by Avi Green
The ultra-leftist who works with some terrible artists not unlike Rob Liefeld on the GI Joe titles he’s written was interviewed by the similarly ultra-leftist Bleeding Cool, where he provided more of his socialist viewpoints, and it’s worth noting the planned Scarlet’s Strike Force series has apparently been cancelled, more on which anon. The interviewer starts off by saying:
Bleeding Cool sat down with Sitterson to discuss his take on Joe, the property’s progressive roots and cultural influence, and the apparently not so certain future of the series.
My, already they’ve decided to hijack the franchise for their own twisted beliefs, have they? Such entitled dimwits. Now to the interview itself:
Bleeding Cool: Since the start of your run, Scarlett has been the leader of a relatively small team of Joes. Why rebrand the book as Scarlett’s Strike Force now?
Aubrey Sitterson: Coming out of the First Strike crossover, IDW wanted to clearly signal that even though we’re building off what came before, the book was something different and, importantly, a good jumping on point for new readers. The buzz around the previous run (with amazing art by Giannis Milonogiannis, Lovern Kindzierski, Aaron Conley, and others) had been so positive, and the trades have been doing so well in bookstores that reaching out to new readers was a top priority for all of us. But instead of just another Joe series, the call was made to launch a brand-new title and I offered up a bunch of suggestions, most notably Sgt. Sitterson and his Screaming Eagles. IDW ended up going with Scarlett’s Strike Force, which was, admittedly, probably the right call. They did, however, give me the thumbs-up on our new tag line and promise to you, the reader: THE BEST ACTION COMIC EVER.
Yep, what a great jumping OFF point it’s been, hasn’t it? Not to mention the art’s been limp ever since the start, and it’s Sitterson who’s been “promising the best”, not necessarily IDW, though if they did, they sure knew how to screw things up., hiring a man of such poor etiquette to work on their stories.
BC: Larry Hama and his various artist partners’ long-running GI Joe series, Real American Hero, has always featured some sci-fi elements — Doctor Venom’s brainwave scanner, Serpentor, androids, etc. — but it’s probably best known for the military background and details Hama brings to the comic. And, of course, ninjas. But your GI Joe has a smaller core team of Joes fighting shapeshifting aliens, rampaging underground mutants, dinosaurs. What made you want to do a GI Joe superhero comic?
AS: The decision came about for a bunch of different reasons. First up, Larry’s Real American Hero is still ongoing, so there’s no need for anyone to come in and do Hama-Lite. Absolutely no one wants that. Besides, I couldn’t do what Larry does even if I wanted to and it would have been foolish of me to try.
Second, while I adore a lot of IDW continuity Joe, particularly the Cobra series, those books went about as far as you could go with realistic, gritty military Joe. I figured it was time for the pendulum to swing in the other direction, especially since the Joes were going to be operating in a world with giant robots, tiny extradimensional people and Spaceknights. And of course, that was just fine by me, seeing as my introduction to Joe, where I really fell in love with the characters, was the somewhat outlandish Sunbow series and the fully outlandish adventures I used to have with my action figures.
Not infrequently, my Joes would end up teaming up with and/or fighting my X-Men action figures, which in hindsight, is pretty fitting, as the Uncanny X-Men work of Claremont, Cockrum, Byrne, et al, is probably the single biggest comics influence on my Joe run. Figuring out how to update that approach — explosive, weird action with melodramatic soap opera — for 2017 was my big, overarching goal for the series, so I wear the “G.I Joe Superhero Comic” badge with pride.
The only thing he’s proud about is he got the chance to force his ultra-leftist visions into the book. It’s not like Claremont, Byrne and Cockrum were emphasizing obesity to the max like his story does with the Samoan member (unless it’s the Blob we’re talking about), and any liberal politics they put in weren’t heavy handed like today’s monstrosities. The way he alludes to giant robots, you’d think he wasn’t aware that, when Marvel had the Hasbro license, they did a GI Joe/Transformers crossover back in 1987. That he claims the cartoon series introduced him to the franchise is surely telling too, if only because of his childish, forced visions and notion that sloppy, uninspired artwork geared to appeal to SJWs like himself is creative.
BC: Another thing that sets your run on Joe apart from past takes is the extent to which many of the characters are suffering, angry, struggling with their identities and with guilt. What is it about torturing the Joes that makes for such compelling storytelling?
AS: I came onto this project wanting to do something aspirational and optimistic. Not only as a way of doing something different than what had come before, but because that was the Joe that I had always loved: A diverse group of unequivocally heroic people working together, having fun, making jokes and, in the end, defeating the bad guys. But the problem with that approach is that there’s not a whole lot of conflict, which makes for the opposite of compelling storytelling.
A common solution is to really ratchet up the conflict between the heroes and we definitely do some of that – Quick Kick and Snake Eyes beat the bejeezus out of each other for a full half an issue, after all – but I didn’t want to do too much of it, as it would work at crosspurposes with the idea that all of these people know, respect and care about one another. The way out was through internal drama. That’s why every single one of the core cast has something gnawing away at them, which more often than not, ends up having a direct impact on all that big, explosive, weird action. Rock ‘n Roll’s guilt is probably the best example, but Quick Kick’s arrogance, Shipwreck’s insecurity, Doc’s identity issues, Roadblock’s conflicting loyalties and Scarlett’s struggles to adapt to a new role all have major story implications.
Hmm, this sounds like a potential exercise in “liberal guilt”. When I was growing up, I read the famous Edward Stratemeyer syndicate creations like the Hardy Boys, while my sister read Nancy Drew, both the most durable of their productions, and there sure wasn’t much conflict between the heroes of those books, yet they succeeded well in their quest to entertain, so I don’t see why he thinks the Joes all have to be in a downbeat mode to be compelling characters. All that does it make it hard to get the job done in their war against evil, and if you overplay it as much as his description makes it sound like, then it all winds up becoming unbearable and boring. Judging by sales receipts, plenty of readers have already decided as much.
BC: You’ve said that you came to GI Joe through the cartoons, and that influence shines through. Amongst all the oft-mocked casualty-free explosions, color-coded laser battles, and extremely realistic rubber mask disguises was some pretty wild sci-fi. You could put episodes of the ’80s cartoon like There’s No Place Like Springfield (my all time favorite) or Worlds Without End up there against some of the best comic or cartoon stories of the era. Do you think GI Joe the cartoon gets enough credit for its influence on the action comics and cartoons we read and watch today?
AS: Absolutely not. As part of my research, not only did I reread the entirety of the IDW continuity Joe, but I also watched a ton of the classic Sunbow series. They definitely show their age, but there’s still a lot to recommend them. In fact, I found myself enjoying them a lot more than I thought I would, and it was because of a few distinct things. First was, as I’ve mentioned above, the show’s aspirational nature. They were heroes, with a clear divide between them and who they were fighting, and, importantly, they were all having a blast and making a ton of jokes. I try to bring that tone to every Joe issue I write.
The other thing that stood out to me, however, was just how plot and action dense these things were. Every episode started with a recap that almost felt comical because of the speed with which they had to explain the outrageous amount of plot threads going on at any given time — and this was for a kids show in the 1980s! Then, once the recap was done, they launched immediately into some other new complication or threat. As soon as you get reminded what Snake Eyes is up to, Roadblock is getting attacked by a bunch of vines or Duke is fighting a giant robot. And absolutely every scene is like that! It’s all killer, no filler. In order to accomplish the same thing in our series, it meant that this couldn’t be a talking head book with endless monologuing and captions. It had to be constant set-pieces and awesome visuals, with all of the simmering character drama worked into the action itself.
I think that the original Joe cartoon broke a lot of new ground in terms of the sophistication of serialized children’s storytelling, but unfortunately, I also think that a lot of the lessons we can take from it tend to go unheeded. There’s a difference between art that looks smart or performs intelligence — stuff that is always trying to show you how brilliant it is — and work that actually is genuinely smart. I think that the Sunbow cartoon is the latter, and that’s what we’ve strived for on Joe, too.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind if this had been akin to the cartoon as a casualty-free concept. After all, I’d watched Chips, the Dukes of Hazzard and the A-Team years before, where casualties were few and far between (or, as in the second example, none), and some of the Silver Age comics from better days were like that too. But if he’s made it a soapbox for his leftism, that spoils everything. I’m sorry to say, but as he’s stated, there just so many lessons, even in a cartoon, that go unheeded. Nor does he consider the modern interpretations of GI Joe came at a time when Ronald Reagan was POTUS, and at the time, Hasbro sought to make their toys and resulting comics/cartoons inspiring even to conservatives, and certainly patriots. There was more or less a clear distinction between good and evil too, unlike today’s mainstream superhero comics which sought to blur the lines.
Sitterson’s claim he read IDW continuity for the Joes is quite disputable, not just because he may have ignored the work of Chuck Dixon, intentionally or otherwise, but also because he’s suggested he never read the Marvel continuity for the Joes. And I figure whatever “character drama” he put into the action is surely the SJW-pandering he’s putting in, some of which he brings up next:
BC: Some Joe fans take issue with a person of your political persuasions writing GI Joe. Tell us why that’s actually a good thing.
AS: I’m a socialist, and that’s been a tough pill for some folks to swallow. That’s in part because in this country, the military is almost universally seen as a right wing institution, but that’s actually far from a universal sentiment. There are too many countries to list where the military has fought off right-wing coups or fundamentalist takeovers, or even where the military has sided with socialist insurgencies. In South American history, it’s not even uncommon for socialist activists to become soldiers themselves! It’s a common Marxist refrain, but that’s because it’s true: The military has revolutionary potential.
There’s nothing inherently right wing about the military, it’s just how the military has generally been used in United States history. One of the big questions I posed to myself, especially writing this book in the midst of Trump taking office and the rise of the alt-right, was figuring out what a socialist GI Joe book would even look like. After a lot of thought, it came down to tweaking not only our general perception of the military’s goals, but also the methods by which it achieves them. A socialist military doesn’t exist to further enrich the monied classes or enforce property rights or promote imperialist agenda. Instead, it has a far simpler, far more noble goal: Protecting and empowering people.
The book is designed to be aspirational, so I tried to write Joe as an idealized military – what the military would be if I could wave a magic wand and make it so. That’s why GI Joe became an international organization, one more concerned with protecting the population of the planet than promoting any single country’s interests, and also a big part of why we switched all of the Joes over to using laser weapons. It’s speculative fiction, right? So why not use it to conjure up a better world?
Using lasers also solved another big problem with doing a leftist take on GI Joe: Guns. I love gunporn action flicks as much as anyone, more than most, honestly, but what flies in John Wick or Commando simply ain’t appropriate in GI Joe, which is, at its core, and in my favorite incarnation, decidedly a kids’ property. I grew up watching all kinds of stuff that glorified gun violence and while I don’t think it broke me as a person or anything, that kind of material definitely contributes to the exaltation of firearms. And in 2017, with what feels like near-constant mass shootings, fetishizing guns in a children’s property isn’t just gross, it’s wrong.
That’s the behind-the-scenes reason on why the Joes use nonlethal lasers, but there’s also an excellent story reason as well: If the Joes are the best in their chosen fields, and they’re all working together…why would they even need to kill people? The Joes are strong and capable enough that they can afford to be nice, to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if doing so puts them at risk. And truthfully, that’s the very definition of a hero.
Let’s be clear. Nothing’s inherently wrong with a concept where casualties are avoided, and surrealism is the name of the game. And no realist thinks the military is staffed entirely by right-wingers. It’s not. Why, there’s even some who’ve committed incredibly evil acts against innocent people, no matter their political standings. One of the worst was Nidal Hasan. But to say Marxist-influenced armies literally try to protect and empower is hilariously off base. When Che Guevara led a coup in Cuba, he had people slaughtered in the name of socialism. In the case of Maximilien Robespierre in 18th century France, he betrayed people after ascending power by executing them, and subsequently paid a heavy price under the guillotine for becoming a murderous traitor, starting with his damaged jaw. Yet Sitterson believes Marxism is throughly valid? And, he condones gun control, selectively or otherwise? This says quite a bit about his thinking patterns.
Furthermore, if Sitterson really considers GI Joes a kids product, why go to such lengths to stuff it with his politics? The kind of commie junk he’s espousing isn’t what I’d consider a good influence for children. Is he even aware the Hama-written stories did have casualties in them? Nothing overly violent, of course, but they were anything but death-free. Should it even be pointed out that the politics espoused by Sitterson are just what the Cobra movement stood for?
He goes on to play victim:
BC: You’ve been the target of what we’ll call “backlash” for some of the changes you’ve made to GI Joe, but GI Joe as a property has been, in a lot of ways, progressive since the ’80s. In that respect, what parts of that legacy did you build on for your take on GI Joe?
AS: “Backlash” is a nice word for it, right? Though they’ve thankfully calmed down now, I was getting death threats for more than a month. One of the most perplexing things about that whole situation (outside of how someone could get so upset over a comic book that they’d threaten someone’s life) was that GI Joe has been progressive since the very first issue of Real American Hero. War was never something to be celebrated in that book — it was a sad necessity, albeit one where heroes could be elevated through valor. And that progressive trend was continued in the Sunbow series a few years later, with a level of gender, ethnic and racial representation that was simply unheard of at the time. And while the Joes were a diverse group of friends, the Cobra villains were, by-and-large, homogenous white males. That’s shockingly progressive for smack dab in the middle of Reagan’s America.
GI Joe is, at its core, a progressive concept, so I didn’t have to go in and do any heavy lifting. Instead, it was all about figuring out ways to continue that trend, but in a way that’s appropriate for 2017. Our new Salvo is a great example of that, albeit one for which I continue to catch a lot of heat from a certain vocal minority of Joe fans. Making Salvo a Samoan woman served a couple purposes. First, it gave us another international Joe for our newly international team. Changing the character’s race and gender not only gave us some Polynesian representation, but also helped us dodge some problematic visual associations, as Salvo’s original look (bald, heavily muscled white guy with giant guns and a shirt that says “THE RIGHT OF MIGHT”) reads as… a little too alt-right. It also presented an opportunity to introduce a different body type into the group, which I thought was important. While there’s always been a huge amount of diversity on display, the Joes were generally all built like supermodels and/or fitness models. Since Salvo’s primary role was going to be carrying around hilariously massive guns, I thought it made sense to have her built like a powerlifter, and even sent Giannis photos of wrestler Nia Jax for reference. There are a lot of ways for people to be fit and healthy, and I’m proud that we’ve included more of them in GI Joe and the upcoming Scarlett’s Strike Force.
Another thing I’m really proud of is the character of Grand Slam, who went through a traumatic incident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Writing a character like Grand Slam, who is so very angry about his disability, has been a challenge — it’s something I knew I needed to get right. But it’s been worth it, as I’ve received so many messages from people who aren’t used to seeing disabled characters in action-adventure comics, especially when depicted with the amount of anger that Grand Slam has roiling within him. Grand Slam’s arc, from the Revolution one-shot onward, is one that I was most excited about seeing come to fruition and finally pay off in Scarlett’s Strike Force.
Wait a minute. Does that mean Grand Slam goes out to battlefield in a wheelchair, or an exo-suit? Even for an allegedly surreal tale, that’s pretty hilarious. But more telling is the amount of anguish he’s said to carry inside him. With that much anger, who could possibly concentrate on what they need to do? If Ironside carried so much in the 1967-75 TV series, Raymond Burr’s 2nd most famous role after Perry Mason, I doubt he and his team of investigators would get the jobs done. And since when was war ever something to celebrate? Of course not, yet ironically, Sitterson’s the one celebrating communist “revolutions”. Apparently, the only time war shouldn’t be celebrated is when real believers in democracy have to fight against evil totalitarians like those whose ideology Sitterson’s advocating.
He later went on to comment about said cancellation of the spinoff series:
BC: As you enter your second year writing IDW’s GI Joe ongoing, what are you thinking about in terms of long term plans? Will Shipwreck finally get out of the kitchen? Will the Joes finally get some real food?
AS: Planning for Scarlett’s Strike Force started way back before First Strike — I was fortunate that IDW allowed me to use the First Strike GI Joe and First Strike M.A.S.K. tie-ins to move pieces into place for the new series. And I’ll have you know that part of that saw Dial Tone bring meat back to the mess hall, much to Shipwreck’s chagrin!
Those 10 issues (two First Strike tie-ins and eight issues of Scarlett’s Strike Force) were meant to tie everything up in a big, explosive, very weird bow. If you’ve read the tie-ins and have a little familiarity with Joe lore, you probably have some idea of where we were headed. But what I was most stoked about was paying off all of that internal angst and strife — the eight issues were going to see us resolve the arcs of every major character, and there are a lot of major characters in this thing.
Unfortunately, IDW told me early this month that Scarlett’s Strike Force was being canceled after issue #3. And with up through issue #4 already written, that means ending on a pretty outrageous cliffhanger. It’s really disappointing, not only because fans won’t get to see the conclusion of the story and all the payoffs we’ve been building to — including Grand Slam’s — but because of all the gorgeous work from Nelson, Ilias, Ryan and Taylor that we’ve all been robbed of.
Yup, we’ve all been “robbed” of some oh-so precious Rob Liefeld-quality art, oh dearest me! I’m sure there’s quite a payoff alright, in the form of his leftism. And just what fans are we talking about? Certainly not the real Joe fans alienated by Sitterson’s crude attitude.
BC: Is this a result of the controversy back in September?
AS: Not from what I understand. IDW told me they made the decision due to low sales.
BC: If enough people buy the book, can Scarlett’s Strike Force be saved? Have you or IDW got anything big planned as far as promotion?
AS: I certainly hope so! What Nelson, Ryan, and Taylor have already done is absolutely gorgeous and I’m dying to work with Ilias again (he was going to be back for issues #4 and #5).
Outside of social media, this is actually the first promotion I’ve done for the book in more than two months. When everything went down in September, IDW told me that if I wanted to stay on the book, I couldn’t do interviews or anything to promote it, and IDW PR even shut down a podcast interview I lined up. Folks were really mad — I mentioned the death threats earlier — and IDW said they didn’t want me rubbing it in people’s faces that I still had a job, so there were a few weeks where I wasn’t allowed to even mention Scarlett’s Strike Force or the First Strike issues that were coming out at the time.
I think he’s just playing victim again, and he didn’t provide any concrete proof of harassment either. All I know is he should look at himself in the mirror and ask himself if it was the right way to go, attacking anybody who disliked the artwork as a homophobe and stuff like that. At the end, he caps it off with:
BC: So what can readers expect from Scarlett’s Strike Force as a 3-issue mini?
AS: One thing and one thing only: THE BEST ACTION COMIC EVER.
Anybody who’s going to boast his book is better in every way than any other is not to be taken seriously. It’s regrettable BC is giving this buffoon a platform to espouse his heavy handed visions, and otherwise has no complaints about his MO.
One of the contributors to BC later wrote a followup commentary, keeping up the whole victim angle:
Since the first issue is more than a month away from hitting stores, with time yet left for retailers and fans to order it, it might seem premature for the book to already be canceled, but Sitterson relayed the reason he was given by his publisher, as unlikely as it sounds: “IDW told me they made the decision due to low sales.” But if orders are still open, how can sales be the reason? Are there other factors at play here?
A seemingly likely factor in the cancellation is the controversy surrounding Sitterson’s comments on September 11th, even though Sitterson denies that’s the reason he was given. Sitterson has been at odds with what he describes as “a certain vocal minority of Joe fans,” who have taken issue with changes such as introducing a new version of the character Salvo as a Samoan woman and an Ed Luce variant cover that Bleeding Cool praised as “homoerotic.” Additionally, a group of comics fans who disagreed with Sitterson’s politics sent him death threats and campaigned to get him fired from the book.
No examples provided, unfortunately, so we can’t take that claim at face value. Must I point out that some Joe fans are army veterans, along with folks who experienced the era of 9-11, and to suggest they’re even more barbaric than al Qaeda and ISIS is monumentally offensive? This is exactly why BC is not a very appealing news source. If the variant cover of the spinoff is a celebration of homosexuality, that’s certainly problematic, and the dreadful artwork only compounds the errors. Say, why do we even need variants, for that matter? That’s little more than an open signal they’re catering to monetary collectors, not readers. Sitterson can deny all he likes, but it’s not hard to guess IDW’s staff was disturbed by his antagonism towards the audience and dissenters – no proper way to promote a book – and by all means, they should be worried. If it’s wrong for movie actors to antagonize film buffs, then comic creators shouldn’t make the same mistake, unless they really believe a ghettoized medium is perfectly fine.
And then, Sitterson played the victim card again with the following:
The Scarlett’s Strike Force news has brought out a lot of hate and ugliness. A big part of me wants to shine a light on it, to show you who is celebrating this decision, but I also don’t want to give them any more attention than they’ve already received.
— aubrey🌹sitterson (@aubreysitterson) November 25, 2017
Look who’s talking, the same guy who made comments leading to the negative receptions in the first place for his own bloated ego. He then says:
“Just ignore them and they’ll go away” doesn’t seem like useful advice, however, because they aren’t *just* spewing hatred and bigotry online, they’re actually costing people their jobs now. Not just me, but the entire Scarlett’s Strike Force team.
— aubrey🌹sitterson (@aubreysitterson) November 25, 2017
Maybe letting go of all the obsessions with socialism and insulting Americans on 9-11 Memorial Day would be the best way to ensure he’ll ever rebuild a respectable image. But for now, he’s not going about the subjects the right way, and if it costs him his gig, he has only himself to blame. This is exactly why the medium’s been injured in modern times. When contributors act rude to the audiences, and can’t just remain afar from issues they’re not qualified to handle, it only enforces the image of comicdom as a ghetto mentality, and the wide gap between how they’re marketed as other forms of media like movies.
The apologists may be getting fewer, but those who’re still obsessed with defending such a jerk, they’re the ones who need to let go of the matter and not go miles out of their way to protect anymore. It’s sage advice they’d take to heart if they really do care about the medium, and honestly, it’s questionable whether they do.