As IDW takes over the G.I. Joe license and runs with it, it occurs to me that there is some benefit in the historical context of how the G.I. Joe title got to where it is today, and whether many fans like it or not, Devils’ Due was a huge part of the Joe mythos (and was, in fact, the only part of it for a while). One of the central cogs of the Devils’ Due universe was writer Brandon Jerwa, who orchestrated a very successful, and critically acclaimed run on the G.I. Joe title from issue #25 through the end of it’s initial run before morphing into America’s Elite.
The G.I. Joe brand is in a totally different place now than it was those few years ago, so I thought it would be neat to “sit down” and talk with Brandon Jerwa, who managed to successfully parlay his fandom into a full time gig writing comics. While his days behind the wheel of a G.I. Joe title have passed (hopefully only temporarily) he still writes some great books on successful franchises Battlestar Galactica and Highlander, both for Dynamite Entertainment.
Between deadlines, Brandon was nice enough to chat for a bit about the past and the future…let’s get right to it.
GeneralsJoes: At one point you were a slobbering fanboy just like the rest of us. What was it like to transition from just “another fan” to someone who was actually shaping the history of the G.I. Joe universe?
Brandon: “At one point?” Ha! Deep down, I’m still that slobbering fanboy, although my agent says that the slobbering might be off-putting to potential employers. I’m working on getting that under control.
Whoops. I’ll clean that up. Sorry.
In all seriousness, being able to break into comics on my first attempt was enough of a dream come true, but to achieve that goal working on a franchise that literally brought me the greatest enjoyment of my childhood – it was almost too much to believe or handle. And the truth is, I was so excited about the Front Line gig that I could have gladly walked away after those four issues and felt completely fulfilled. Obviously, I’m thrilled that things worked out differently, but I think you know what I mean.
Over the years, I think I forgot that I wanted to be a comic writer. From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I had been actively creating my own comics, writing and drawing, and it was something I continued to do until I was in my early teens. I went back to the idea a few times after that; you’re sitting around with your nerd pals, coming up with ideas, starting with intense enthusiasm and then tapering off due to girlfriends, the first job, or just something shiny catching your attention. It always just sort of got pushed back, and then the new attempts started to be less and less frequent.
You tend to marginalize those crazy dreams as you get older and become more aware of the way the “real world” works. You don’t feel like you’re going to be a comic writer when you’re washing dishes at Sizzler or driving a desk at an ad company. I certainly didn’t.
GJ: I can feel you there, Brandon. I spent many an afternoon with buddies in high school and college weaving stories, creating characters and entire universes…then somewhere along the line I became a computer geek.
As a contributor to the Real American “mythos”, what were your initial feelings when you heard that IDW was essentially whitewashing the continuity and starting over from scratch?
Brandon: Honestly, I don’t really have a problem with it. I’m one of those people that aren’t afraid of reboots and re-inventions, if they’re done intelligently and with care for the source material. I’m really looking forward to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie, and I’m curious about the potential Highlander remake. I have great affection for both of those franchises, as I do G.I. Joe, but I’m not so precious about it that I can’t be shown a new way of telling an old story. And let’s face it – where do you go after the combined Marvel and Devil’s Due run? I’m not saying it’s impossible – hell, I’d have taken a swing at it if given the chance – but the whole thing has kind of been painted into a corner at this point. I understand why IDW chose this path, and I think it was a very smart move overall.
This is probably pretty obvious coming from me, but look at Battlestar Galactica – in my opinion, we’re talking about a textbook definition of “done again and done correctly.” Sure, there are some people who still consider it complete heresy, but even they can’t deny its success, at least in the way that so many people have embraced and received it.
My contributions to the Joe mythos still exist. They are printed on paper, available for sale and thus literally frozen in time for anyone who wants to experience them. That’s the most any creator can ask for in the end.
GJ: Very good points. Now that you’ve seen the results (as limited as they may be), what are your thoughts?
Brandon: It’s probably not my place to offer up an opinion, but it’s a bit too early to tell in any event.
It was a little more sci-fi than I was expecting, but let’s not even get into that discussion – go back and read the early Marvel books. S.E.A. Legs? S.N.A.K.E. Armor? The giant robot? Brainwave Scanner? They’re not exactly doing something drastically out of place with the established lore in that regard, and at least they’re making it known right at the outset. Plus, we live in a world where a lot of the things that were fantastic in 1982 are now becoming more and more commonplace. The future is now, as it were, and G.I. Joe has always had one foot in the future.
GJ: Was there any ongoing communication between yourself and the editorial staff at IDW about contributing to this new iteration of G.I. Joe?
Brandon: There are a lot of details that I have to leave out of this answer, but the short version is “yes.” In fact, I believed for quite some time that I was involved with a specific project, but something changed behind the scenes, and it just didn’t come to pass.
I’m told that they are still interested in having me involved – and I remain willing – but I really have no clue what’s happening on that front. It’s entirely up to them at this point.
GJ: Hopefully they’ll give you your shot…you have the pedigree at this point even if it has been a little while since you were last involved in the G.I. Joe property. Are there any hard feelings about the way your tenure with Devils’ Due and the Real American Hero book ended?
Brandon: Imagine dating your dream girl. You’ve loved this girl for the majority of your life and always wanted to be close to her, but never had the chance. One day, you take the big risk and write her a heartfelt love letter – and she’s so impressed that she actually starts dating you. The relationship grows more intense over the next few months; you’re spending more and more time together and everyone says you’re the best couple ever. You make plans for the next year of your life together
…and then BAM! She tells you that your plans are all but canceled. Things go completely haywire, and you know she’s looking around for other guys. The last few dates you have together are tense and brief and seem to be interrupted by a million other things. And then it’s just over.
This was your first serious relationship, and you were madly in love. It was all new and perfect, and you really did believe it would last forever. Of course you don’t take it well: you get angry, share secrets you shouldn’t share and start to become very bitter towards her in general. Especially when you have people constantly telling you, well after the breakup, that they wish the two of you would get back together. And even though everything you say about her is true, it’s ultimately a pointless exercise and just makes you look like a jerk.
Sorry for the extended metaphor, but it’s pretty apt. I carried around a lot of hard feelings for a long time; too long, certainly. There were aspects of the relationship that definitely justified my anger, no doubt, but I also didn’t understand the comics industry at large back then, and thus didn’t realize how commonplace that sort of situation was. I’ve had to learn to take those things in stride, no matter how frustrating they may be, simply because they happen all the time. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ed Brubaker or Bendis or just some new kid on the block – things fall apart in this industry and often just don’t go your way.
It’s also not lost on me that DDP gave me my break, and G.I. Joe was obviously a first step towards a successful career. That kind of thing can’t be underestimated or undervalued, and I appreciate that.
I am very happy to say that I have mended fences with Mike O’Sullivan and Mark Powers, and to a greater degree than simply being cordial. They’re good guys, and we’ve had some long talks about that time and how things could and should have gone differently on all sides. Josh Blaylock and I have never formally “hugged it out,” but we’ve had friendly words and I like to think that we’re on good terms. I certainly have no hard feelings at this point. At my age and at this point in my career, I prefer to build bridges rather than burn them. Sometimes, you can only really learn that lesson after the planks are on fire.
Who knows? Maybe if the stars align in just the right way, you could see my name on a DDP book again.
GJ: That is an eerily “on the spot” metaphor. Well done. You should write for a living. Do you still follow the brand and toyline? Are you a fan of the Anniversary line?
Brandon: I do follow the brand, and I’m a big fan of the 25th figures. It feels like old times to me.
GJ: It’s great that a fan of the toys and the properties like yourself can be so involved in the continuity of those properties. How does it feel to see a character you created (Mercenary Wraith) immortalized in plastic?
Brandon: Here’s where I might sound bitter, but I swear I don’t mean it this way.
I was extremely flattered to see a Wraith figure produced, but I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t asked to write the file card. A little more disappointing is the fact that I had to buy a Wraith figure just like everyone else, and it really took some work to get that one!
I have a regular Wraith figure, still on the card because I’m afraid to open it for fear of never finding another. My 9-year-old son is dying to have one of his own to play with, but until we find another I won’t take the chance. The sad capper to this story comes in the form of a Christmas present: my mother-in-law bought me a mint-on-card stealth variant from an Internet dealer (I’m sure she paid a pretty penny). I was appreciative and kind of depressed at the same time. I don’t expect special treatment or anything, but come on – is it too much to think that a case of Wraith figures might make its way to the guy who created the character? Sigh.
GJ: Something tells me that when people read this interview, you may end up with a few in your mailbox… deservedly so. Hey, everyone out there! Got an extra Wraith? Send one to the guy who actually created him, wouldya?
Brandon: Oh, that’s not necessary, but it’s a nice thought! We’ve just managed to miss the figure every time he was available on the Hasbro Toy Shop, and I think we all know how hard it was to find in the store. I’m sure we’ll find more eventually. Hasbro seems to be doing a great job of replenishing the various waves on store shelves.
I’d also like to eventually give one to my friend Charlie, as he was the inspiration for the look of the man behind Wraith’s mask.
GJ: Even though you haven’t actually…well, touched the Wraith figure yet, it has received some mixed reviews amongst the fandom. Were you at all disappointed with the final product once you got your eyeballs on it?
Brandon: I’ve seen the reviews and criticisms, so maybe Hasbro will take those ideas and make a widely available “fixed” re-release down the line. It worked with those accursed Duke Arms (god, I hate those things), so anything is possible. The 25th line is pretty awesome when it’s firing on all cylinders, and it seems to be improving with every new wave.
GJ: Speaking from purely a “fan” point of view, what are your thoughts on the upcoming Movie from what you’ve seen and heard?
Brandon: I just can’t get a personal read on the movie, even after seeing the trailer. It seems to be far more inclined towards the cartoon world than I expected, but you have to keep in mind that some people only know G.I. Joe via that aspect.
I’ve already determined that I have to separate who I am from what it is, you know? This is not “our” G.I. Joe in the sense that we can have any sort of proprietary expectations; this is the world’s G.I. Joe, because that is part and parcel of the movie-making business. It can’t be made for fans; it has to be made for everyone. I can’t be upset with that.
I’m not a huge Transformers fan, but I thought the movie was fantastic. It accomplished exactly what it needed to: it made my grandmother aware of Optimus Prime and Megatron. It put them into the greater consciousness. It’s hard to remember that you and I are not the majority, and as such, we feel betrayed when we feel our support of something is compromised and sacrificed to the masses.
I also hear rumors that something from my comic run – something that I can honestly say was my own personal idea – is integrated into the movie. I’m really curious about that.
GJ: That’s very interesting (and cool) to hear. I look forward to seeing if I can pinpoint what the hell you’re talking about. I do have to agree with your input about your “grandmother”. Like it or not, that is the audience these are made for…and I will say, after that Joe trailer I’ve never heard more people I knew (that weren’t G.I. Joe fanboys) talk about the Joe brand. That’s the only way for it to evolve, grow, and last another twenty-five years.
Brandon: Exactly. More people knowing G.I. Joe is a good thing by anyone’s standard.
GJ: Do you find it hard to integrate your hobby so tightly into your job? How difficult was it to enjoy G.I. Joe when you were the one actually writing the series?
Brandon: It is hard to balance your love of something and the job you do in service of it. At times, it’s not unlike knowing how the tricks in your favorite magic show work. But then you pull off a trick of your own and everyone goes “oooh,” which puts you on top of the world, at least for a little while.
GJ: Obviously G.I. Joe acted as a springboard for your comic book writing career. What are you working on now?
Brandon: I’ve just wrapped up a ton of projects for Dynamite: Highlander Origins: The Kurgan, Battlestar Galactica: Ghosts and Xena vs. Army of Darkness II were the most recent. I imagine there will be more Dynamite projects in the near future, and I’m talking to a couple of other publishers about some things.
The big thing I’m working on right now is an original graphic novel for Vertigo. I’m co-writing with Eric Trautmann (co-writer of DC’s Checkmate) and we have a big-name artist who I cannot name just yet. It’s a very serious, intense piece of work and quite different from anything else I’ve done before. I’m extremely proud of it.
Eric and I are good friends and are becoming frequent collaborators; we had a short original story in Image’s Popgun Vol. 2 anthology, and are looking for some more co-writing opportunities. We’re a great team.
GJ: I can only imagine that there is a devout Highlander fandom out there as there is a G.I. Joe one…has their reaction to the book been a positive one?
Brandon: Overall, yes. There will always be some people who don’t love what you’re doing, but I do feel like the larger portion of the hardcore Highlander fandom has embraced my work.
GJ: What are the biggest challenges when writing a Highlander comic?
Brandon: Challenges? What could possibly be challenging about juggling a franchise with serious continuity problems and a timeline that spans literally thousands of years?
Excuse me while I curl up into the fetal position and weep uncontrollably. It’s what I do before starting any new Highlander project; my therapist says it’s perfectly normal.
GJ: Yikes! Sounds like even the complex and convoluted history of A Real American Hero pales in comparison…
Brandon: I’ll take “reconciling-Vietnam-as-Southeast-Asia” over “wait-which-movie-are-we-completely-throwing-out” anytime, yeah…
GJ: Being that it’s a licensed property like G.I. Joe was, do you find yourself facing similar hurdles that you did when writing for Devils’ Due? How about compared to Battlestar Galactica?
Galactica is pretty easy, all things considered. The outlines go to Universal and pass across the desks of all the key people, so they usually head any potential issues off at the pass before it’s too late to fix them. Those situations don’t come from not knowing the established lore; 99% of the time, it has something to do with events that are going to happen, and thus we couldn’t possibly know. For example, I had to alter my entire plan for the second half of Season Zero because it was too close to something that was going to happen in the show. That’s hardly a bad problem to have.
GJ: Were you a fan of Highlander before being involved in that property, or did you have to take a few “crash courses” once you got that gig?
Brandon: I’d never seen the TV show, so I definitely had to catch up on that front. They sent me the DVDs and I just crammed for days on end. It was pretty intense. I knew the movies, though.
GJ: Did you enjoy the TV show? I consider myself amongst the minority who actually preferred the TV show to the films…I loved Adrian Paul, much more than Christopher Lambert, I hate to say… do you think less of me now?
Brandon: Not at all! As a viewer, I think I prefer Duncan, too. As a writer, it’s Connor, because I have more room to develop him. Duncan had a lot of coverage, obviously, so there’s less freedom of movement in terms of adding layers to the character. I did use him in the back half of my 12-issue run, though, and I would gladly write him again.
GJ: What is your “dream job” in comics these days? Besides resurrecting Rom: The Spaceknight, I mean.
Brandon: Oh, Rom, will you elude me forever? I hope not, but I’m guessing there’s no chance we’ll ever be together.
I’m really hoping that I can parlay my Vertigo work into some proper DCU writing. After six years of writing comics, I’ve still never been given a crack at the capes and cowls. I think it’s time. And I’d still really like to do a comic version of A Christmas Carol. That might sound silly, but it’s just something I feel compelled to do.
Beyond that, I’m definitely going to try my hand at something creator-owned as soon as it seems like it might be financially feasible to do so. It’s a risk, but it’s a necessary one.
GJ: Good luck! Be sure to keep your Joe buddies posted on that front, as I’m sure many of us would support your endeavors, whatever they may be.
Something that folks might not know is that along with writing comics, you also are pretty heavy into the Seattle Music Scene and belong to the band SD6. How are things going on that front?
Brandon: Things have been a little slow, but that’s down to two major things: one, the time I spend writing is pretty much all-consuming at this point, so there’s just not much creative energy left at the end of the day.
Two, my wife Jessica (who is also in the band) was already dealing with some physical issues (hip problems) when she was in a head-on car crash in October 2008. Right now, she still has several broken bones and is a bit laid up. She’s healing well, but we’re just not really at a point where either of us have the “oomph” to devote time to music, which is essentially a really productive hobby at this point. We’re not out of the game just yet, though; we expect to start work on a new album within the next few months, and have a remix collection just about ready to roll in the meantime.
GJ: What genre of music would you say SD6 fits into?
Brandon: At the point of our current output, I’d describe us as “intelligent electro-pop,” in the sense that we make electronic music, predominantly danceable, with tight harmonies and melodies that owe more to proper pop / rock music. As we move ahead, I think we might add a full-time guitarist and start branching out into some organic textures, as long as we can do so without compromising the core of what we do.
GJ: What inspiration do you draw from?
Brandon: Anyone who hears us will spot the Depeche Mode influence at the door, but the members of the band all have really wildly varied tastes. At the end of the day, I think we all bring a little something different into the kitchen and it all winds up in the soup. That’s kind of a cheat answer, I know, but believe me when I tell you that any list of influences I could offer would be long and arduous at best.
GJ: Now that your career has moved on from your G.I. Joe days, what do you miss most about them?
Brandon: I just miss playing with those toys. G.I. Joe was the biggest thing in the world to me when I was a kid – the biggest, the best, no question. When all is said and done, I’m not going to dwell on whether or not I get to return to that world. That way lies madness, you know.
I started out being called the “lucky fan” that got the big break, but I think I’ve proven by now that I was a writer who was just lucky enough to display his talents doing something he really loved. Don’t look down, don’t look back.
GJ: Are you a full blown comics and toy geek?
I am. Someone in the industry told me once that collecting toys and being “a fan in that way” would diminish the seriousness of my career, but I completely reject that notion. You like what you like, plain and simple.
GJ: What are you most looking forward to at Toy Fair in 2 weeks?
Right now, my big loves are Mezco’s Hellboy toys, DC Universe Classics and G.I. Joe. Any news on those will be well received by yours truly. I have a secret fear that the new Star Trek toys are going to suck me in, though, so I imagine my inner slobbering fanboy might want to keep a napkin handy.
Whoops. There I go again. Sorry. A little club soda should get that right out…
GJ: Brandon, I cannot thank you enough for taking some time to talk to Joefans about your past work on the brand and your current projects. Best of luck, I for one hope we see your name attached to something with the familar red, white, and blue on it some time soon!
For all of the details on Brandon’s current projects, check BrandonJerwa.com.