Yo Fred! Biff Bam Pop Talks To New G.I. Joe Writer Fred Van Lente

GIJOE_RelaunchIt’s an amazing time for G.I. Joe fans. Not only will the long awaited film G.I. Joe: Retaliation hit theatres at the end of March, but IDW has relaunched their comic series (while also maintaining a second series, written by longtime G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama). Written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Steve Kurth, the first issue is the perfect jumping on point for die hard fans and newcomers to the franchise. Fred Van Lente was kind enough to talk to Biff Bam Pop via email about the new series, characters he’s looking forward to writing and much more!

Andy Burns: Congrats on a stellar first of issue of G.I. Joe! First things first – can you tell us how you wound up working on the title?

Fred Van Lente: Thanks. My understanding is you have IDW editor-in-chief Chris Ryall to thank for that. Ryan Dunlavey and I published The Comic Book History of Comics with them, so the relationship was already there. One day G.I. Joe/Transformers editor John Barber called me up and asked me if I wanted to take over the book, and history was made. Or unmade. One of the two.

Andy Burns: There’s a huge history behind the franchise – from Marvel’s legendary run to the Devil’s Due stories through to the great work that IDW’s been doing the last few years. As a writer, is there any intimidation at all working on a series that has a devoted fan base with high expectations?

Fred Van Lente: It’s not really useful as a writer to be intimidated by anything when you’re coming on a big franchise. You’ve been hired by the licensor to bring your own unique spin on the property, so that’s what you should do. Gosh knows if people don’t like my particular take on G.I. Joe they’ve got lots of others to choose from! It’s the joy of the brand Hasbro’s created, really.

Andy Burns: One aspect of G.I. Joe #1 that I really enjoyed and appreciated was the way in which you managed to both give the series a clean slate for new readers while hinting at what happened in the recent IDW past. Was it difficult at all to balance both for you?

Fred Van Lente: Not really, as I had been out of circulation as a fan since I was a child in the 1980s, so really I was bringing people like me back into the title, synthesizing elements I remembered from past comics and cartoons with events in the newspaper headlines … while remaining completely true to the established continuity that IDW had set up in the great books they’ve been putting out since they obtained the license.

Andy Burns: With such a rich and diverse group of characters in the G.I. Joe world, what was the appeal of putting together the current team featured in G.I. Joe #1? And how was it decided whom would be front and centre?

Fred Van Lente: I talked with a bunch of my friends who are both comics pros and long time G.I. Joe fans, solicited their advice. I read almost all the IDW comics and poked around various web sites, like Joepedia. There were a few characters I was specifically prohibited from using, so there was a process of elimination going on there.

Destro and BaronessAndy Burns: Are there any classic characters you’re looking forward to writing in the new series? 

Fred Van Lente: Scrap Iron. Baroness. Destro. General Flagg. Croc Master. Hawk. Sergeant Slaughter (fingers crossed). Bulletman. Major Bludd. Wild Bill.

All but one of those are definitely appearing.

Andy Burns: How has it been working with artist Steve Kurth on the series? I loved the artwork in Issue #1. 

Fred Van Lente: It’s been great. Steve and I became good friends while doing Iron Man Legacy together over at Marvel, and we have a great personal back-and-forth that’s a huge help in the creative process.

Andy Burns: When it comes to G.I. Joe and comics, it’s hard not to think of Larry Hama and the amazing work he’s done. Have you had a chance to talk to Larry at all about G.I. Joe? Has he offered any advice?

Fred Van Lente: I was lucky enough to spend last Saturday at a G.I. Joe signing in Wilmington and got to spend the day with Larry, one of the most justly beloved and lauded figures in our industry’s history. The stories alone were amazing — like he would hang out with Harvey Kurtzman and Terry Gilliam in the Help! magazine offices when he was a teenager, or how got cast in the Lincoln Center production of Pacific Overtures in the elevator.

The moral of this story is that if you get a chance to spend the day with Larry Hama, DO IT.

Andy Burns: At Biff Bam Pop, we’re always interested in the creative process. On that note, can you walk us through a typical workday for you? Do you have music going when you’re writing? If so, what are you listening to? 

Fred Van Lente: I get most of my work done early in the morning. I listen to playlists specific to that project — a process I describe pretty well in the last paragraph here. Then I eat lunch and do a lot of non-writing things, like the gym, answering interviews (case in point), making the phone calls, I need to.

It’s a lot better than temping, I’ll tell you what.

Andy Burns: Other than G.I. Joe, what else are you currently working on?

Fred Van Lente: Archer & Armstrong from Valiant, soon Brain Boy from Dark Horse, a zombie comedy called The Mocking Dead from Dynamite, and Action Presidents with the aforementioned Mr. Dunlavey — plus a bunch of stuff that hasn’t been announced yet!

Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re reading, comics or otherwise, that you would recommend Biff Bam Pop readers check out?

Fred Van Lente: Sure, I just read a great graphic novel from Fantagraphics called The Hypo about Abraham Lincoln’s early years — check it out!

Andy Burns: Thanks for your time, Fred!

Fred Van Lente: Thank you!

Be sure to check out all things Fred Van Lente at his website http://www.fredvanlente.com. G.I. Joe #1 is currently available from IDW.

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