Last year (it seems so long ago) a member of The Terror Dromes editorial staff got a chance to catch up with Henry Gilroy at the San Diego ComicCon. Well, it just turns out that Mr. Gilroy is one of the lead writers of G.I. Joe: Renegades, and he was kind enough to offer himself up to answer questions.
The Terror Drome was equally kind and gave me a chance to put my own .02 in, and below is the outcome of this interview. You will see questions that were posed by members of the Terror Drome forums as well as my own questions near the end of the interview.
It’s a pretty long, detailed, and wide-ranging conversation about G.I. Joe: Renegades! Check it out after the jump, and a humongous thanks to the great guys at The Terror Drome for letting me be included in this great opportunity.
First off, we would like to thank you very much for doing this interview with The Terror Drome.
Now on to the questions…
Q1 — “Before taking on the Renegades project, how much were you aware of G.I.Joe? Did you know of the brand as the 12 inch toys? The smaller, modern, toys? The cartoon? The comic book? The movie?” – joshdahl
HG: The first action figure I ever got was a second hand 12 inch Joe that had snow gear, which was somewhat funny because I grew up in sunny california where cold weather was a rarity. I always loved those 12 inch Joe because of the accessories, there was more stuff than Joe could carry, yet a variety of things he could do — with the skis, shovel, rifle, etc… I was also a fan of the early animated series and would rush home to watch it and I liked the Hama comics, but I wasn’t really into them until one event that changed my life.
In the mid 80s, I lived in an apartment building here in LA, and the action adventure animation business was booming – Marvel was in production on Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, Dungeons & Dragons and we had Transformers G1 and Robotech. By sheer luck, comic book and animation story board artist Mike Vosberg moved in right next door. Fans of the comics will recognize Mike’s name as being one of the first pencillers on the early Larry Hama GI JOE comic book series. Mike relocated from Michigan out to LA to work on the early Joe animated series. As a comic book nerd, it was a dream come true and Mike soon hired me as his art assistant. My primary job consisted of cutting out dialogue from the scripts and pasting it on the GI JOE storyboards…. I was 16. It was my first job in animation and when I got the chance to work on Joe again, I jumped in.
MI: I had some of my brother’s old hand-me-down 12 inch toys (included the fondly-remembered astronaut). I was in college by the time the original cartoon came out, so it kind of passed me by. Matt Youngberg, whom I worked with on Transformers Animated, is a huge Joe fan, so I probably became more aware of the property through Matt than anyone else.
Q2 — “What did you have access to as source material when you were creating the characters and the world for Renegades?” – joshdahl
MI: For the most part we were adapting existing characters, as opposed to “creating” from scratch. We had access to pretty much all the source material available in print or on the web, using it primarily as a reference for the “facts” of various previous incarnations of the characters. From there we chose to enhance, extrapolate and/or completely re-imagine.
HG: I mined my memory for the archetype aspects of Joe, the stuff that was iconic to me about Joe when I was a kid that made it fun, cool and badass at the same time.
Q3 — “When digging in to a cast of characters like this, you will naturally gravitate to some immediately. Who did you like right away? Who were you surprised to find yourself warming up to? And what character do you think you had to put the most work into liking?” – joshdahl
HG: This is tough, because after a while, all the characters begin to feel like family and depending on the story, they will have a larger or smaller role… although I can say that Tunnel Rat really look on a life of his own. I think Doctor Mindbender found new life and will be a fan favorite as well. I also love our take on Major Bludd, he’s kicks righteous butt!
MI: Definitely agree with Henry on Tunnel Rat and Mindbender.
Q4 — “What unique considerations are involved in writing a project which not only based on a kid’s action toy, but is also in a modern military setting?” – joshdahl
MI: We tried to keep the technology and hardware within the realm of “possible”, if not exactly “realistic”. The rule was, anything DARPA has in the works is fair game.
HG: As Marty says, we tried to make the action happen in the real world. Keep in mind though, GI JOE has always been a fantasy show, not a procedural military documentary. Regardless, we tried to use real military jargon where it seemed appropriate, but just as in the real military, our characters are people and use the every day colloquialisms that help define their characters and where they came from (just like people do).
Q5 — “I have really enjoyed the way the recent Joe movies, toys, cartoons, and comics have added diversity to Joe and Cobra ranks by altering the race and gender of certain characters. Will this trend continue in Renegades? Are there any surprises or bold changes that we can look forward to in this department?” – joshdahl
HG: Absolutely. Roadblock and Ripcord are Black Americans, Tunnel Rat is half-Chinese, Lady Jaye is Hispanic — which is a new take. One of the great things I love about Joe (and our military) is the diverse nature of its members and how all manner of race fight side by side.
MI: For me, race and gender come second to personality, so altering the races of certain characters was never really an issue for me. And as far as I can remember, we didn’t do any character gender-bending.
Q6 — “Assuming that you have Season 1 written out, or at least most of it; what can you share with us, what is your favorite episode so far?” – Jason (WildWeasel)
MI: I’m kind of partial to the two-parters we’ve done: “The Descent” (our pilot/origin story), “Return of the Arashikage” (in which we learn a bit about Snake Eyes’ past) and “Revelations” (our big season finale that resurrects some much-beloved pieces of Joe technology).
HG: Wow, Marty is spoiler-riffic. I will add the ‘Homecoming” two-parter that explores the past relationship of Duke and Flint. I also like the episodes that introduce Zartan, Shipwreck and Tomax and Xamot to the series… but that’s all I’m gonna say!
Q7 — “You have worked on quite a few popular animated series over the years (Marty too), how has your work on G.I. Joe: Renegades compared to those series?” – Jason (WildWeasel)
HG: I think anytime you work on big franchises, be it Star Wars or Batman or GI Joe, you take into account the fans and how the characters and mythology are important to a great many people, so you want to handle the subject matter with respect and try not to completely trample what’s come before, but add and complement it, so that aspect is similar.
MI: I think it’s a bit like asking me to compare my children. I like them all for different reasons.
————————————- Questions from our members…
Q8 — “Given recent history, will Cobra still be referred to as a “ruthless terrorist organization”, or merely as “the bad people” or something similar.” – xXWeaponPrimeXx
MI: We have to be extremely judicious about our use of the dreaded “T-Word”, but it does show up from time to time. As far as Cobra goes, they’re a fine upstanding organization. And anyone who says different will be dealt with accordingly.
HG: The great thing about GI JOE Renegades is that Cobra will have two sides — first appearing as the benevolent corporation, but underneath they’re the burgeoning and very ruthless terrorist organization that we’ve all grown to love (or is it hate?).
Q9 — “Will it be written as an “all ages script” entertaining to children but not dumbed down so that adults can’t enjoy it (similar to how “Avatar, The Last Airbender” is written)” – kingofpain26
HG: Our Executive Producer Jeff Kline has always encouraged us to talk straight at our audience, not down. The stories tend to have real life or death stakes, yet remain accessible to everyone. Similar to Avatar and many modern animated shows, we’ll be exploring a depth of character in the Joes, that has never been explored before.
MI: The simple answer is yes to all ages, no to dumbed down.
Q10 — “Are you planning on forming your writing based on the comic or cartoon-or are you going to find a way to mesh the best parts of both into a whole new direction that propels the story forward while appeasing the core fan base who are nostalgic for ‘the good old days’?” – General Scarlett
MI: We’re really trying to do our own thing here, taking cues from all sources, but not strictly adhering to any of them. Think of it as something completely new with lots of nods to the old.
HG: While the series is a jumping off point for a new audience, we haven’t forgotten the fans and have sprinkled ‘easter eggs’ from classic Joe all over the place for the hard core fan base.
Q11 — “Will Renegades have a multi character cast like Sunbow or will it be the same 5 Joes every episode like sigma 6?” – STORMSHADOW__210
HG: We’ll be primarily following 5-6 Joes, but I think we have appearances of well over a dozen other Joes throughout the course of season one.
MI: So, yeah, a little of both I guess.
Q12 — “Will the cast introduce new characters as well as characters from all walks of G.I. Joe lore, or will it be the usual suspects of “expected” characters?” – backpack
MI: New characters, old characters, new takes on old characters, old takes on new characters, and everything in between. Honestly, every time we would introduce some incidental character, we almost always found a way to somehow pull that character from the existing library of Joes.
HG: I can’t answer better than that!
Q13 — “Simple Question: Why does it look so different from the Resolute style? Is this a cheaper way of producing the cartoon?” – t34bag
HG: Resolute was its own incarnation of GI JOE and was created specifically for that story — a love letter to the fans as producer Sam Reigster says. Likewise, Renegades is another incarnation of Joe and its design style has nothing to do with the cost of producing the show. In fact, our lead designer, Clement Sauve, is lauded for his European graphic novel look and his design style is admired by the best animation artists in the business. In fact, my room mate is Resolute character and vehicle designer Dave Johnson (who also worked on Ben 10 and JLU) and he actually dropped out of the Renegades designer try-out competition telling me, “I want to see Clem’s designs animated!” Other top flight designers I know, Eric Radomski (BTAS \ Spawn) and Kilian Plunkett (Clone Wars) have also expressed their excitement to me about Clem’s designs for Joe. However, I do realize that Clem’s look is new and perhaps more sophisticated than some Joe fans are accustomed to, so I recommend you check out some more of this stuff… http://clementsauve.deviantart.com/gallery/
MI: Also, a real effort was made to make Renegades’ design style look different from other animated action adventure shows out there.
Q14A — “I don’t want to be too political, but I find G. I. Joe Renegades to be disturbing when you think that Hasbro is marketing it to kids. The idea that it’s basic premise is that the “heroes” are hunted by their own Government is too disturbing a concept for a kids cartoon show. I know I might seem old fashioned but why can’t kids today have a chance to watch the good guys fight the bad guys like I did growing up? Sure there were episodes of the Sunbow series where the Joes had to struggle against the Government, but it always worked itself out in a half hour. ( only exception being World Without End two parter which I think most of us can agree was a freaky couple of episodes to watch as a kid )
MI: I understand your concern but, just to be clear, the Government is not the bad guys in our show. Cobra is. And I think you’ll agree that being a “misunderstood” hero chased by the authorities (even though the audience knows he’s the good guy) never hurt Spider-Man, nor did kids find that concept disturbing. On the contrary, I think kids can very much relate to the concept of being accused of something you didn’t do.
HG: Have to agree with Marty, just about every hero; Superman, Iron Man, Batman, has been vilified and pursued by some government or law enforcement entity at one time or another. I see the Joes on the run scenario as just another obstacle to their goal of bringing down Cobra that will make our stories much more dramatic.
Q14B. So I guess my question is how will this be handled in the show and what are the reasons behind it? Did Hasbro mandate it, or just approve it?” – SnakePlissken
MI: The concept was developed by our Executive Producer Jeff Kline, Henry, and myself. Hasbro approved it, but did not mandate it. The reasons behind it were purely to create interesting drama that is different from how G.I. Joe was handled before, but still true to its characters. Also, it allows us to focus on a small core group of characters, rather than a gigantic rotating cast.
HG: Putting the Joes on-the-run allows them to organically get involved with characters who might not yet be Joes and draw them into the struggle with Cobra in ways that are personally motivated, rather than just having a group of good guys fight the bad guys.
Q15 — “How will Zartan be used? He’s a master of disguise but how is that going to be displayed in Renegades? Also what can you share about the involvement of the Dreadnoks and who are the Dreadnoks in Renegades? Will we get the classic Torch, Buzzer, Ripper or will there be new members or a mixture of all the Noks?” – Monkeywrench
HG: Make sure you tune into GI JOE: Renegades from the beginning, because Zartan will be making his appearance fairly early in the series… and while the biker gang aspect of the Dreadnoks will remain (including Torch, Ripper and Buzzer)… Zartan will be an ever evolving character who is both menacing and intriguing from a ‘wild card’ point of view.
MI: Torch, Buzzer and Ripper will all make appearances, as well as a couple of other Dreadnoks.
Q16 — “In the show description the joe team is divided into two units, one led by Flint, and another Renegade unit led by Duke. Can you describe your thoughts on how the relationship between Flint and Duke will develop?” – CAPT. GRID-IRON
MI: Rather than describe it, we’d rather you watch it and see how it unfolds. The important thing to us in developing that relationship is we wanted it to be personal between Duke and his pursuer.
HG: We’ve given Duke and Flint’s relationship a competitive aspect that adds yet another dimension to the series..
Q17 — “Are there going to be any ongoing relationships between either Flint and Lady Jaye or Scarlett and Snake Eyes?” – CAPT. GRID-IRON
HG: Yes and yes. These relationships will be evolving as the series progresses.
MI: And in a very special episode, Scarlett and Lady Jaye will… What? That one got cut?
Q18 — “Will we see Serpentor at some point in the series?” – CAPT. GRID-IRON
MI: Yes, but not in a way you’d expect.
HG: Don’t you mean “Yesssssss…”, Marty? <mustache twirl>
Q19 — “Did you use the original GI Joe cartoon as reference material, or are you looking to make this version of GI Joe a totally new telling?” – CAPT. GRID-IRON
HG: As we’ve mentioned before, it is an amalgam of the best parts of previous versions of Joe . Yet, there is a ‘reboot’ aspect to it, but we’re trying to be true to much of what has come before so that Renegades could be part of one giant mythology — as if told from a certain point of view.
MI: Obviously, in terms of characters, we used the original cartoon as at least a jumping-off point.
Q20 — “Will there be CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT stories since this is the beginning of the Joe & Cobra Teams?” – MAJOR WOLF
MI: Our chief concern is character development. That’s why we’re focusing on a small core group of Joes. This allows those characters and relationships time to “breathe”, rather than fighting for screen time with dozens of other characters.
HG: A very satisfying part of writing on the series is creating how these characters came together (both heroes and villains) and what drives their motivations and interaction – How did Destro come to work for Cobra? And how did his romance begin with Baroness? How was Major Bludd recruited? What did Duke think of Snake Eyes the first time he worked with him? And no, there is no backstory about why Roadblock rhymes, because he doesn’t rhyme in this series.
————————————- From our Twitter feed… Q19 — “Why did you decide to re-spec Tunnel Rat as the team medic?” – Ian McKay (@DistantFred)
HG: We didn’t have a medic and wanted to develop T-Rat into a more rounded character with a variety of skills besides merely ‘infiltration.’
MI: And just ‘cause he’s the team medic doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good medic.
————————————- We also invited our good friend Justin at GeneralsJoes.com to submit some questions. He asks…
Q1 — What did you use as your primary source of inspiration when tackling G.I. Joe: Renegades?
HG: All the mythology that had been created by a host of artists and writers that invented the comics and animated series when Hasbro created the initial toy line, so we owe much to them.
MI: But once we nailed down our own take, we let the characters themselves serve as the inspiration.
Q2 — The G.I. Joe property is in the unique position of being a military focused property, yet still trying to remain accessible to children. How is that difficult dichotomy achieved in Renegades?
MI: It’s a tightrope we walk in every single episode. Obviously, we can’t deal with the grittier aspects of the military. At the end of the day, we’re doing heroic fantasy, not hard core realism. This isn’t Band of Brothers or The Pacific. As much as possible, we try to keep the characters true to their military background and their reactions realistic, even if the situations themselves are more from the realm of the fantastic.
HG: Plenty of children are aware of the military, having family or friends in the armed services and I personally don’t think there’s any reason to shy away from the great sacrifice so many people have made. Like Marty says, GI JOE Renegades is a fantasy show. You could say the big distinction is that while the show has the military in it, it doesn’t address the idea of war.
Q3 — The excellent Clone Wars series that you are well known for is able to bridge that gap between kids and adults very well, but does contain quite a bit of violence. I’m sure it helps when you’re dealing with heavily armored soldiers, droids, or aliens. Do you find yourself under much tighter scrutiny with Renegades, seeing as how you’re dealing with mostly very vulnerable, human characters?
HG: Yes, having Jedi chop up droids or even non-human looking aliens is easier to get away with. Anytime you have humans shooting at humans, humans punching humans, there’s going to be a sensitivity to the violence in a kid’s show. This is the double edged sword of telling compelling dramatic stories where the characters are in life threatening danger, yet making that danger fantastical enough so as not to be realistic — especially when you are in a mostly realistic world that Joe takes place in. I might add that Cartoon Network has started editing human on human violence out of Clone Wars episodes this season, so there is a sensitivity to it everywhere in children’s tv.
Q4 — Are there some other big names assisting with the writing chores?
MI: Greg Johnson (Wolverine and the X-Men; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles); Stan Berkowitz (Batman Beyond; Justice League); Andrew R. Robinson (Spectacular Spider-Man; Transformers Animated); Dean Stefan (Jackie Chan Adventures; Men in Black); Eugene Son (Ben 10 Ultimate Alien; Superhero Squad); Brandon Auman (Iron Man Armored Adventures), to name a few.
Q5 — Which character are you most looking forward to revealing?
HG: Too hard to give you one — I like Major Bludd and Zartan on the bad guys and Snow Job and Shipwreck on the good guys. Although the Airtight story is pretty darn sweet!
MI: I’m gonna say Mindbender, ‘cause he’s so different than any past incarnation of the character.
Q6 — Will we hear Snake Eyes speak?
HG: <answering like Snake-Eyes.. silent, subtle gesture that only Scarlett would be able to interpret>.
Q7 — How much has the world of children’s animation changed in the past 5 years? It seems as if animated series have a lot more freedom to be more action-packed and less “dumbed down” to the younger viewers. Do you agree with that sentiment?
HG: I think the kids are more sophisticated, especially when it comes to storytelling these days. They are participating in MMO games like HALO and WOW (World of Warcraft) that have extremely complex mythologies and storylines. Game makers and tv producers have realized that talking down to kids limits their audience — kids don’t like being baby-talked to. They want to be treated and talked to like adults (most of the time). Iron Man is not a kid’s movie and it will probably be the #1 Halloween costume this year. I believe children’s animation storyelling is rising to where it should always have been.
MI: I think children’s animation got smarter in the last twenty years, beginning with Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men in the action adventure realm, Ren and Stimpy and Animaniacs in the comedy realm, and The Tick in the action adventure comedy realm. I’ve seen action adventure animation cycle from dark and serious, to light and fun, and back to the current trend of dark and serious again. I’m sure it will continue to cycle back and forth as time goes on.
Q8 — Do you think the impacts of violence and military action can be properly portrayed through a children’s animated series?
MI: No. Because even though this show is somewhat military-based, it’s still not realism.
HG: Clone Wars attempted it and succeeded through metaphor (loss, sacrifice, etc..), but I don’ t think the realities of war can be captured by any ‘entertainment’ medium. It will always be a charicature of the true horror of what war is. That’s why we have the History channel.
Q9 — Are you more or less restricted to content based on your channel being on a cable network as opposed to straight network fare?
HG: There’s really no difference now. Both network and cable allow a certain amount of fantasy violence for an animated series, but it is never consistent because the representatives from each network have different opinions about what they deem acceptable on a given day.
MI: Standards and Practices vary from network to network. Cable vs. broadcast is irrelevant.
Once again, we would like to extend a huge thanks to both Henry Gilroy and Marty Isenberg for taking the time to answer all of our questions.