A picture is worth a thousand words, but in January’s “Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow” #21 from IDW Publishing, Chuck Dixon and artist Robert Atkins cut that number down to zero. Taking a cue from the classic “G.I. Joe” #21, written and drawn by Larry Hama in 1984, “Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow” #21 features the titular characters going on a completely silent adventure once again, over 25 years since Hama’s fan favorite story debuted.
That’s not all Dixon has on his plate at the moment, as the writer known for lengthy runs on “Batman,” “Nightwing” and “Robin,” is also launching the creator-owned “Joe Frankenstein” with artist Graham Nolan through crowd-funding site Indiegogo and IDW Publishing. “Frankenstein” is about a teenage slacker who discovers he’s the heir to a monstrous, centuries old legacy, and life only gets more complicated for him from there.
Dixon spoke with CBR News about writing silent for “Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow” #21, getting “Joe Frankenstein” off the ground, an upcoming relaunch of “G.I. Joe: Special Missions,” his thoughts on the future of the comic book industry and more. Plus, exclusive art!
CBR News: Chuck, catch people up on what’s been going on lately in “Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow.”
Chuck Dixon: It’s been crazy. Snake Eyes was believed dead by the G.I. Joes but in actuality he’s returned to the Arashikage — the ninja clan that raised him. Due to his actions with his old clan, the G.I. Joes discover Snake Eyes is alive and working for the bad guys, although all of his operations with his ninja pals has harmed COBRA only. Still, he’s seen as a security threat to the USA and the G.I. Joes. That brings us to the arc “Target: Snake Eyes” in which the Joes (led by Scarlett) go to take out their friend. “Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow” #21 is an aftermath to the events in that arc.
Why homage the classic silent issue from “G.I. Joe” #21 in “Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow” #21?
IDW asked me if I was up to it. I wasn’t sure but took the challenge and it worked out well — I have [artist] Robert Atkins to thank for that. To make a wordless comic story work, an artist with strong storytelling chops is essential. I didn’t work like Larry Hama did on the original “G.I. Joe” #21 — I wrote a full script. Larry actually drew the layouts for his classic issue.
In the original story, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were at each other’s throats. Is this the case once more?
To tell you anything about the issue would give too much away. I will say Storm Shadow and the Hard Master meet for the first time in a long time.
Did you read Â “G.I. Joe” #21 when it first came out? There was nothing else like it at the time coming from a mainstream publisher.
Absolutely, I read it when it came out. It’s a real landmark. I was blown away when Jim Steranko opened “Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” with three wordless pages, and here was Larry doing an entire issue only in pictures. I think it should have had more impact on mainstream comics; a return to pure visual storytelling, but Larry was seen as an outlier in comics. Pioneers always are, right?
Does this new story tie-in to the continuity of the original at all, or is this a completely new universe next to the old Marvel title?
I think of it as a soft re-boot or re-imagining. I’m really not changing a whole lot. I suppose the biggest change is roping in some stuff from the cartoons and making them comic book canon for this continuity, but the G.I. Joes are the ones you know and COBRA is just as badass. I took an “if it ain’t broke…” approach to this issue.
How does writing a silent issue change your creative approach to storytelling?
More panels. Grid only. It has to look like a sequence of static images telling a story, not simply a comic book story with the word balloons left out. There’s a big difference. I have to have a lot happening in order to give the reader the feeling they haven’t been cheated by the lack of words. Also, lots of visual tricks and plenty of rewards and surprises for the reader. These kinds of issues rely on a lot of action, but the action must carry a through story with a payoff or it’s just an extended action sequence.
Have you done silent issues in any of your other comic book work?
I did a wordless issue once before when I was working on “Way of the Rat” at CrossGen, so I knew what I was in for. I also did a couple of wordless stories when I was working on “Batman,” but they were short stories.
What else is coming up in your “G.I. Joe” comics?
We’re shaking things up a bit on the “G.I. Joe” titles. I’ll be starting (or re-starting) “G.I. Joe: Special Missions” — it was always my favorite “G.I. Joe” title and it’s cool to get a shot at it. My first arc is Scarlett and her Spec Missions team against the Baroness in an underwater heist story. Paul Gulacy is on the art, so I’m thrilled.
Switching focus to your creator-owned work, you’ve embraced crowd funding with your new project “Joe Frankenstein.” Tell us about the project.
It’s about a 17-year-old slacker who finds out he’s heir to the Frankenstein legacy. Additionally, the legendary Monster has been a guardian angel; watching Joe from the shadows since the day he was born.
What inspired “Joe Frankenstein?”
Artist Graham Nolan and I are big Universal Monster fans. You know, the classic Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula and the rest. I grew up watching them on “Chiller Theater,” and when I was little, I had a deal with my parents — I’d go to bed extra early on Saturday nights and they’d wake me up to see the monster movies.
Why did you decide to fund “Frankenstein” through Indiegogo instead of going through a traditional publisher? I understand IDW is involved, so will their logo be on the book’s final printing?
Things are tight in publishing and the money’s not there for new projects, even from tested creators. Graham and I went through the process with a couple of publishers and all we did was waste a year being glad-handed and stalled. We decided to make this happen on our own. It will bear IDW’s logo but it’s being produced by Graham and I.
Aside from Indiegogo, you also recently hosted an AMA (ask me anything) forum on Reddit. Do you think comic creators need to embrace these new technologies and forums to reach new fans? Is it possible to survive in comics anymore by relying on the Marvel and DC PR hype machines?
Well, obviously, if you’re not working for Marvel and DC, you don’t benefit from their hype machine. Actually, even if you are working for them it’s no guarantee you’ll be noticed. Plus, a large part of comics fandom only pays attention to Marvel and DC. I get asked all the time, “Where’ve you been?” even though I have at least four comics in Diamond previews each month, plus graphic novel collections and whatnot.
As far as Reddit’s AMA, social networking and the rest are concerned? The AMA was fun. That’s why I did it. Social networking does nothing to change the rules on networking; it’s still who you know. Things like Facebook simply allow you the opportunity to be ignored by a larger collection of “friends” you’ve never met.
Where do you see the comics industry in 5, 10, 15 years down the line?
I think it’s going the way of the music business. At least, it has to in order to survive. Titles and creators need to find their own audience; it will be a smaller audience, but that can still be profitable as we move away from traditional paper publishing as our only venue.
“Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow” #21 by Chuck Dixon and Robert Atkins goes on sale January 23 from IDW Publishing. Visit JoeFrankenstein.com for more information on Dixon’s creator owned series.