Hasbro G.I. Joe Q & A at ComicCon

During the chaos of San Diego ComicCon, friend of GeneralsJoes Chris Polansky took some time to stop by the  Hasbro booth and spoke with Mark Weber, Derryl DePriest, and John Violette about their roles in the latest iteration of G.I. Joe.  They talk 50th Anniversary, IDW Comics, Kre-O, and all sorts of other topics.  It was a great conversation, which I’ve transcribed below.  Big thanks to Chris for taking the time out of his trip to help out. Enjoy!

Chris Polansky (GeneralsJoes): This is Chris Polansky with GeneralsJoes, I’m here with G.I. Joe Brand Manager Mark Weber, and G.I. Joe head honcho and general knowledge man Derryl DePriest and we’re here at San Diego ComicCon looking at the 50th “Plus One” line and talking about Joe…

My first question is it was exciting to see the 2015 G.I. Joe line available for pre-order last week, with a formula that seems familiar to last year. Do you see this formula working going forward, or is there a desire to broaden the scope of the G.I. Joe brand beyond the collector market?

Mark Weber: We’re happy with how the collectors have responded, our partners with Toys “R” Us and Entertainment Earth, and when we saw those pre-sells sell out so quickly, we saw that appetite for collector balance was still there. Would we like Joe to make a return to mass retail and become a larger phenomenon? I think absolutely. That’s where we want to take the brand. Where it is right now, we have a very healthy relationship from product to collector, and I think we saw that last week.

Derryl DePriest: I think that when you have a dedicated audience who wants things, folks want to see us do new and unique takes on their favorite Joe characters, it’s easy for us to sell internally that we need to keep that fanbase stoked, and right know G.I. Joe is more a fan driven brand. We use the big entertainment launches as tentpoles as the chance to, as Mark said, to go back to what we call mass retail with a bigger statement for Joe. So we really see that next big growth of Joe is going to be tied to whatever the next entertainment event is, whether it’s from Paramount (the next movie) or something we might do. You know, we are actively working with Paramount, we can’t talk about any of the details, those will be theirs to announce, we see that as the next time Joe will come back in a big way.

GeneralsJoes: There has been some amazing synergy between IDW and Hasbro on the Transformers side, and recently IDW stopped publishing their main G.I. Joe title. Is there a concerted effort to try and line up the comic and toys on the G.I. Joe side in a similar fashion with what they’re doing on Transformers?

Mark: The funny thing is a lot of the people that work together are the exact same people. John Barber who works as a writer and senior editor for the Transformers books also covers some of the Joe stuff, too, and the Joe Transformers crossover comic. There’s a lot of synergy there. I actually came from the Transformers team before I came to Joe, and worked with Barber directly, so I think the synch that Hasbro and IDW have had professionally, and also that Barber and I have had personally, is something that translates very much to the G.I. Joe brand. Something we want to see galvonized and moving forward.

Derryl: So is the plan then, Mark, to directly address the question, is the plan for us to synch more with IDW? Is that something we’ll make happen with John Barber?

Mark: Yeah, I think absolutely. I think that synch is very important and is something that will help us grow the brand.

GJ: So we’ll see more things like, in the 25th Anniversary there were Comic Packs, two packs, I think now on the Transformers side, I’m not a Transformers fan, but I see more Transformers like IDW inspired designs on Transformers toys, will we see more in that direction?

Mark: I think that makes sense. It depends on what they’re doing. They’re ongoing book right now is Real American Hero, Larry Hama’s ongoing book, and a lot of what Hama is using is stuff he’s familiar with from his time as the godfather of G.I. Joe. If he has new characters and new equipment things that we think translate into toys we could certainly see that kind of synch work. For now, it certainly feels like Larry’s kind of playing with what he’s comfortable with and what the fanbase really loves, which is classic Joe, and so a lot of what he’s using is stuff we’ve already made.

Derryl: I think the bottom line is we can definitely tighten, just like Transformers has, tighten our relationship with IDW and bring toys and comics more into synch. We’ll put that out there as something we can do to continually improve and kind of tighten that Joe story. There’s been in the past a lot of different Joe continuities and stories, certainly the Hamaverse, the Larry Hama storytelling is an awesome one, and we think there’s a lot of synch already there, we just need to tighten that up and work with IDW on their upcoming and future releases, that’s a great idea, too.

GJ: There’s been a very positive reaction around the Slaughter Marauders Kre-O set…how did you guys manage to secure the rights to Sgt Slaughter, and what does this set mean for Kre-O’s return to retail?

Derryl: Actually, when we were coming up with an idea with our Kre-O G.I. Joe set for this convention, last year we didn’t have one, but the Kre-O Transformers set did very, very well so we knew there was an opportunity there, and quite honestly the G.I. Joe Kre-O stuff is awesome, it’s so incredible. So we said we’ve got to do a set, and we worked with the Kre-O team very carefully, we actually mapped out several different sets, several different thematic ideas that we could do. You know we could do Tiger Force vs. Python Patrol we could do a number of different things that all had multiple characters at its heart getting a unique class or type of characters we hadn’t done yet. One of those ideas was we could revisit getting the Sarge involved again. The last time we had Sgt. Slaughter involved in the Joe line was 2009, here at San Diego ComicCon we brought the Sarge out and did a couple of figures. So we said let’s reach out to Sarge and see if he’s interested in participating and can, because he does have contractural obligations with WWE and another toyline because he’s a wrestler. So we reached out and kinda the moon and the sun and the stars all lined up where there was a chance for him to be engaged and they were super interested and we made it happen. The set turned out absolutely amazing.

The second part of the question…I think most fans know right now that Kre-O is in a reformulation stage for us. Hasbro is extremely committed to the Kre-O brand it’s a very big initiative for us, it’s an absolutely wonderful play pattern, construction is a great kind of play pattern or format for a lot of our brands. You know, Transformers, I think it’s awesome for G.I. Joe, things like the Terror Drome it’s a dream come true. Our goal is to re-approach Kre-O, the details of when we’ll come back with Kre-O in a big way, I’ll leave to the Kre-O team, but it’s a very important initiative for Hasbro and you’ll be seeing a lot more from us in the future, it’s just the timing of that is to be determined, but we’ll come back in a big way.

GJ: Is that something that might be tied in with a possible third G.I. Joe movie or some other type of mainstream entertainment, or will it just be a massive relaunch like at Toy Fair next year where we get the whole thing out at once?

Derryl: Again, I think the Kre-O team is formulating their strategy, so I don’t have visibility to how they’re planning to come out with their new approach or what brands will be attached to it. I think a new movie would be a great opportunity to re-approach a Kre-O G.I. Joe line. G.I. Joe I think is wonderful for that format, the collectibility, the mini figures, it’s small, the vehicle builds, vehicles are such an important part of G.I. Joe, it’s absolutely perfect for that. So we’ll see. Bottom line is, we’ll see but we’ll let the Kre-O team come out with the details.

GJ: We were just joined by John Violette

Derryl: The elusive John Violette is our principle designer for G.I. Joe, he made the very bad decision and he didn’t come to G.I.Joe Con, so Mark and I had to talk all “designy” kind of talk, and the fan’s bought it (laughs).

GJ: Do you want to talk a little bit about the designs we’re seeing here for…what are you calling this new 50th style line? 50 + 1 or–?

Derryl: It’s a continuation of our 50th line. We see the idea of celebrating a particular anniversary doesn’t mean it necessarily happens at a day and date. So we looked at it as what we did last year got such a strong reception, fans loved the fact that we’re doing a lot of custom product which John created, so we said why stop that? Let’s continue that same celebration, kind of book end 2014 which was the start, and 2015 which will…we see it as putting a cap on our 50th Anniversary celebration.

GJ: Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the designs and the themes that we’re seeing here?

John Violette: Well there’s a couple of different approaches that we took, that we were looking at. We wanted to keep our feet grounded in the authenticity of G.I. Joe how it originally came about. Mark and I had many conversations about what’s authentic, what’s not authentic, and we were also trying to move the brand forward a little bit as well. So we were trying to bridge the gap between what was known about G.I. Joe and what the possibilities are of what G.I. Joe could be. One example of that was that we had never done a Cobra Skystriker. We understand that we’ve done several Skystrikers over the last couple of years, but we’ve never done a Cobra one, so what would be a great symbol for that? That’s where the Cobra hood design language came about, that’s what the Crimson Strike would be, and that led the charge for the rest of the line as well. The theme this year is the flipping of the traditional Joe vehicles into Cobra vehicles and traditional Cobra vehicles into Joe vehicles. That’s why you see the green HISS Tank with Steeler and…

Chris: …Grunt

John: Yeah, Grunt, sorry, mind blank there. The other one is we have a great little system that’s not really heralded in the G.I. Joe world, and that’s how we take a cannon from the VAMP Mark II that came out with the movie a couple of years ago. So what if we took the AWE Striker and made capable of accepting some of those little pivot points? One of the great things that I loved about the G.I. Joe brand when I was a kid myself, I had an AWE Striker and I loved that it had the cannon that you could pull off and then you could play around with it. So we thought, let’s make this…the conversation was about, what if this was a Forward Observation Encampment? So basically Night Fox and Chuckles are on this mission, totally on their own, and they run into some trouble, and that’s is where the Basilisk comes in. It’s like “oh no” so they’d have to have the ability to fend off something as powerful as the Basilisk. That’s why the Forward Observation Encampment has the tent so that they can hide at night when it’s cool or hide during the day when it’s hot and travel at night.

Derryl: Because Chuckles is weairng a Hawaiian shirt, John…which is a very loud thing, so he needs the tent to hide. We talked about that (laughs).

John: That’s right, that’s right (laughs). It’s really playing more into the fantasy of G.I. Joe, so we thought it would be really fun to do something like that.

GJ: Is that something we’ll see going forward?

John: Absolutely. I think that’s definitely something we want to keep going. G.I. Joe as a brand is a great vehicle for fantasy military play and I think we want to keep that going as well as trying to maintain some of the traditional looks and feel that the fans are aware of, knows about, and loves. So that’s why we have the original Gung Ho, a reproduction of Gung Ho, and the good guy Storm Shadow, Mark was good enough to catch me from putting a Cobra logo on his chest, so I took that off. Good save. That’s why we have that blend. Another thing we’re trying to do is trying to introduce some new factions. We have Tiger Force, we have Night Force, we have Crimson Guard and we have some more traditional things. That’s why we came up with, unofficially, the Wolf Squad. That’s why you see Captain Ace, Sightline, and also Hit & Run are all kind of decoed in the same way. Kind of blend or series, a new squad…introducing a new squad to move things to a new realm that hasn’t been explored.

GJ: Excellent. Thanks guys, appreciate your time, really love what you put out looking forward to seeing what’s coming up and hope you have a good show.

A huge thanks to Chris for taking the time out of his trip to chat with the Hasbro folks for a little while.  Some interesting tidbits in here that I’ll be digesting over the next few days.