I was so pleased to see the positive response for my upcoming G.I. Joe Classified series. But I suspect some of my long time readers might be scratching their heads and wondering why I, of all people, wanted so badly to write a G.I. Joe series. Or as my brother so charmingly put it, “I didn’t peg you for a fan of the military industrial complex.”
I suppose it’s a reasonable reaction. I remember even as a child that my mother, who came of age in the 60’s with strong hippie leanings, expressed misgivings about my passion for “those army toys”. Why would I, an author who has just wrapped up an epic fantasy trilogy that, among other things, is about the terrible costs of war, want to celebrate something like G.I. Joe?
To explain the seeming contraction, I’d like to give you a peak at the afterward of the the book, which comes out this July:
I owe a great deal to Larry Hama. When he was working at Marvel back in the early 80's, he was given a bunch of character designs and told to write a comic based on them. Much of what people now think of as the core elements of G.I. Joe sprang from his imagination. Many writers, artists, and creators have contributed wonderful things to the franchise in the decades since, but a G.I. Joe without Snake-Eyes or the villainous Cobra? Would it even be G.I. Joe? I think it's safe to say that this book would not have been impossible without Larry Hama.
But it's not merely this book that I owe to Larry Hama. As a child, I was...a tad unconventional, and it was difficult and often frightening for me growing up in the early 80's in Ohio. G.I. Joe offered a safe haven. The boys in my class loved the lasers and tanks, while I loved the cool ladies and flamboyant villains. And of course everyone loves ninjas. So the net result was that I could express my whole-hearted passion for something and not get picked on for it! Amazing! Dear reader, we are talking years in which I basically got a free pass from daily cruelty because I was the G.I. Joe expert and that was considered pretty cool back then. So thanks for that, Mr. Hama!
Now when I go back and look at those early comics, which were so formative for me as a child, I see an astonishingly progressive view for that era. The chief medical examiner was a Black man? The head of counter-intelligence for an elite military organization was a woman? This was mind-blowing stuff back in the 80's, and he just dropped it in there, like that's how it was supposed to be—and he was correct. He also drew upon his personal experiences as a Vietnam veteran and a Japanese-American to introduce a whole host of ideas that I would likely never have come across otherwise. Larry Hama taught me that anyone from anywhere could become a real American hero.
So that may answer “Why G.I. Joe?”, but how about the question “Why G.I. Joe now?”
I want to emphasize this classic G.I. Joe tagline “A Real American Hero”. Right from the start, since I was creating a new character for the franchise, I wanted him to be an immigrant. I wanted to make it clear to the kids reading this book that you didn’t need to be born in American to be a “real” American hero. Enter Stanisław “Stan” Migda, a twelve year old Polish immigrant. Incidentally, Stanisław was my great-grandfather’s name, and Migda was my great-grandmother’s maiden name. Additionally, Stan’s mother’s name is Leokadia, which was my grandmother’s name. So yes, I have inserted an entire branch of my family tree into G.I. Joe cannon :)
One final thought on the relevance of G.I. Joe...
Before the TV shows began, or the 1980’s toy line started to come out, in the very first story arc of the very first comic, written by Larry Hama, the Joes are rescuing a scientist named Dr. Burkhart, who has been kidnapped by Cobra. This scientist is well known to be against the military industrial complex, and some of the Joes are grumbling about the irony of having to save someone that doesn’t value what they do. And their platoon leader, Lonzo Wilkinson, aka Stalker (a codename which has admitted not aged well), takes his people to task thusly:
Democracy: it ain’t perfect, but it’s the best we got.
Nearly 40 years later, we’re still struggling with that same dilemma, aren’t we?
Talk soon, Kelley