment, and stories that don’t talk down to me. This kind of violence could never have flown on TV, but we knew that in war, people get hurt. People die.
And some wars come to a premature end. Which one was it, metaphorically? Tune in next week to find out!
Sorry for the missing weeks. Things have been crazy, but I’m back on schedule with more art, memories, and anecdotes.
Today’s post is a photocopy of Herb Trimpe’s pencils to Marvel Comics’ G.I. Joe issue #1, cover dated March 1982. Click to enlarge.
Trimpe clearly put a lot of effort into this, as evidenced by the distinct facial types, lush backgrounds, and dense spotting of blacks.
Here’s the page as printed, now with inks by Bob McLeod and colors by Glynis Oliver. Notice how much McLeod has redrawn and softened the organic stuff.
When Marvel issued its G.I. Joe Volume 1 graphic novel in 2002 (reprinted more recently by IDW Publishing as Classic G.I. Joe Volume 1), a friend re-read the issues contained therein — #s 1-10, and made an observation. He remarked that early G.I. Joe was very much a weird Marvel ’70s-post Silver Age comic book, what with Trimpe’s Kirby faces and invented Kirby technology. That it didn’t become the familar ’80s G.I. Joe we know until late in or after the first year. (Issue 6 is another good example, with the Joes building a weird desert dune buggy.) Just look at the tech framing on the top and bottom of panel 1, and the computer in panels 4 and 5. And not that it carries through to the inks, but look at Austin’s cheekbone in panel 3 — a Kirby line! — and his eyes as well.
What other artistic influences do you see?
In our last episode, young Tim paid a whole dollar for G.I. Joe issue #90!
There was much to love about this comic:
-Page one was a splash, that is, a single illustration taking up the whole page. Modern comics eschew this in favor of text recaps or several smaller panels that lead to a page two splash or a page 2-and-3 double splash, but for my oddly tuned aesthetics, comics should start with a splash on page 1. And this particular splash page showed two characters I’d never seen bicker – Zaranna and the Baroness, screaming and grappling with each other while almost falling out of a Cobra transport helicopter over Manhattan. Once again, several things rare or unheard of in the Joe cartoon: Villains fighting, more than one female villain in the same scene, and more than one female villain fighting.
-There was something “open” about the art. It would be another year before I decided Mark D. Bright, the pencil artist who drew G.I. Joe #90 (and the following 15 issues or so) was my favorite artist in all of comics. And it would be another two years before I decided I would buy any comic he drew once his G.I. Joe run had ended. But for now, there was a strong sense of spotted blacks (a term in illustration that denotes where significant shapes filled with black ink help provide a sense of form and depth to anatomy, props, and backgrounds — something you don’t see in the line-only styles of, say, the Garfield newspaper strip or Herge’s Tintin) that didn’t overpower the artwork, and that let the color breathe more than that first comic I’d ever looked at and rejected. (That would be G.I. Joe #54, drawn by the wonderful Ron Wagner, whose work I quickly came to love.) There were also more colors by now – Marvel had upped its palette in the intervening years, and slightly improved its paper stock.
-An entire scene comprising of the Cobra brass – Cobra Commander, Destro, Voltar, Zaranna, the Baroness, Dr. Mindbender, and Darklon arguing about the power balance of their organization. But the meeting is led by Destro, not Cobra Commander! This made my head spin, but in a good way. And insults are hurled:
“This throwback wears a monocle and a cape and he’s casting aspersions on my character.” (Darklon to Destro)
And they’re funny!
I had briefly seen Destro take over Cobra during the first TV miniseries six years earlier, and Serpentor (the Cobra Emperor) had permanently wrested power from Cobra Commander within seconds of first appearing, but this was more involved, humorous, and pleasantly disorienting. (And where was Serpentor, anyway?)
-Joe prisoners and Brain Wave Scanner. At last, the promise of the cover art fulfilled! Worse, Cobra agents travel into the Joes’ memories and plant false information! As a fan, my heart went out to these fictional characters.
-Old Joes and new Joes. Conspicuously each new season of the G.I. Joe TV cartoon would leave out older characters as newer ones appeared. There were debut toys to sell, after all, despite the challenge this unending stream of characters caused the show’s writers. And when it came time to populate a crowd scene, rather than place “retired” Joes in the background, it was the nonsensical “greenshirts,” anonymous, generic Joes that would fill that role. I even have a memo from 1985 where a Sunbow producer spells out for the writers which characters to no longer include for that year. It was that purposeful. But here in this Marvel comic book were the aforementioned new characters, as well as Breaker, Cover Girl, Mutt, and Bazooka from ’82, ’83, ’84, and ‘85.
-Serpentor’s corpse! I cannot overstate what an odd surprise this was. On TV, no one ever died. (My brother and I didn’t know that Duke was supposed to have died in the 1987 animated G.I. Joe: The Movie. So convinced were we by the clunky audio patches that place him merely in a coma after taking a poisoned staff to the heart that we believed the small eruption of red liquid from said wound was in fact blood-colored poison. Of course it was a coma, because no one died in kids’ cartoons.) Here, not only were Destro and Dr. Mindbender talking about hiding Serpentor’s corpse, they alluded to having plans for it. So not only had I missed his death, and any ensuing power struggle, now I had to keep reading to see what would happen to Serpentor’s body.
-Also, the B.A.T.S talked. On the cartoon, Cobra’s Battle Android Trooper robots didn’t speak. Zombie-like, they merely walked and fired their machine guns. Here they talked and piloted helicopters.
-Also importantly, one bit a dialogue in issue #90 had a footnote. Destro refers to the “Cobra Civil War,” giving me that heart-bending tingling feeling I get when a story hits a cliffhanger or I realize I’ve missed some revelation. That certainly explained him trying to sort out the chain of command and Serpentor’s body being preserved in ice. That footnote pointed us to issue #77, which could now be a likely next comic book to track down. (Footnotes, like sound effects, have most unfortunately fallen out of favor in monthly mainstream comic books, but at the time they were all the rage.) This will be important later on in the story of my brother and I starting out in comics as we bought our next issue of G.I. Joe at Waldenbooks a month later – but shockingly, it wasn’t #91!
What issue was it? Tune in next week!
In our last episode, Tim saw the G.I. Joe comic book that would change his life forever, but his brother told him not to buy it!
I looked at Kevin stupidly, desperately. Cobra Commander was in his battle armor! Insulting Voltar! Destro had his gold helmet! His GOLD helmet! Darklon unloaded his (non-lethal) weapon into Road Pig! The show was in reruns, and we would never see these characters animated in our entire lives! The cartoon adventures of this most engaging brand ever was over, doomed to eternal repeats and diminished relevance like those horrible 1960s Flintstones reruns we caught where there was nothing else on.
“It’s a dollar.”
The emphasis: “It’s a dollar.” What he was saying was “It’s a third of another figure. We could be going to Toy”R”Us again any week now, and you wouldn’t want to be there without enough money to buy your next G.I. Joe figure, would you? It will be a wasted trip, and I’ll buy my next figure, and our next game – the best games happen on the days we bring home new figures (O! The inspiration!) – will be lopsided. And all you will have to show for it is this flimsy paper THING. Whereas a figure is interesting forever because it’s poseable and a concrete object. But a comic book – whatever that is – can’t be any more evergreen than any book, and how often do we reread books? Never.”
That’s what he was really saying. And he was right. It was a waste. It might be a waste.
But on the other hand, a dollar felt like a great trade for this significant amount of entertainment. (And sadly, today the standard cover price of four dollars is not a commensurate exchange for the satisfaction offered by the average single comic book of 2011 – improved paper stock and color production, inflation, improved wages, and corporate greed having ruined today’s comic.) And it was just a dollar. A third of an action figure wasn’t all that much. Plus I was feeling experimental. Contrary, even. I might have made the decision just to spite my brother’s admonition.
So I bought it. I can still remember standing at the register – Waldenbooks had three side by side, the counters higher than most bank tellers, the woman selling me this gateway drug, a giant black placard high up on the white wall behind her listing all important up-coming book releases by date.
I don’t remember telling (or showing) Kevin that I’d bought the comic anyway, but it must have happened on the way out of the store. He probably just said “Oh,” a non-committal reaction that would neither encourage nor pity my decision to vote out of lockstep with my political party. (I tended to do whatever Kevin did. A little brother, my independent streak arrived in high school.) I probably did not look through this comic book – whatever it was – on the ride home since I couldn’t read in a car (still can’t) without stomach discomfort. I don’t remember reading G.I. Joe issue #90 on the family room floor at home 45 minutes later, but I probably did. I don’t remember enjoying every moment of it, but I certainly did.
How did my brother come around? Tune in next week to find out!
Because my mom didn’t want to cook dinner every night of the week, Wednesdays we ate out. This tradition lasted for about 6 years. We loved our local mall. (Ironic since the growth of the suburban mall in the 1970s reflected the flight of retail stores from the American Downtown, a trend that closed my grandfather’s Baltimore department store years earlier.) After a renovation that added an entirely new wing complete with 3-screen movie theatre, video arcade, and food court, Montgomery Mall had us hooked. So after Mom came home from work she and brother Kevin and I would drive up the Beltway (the loop of interstate around Washington, D.C., and now the bane of many an automotive commuter) eager for a reliable night out in the consistent 72 degrees of our hermetic shopping experience.
After fast food dinner, we’d browse the book store and then split up – my mom to the department stores, and Kevin and I to – the arcade was actually called this, with a red and green neon sign – The Name of the Game. A half-hour later we’d drive home in time to finish homework and watch whatever ABC sitcoms were dulling our senses that particular season.
In the June between 5th and 6th grade, while strolling into Waldenbooks, past magazines and bestsellers, I looked up at the two spinner racks of comics and saw a revelation. His name was Road Pig.
The G.I. Joe cartoon had been in reruns for two years, a death spiral we could not fathom it pulling out of. New toys continually refreshed the line, but they didn’t speak or move. The explosions were imaginary, made in the onomatopoetic lexicon of little boys splayed out on a shag carpet.
From that top rack I pulled a comic book – odd thing it was – and noted several important elements: A bold “G.I. JOE” logo. The aforementioned Road Pig, a villain we had met in our role play, but never on television. He was brandishing his cinderblock-on-a-stick, a weapon so bizarre that if new episodes were on the air we inherently knew it would not appear, much like Snake-Eyes’ sword, television restrictions being what they were. On this cover image Road Pig was hauling two… who were they? I didn’t actually know since they were out of costume, but I could tell they were older Joes, circa year one. And a foreboding sign on the wall, pointing past them to something called the “Brain Wave Scanner.” Whatever all of this was, it begged several questions and I was curious for the answers.
Opening this flimsy periodical offered more surprises and teases. Over the first four pages, more characters who were too new to have appeared on the G.I. Joe cartoon! And an entire panel where one group of them – the Iron Grenadiers with their ceremonial swords (like U.S. Marines in their dress blues) actually brandish them! Threateningly! At other villains! It was too much for me to take. The Iron Grenadier action figures did come packed with swords, but they were permanently sheathed. So if Snake-Eyes was never going to use his sword on television (he did have it in hand once, but didn’t get to impale a robot or anything), and the Iron Grenadier toys made it physically impossible to properly use these other swords, that an “episode” of the G.I. Joe comic book had more relaxed rules concerning action and “violence” content made my eyes bulge.
And then a Cobra villain shoots another Cobra villain! All before page 5! (It was just a tranquilizer gun, but a kind of gattling tranq on steroids.)
But this was the icky G.I. Joe comic book! Hadn’t I already tried this out with Yearbook #3 and #4? Weren’t those printed on a dull newsprint, with a limited palette that could not rival the saturated intensity of animation cel vinyl photographed on 35mm film and telecined for broadcast? Yes. They were. But there were a few more colors here than those earlier comics, (or perhaps a more adept color artist), and the pull of all these characters and actions that were not available on television overrode my aesthetic concerns.
I flipped back to the cover. One dollar. That was a lot, but it also wasn’t. Kevin and I had a weekly allowance, and did not spend it on candy or gum. Or prose books. Those were all parental purchases. We tended to measure money with our own private system: The least expensive toys we bought were about three dollars. At Toys”R”Us, that meant a single G.I. Joe action figure, or an Autobot minicar (like Bumblebee). Everything scaled up from there in multiples of three and five. A $12 or $15 Joe vehicle was possible after a few weeks or months of saving. The $30 Metroplex was a bit out of my reach and became a birthday request. The $100 U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier was an utter impossibility. (Even the rich kid down the street didn’t have that, and he had a Millenium Falcon!)
So when I showed G.I. Joe issue #90 to my brother, his immediate response deflated, but did not surprise me: “Cool. Don’t buy it.”
Did I? Find out next week!